Do You Love a Narcissist?

Businesswoman Flipping off BusinessmanIt’s easy to fall in love with narcissists. Their charm, talent, success, beauty, and charisma cast a spell, along with compliments, scintillating conversation, and even apparent interest in you. Perhaps you were embarrassed when your mate cut in front of the line or shuddered at the dismissive way he or she treated a waitress. Once hooked, you have to contend with their demands, criticisms, and self-centeredness. The relationship revolves around them, and you’re expected to meet their needs when needed, and are dismissed when not.

What it’s Like. In the beginning, you were delighted to be in the narcissist’s aura. Now you’re tense and drained from unpredictable tantrums, attacks, and unjustified indignation at imaginary slights. You begin to doubt yourself, worry what he or she will think, and become as pre-occupied with the narcissist, as he or she is with him or herself.

After a while, you start to lose self-confidence. Your self-esteem may have been intact when you met, but your partner finds you coming up short, and doesn’t fail to point it out. Most narcissists are perfectionists, and nothing you or others do is right or appreciated. Talking about your disappointment or hurt gets turned into your fault or another opportunity to put you down. They can dish it, but not take it, being highly sensitive to any perceived judgment.

Narcissists have no boundaries and see you as an extension of themselves, requiring that you’re on call to meet their needs – regardless of whether you’re ill or in pain. You might get caught-up in trying to please them. This is like trying to fill a bottomless pit. Their needs, whether for admiration, service, love, or purchases, are endless. You might go out of your way to fill their request only to have your efforts devalued because you didn’t read their mind. They expect you to know without having to ask. You end up in a double-blind – damned if you displease them and damned when you do. Narcissists don’t like to hear “No.” Setting boundaries threatens them. They’ll manipulate to get their way make sure you feel guilty if you’re bold enough to risk turning them down. You become afraid that if you don’t please them, you risk an onslaught of blame and punishment, love being withheld, and a rupture in the relationship. All too possible, because the narcissist’s relationship is with him or herself. You just have to fit in. Nevertheless, you stay in the relationship, because periodically the charm, excitement, and loving gestures that first enchanted you return.

Do Narcissists love? In public, narcissists switch on the charm that first drew you in. People gravitate towards them and are enlivened by their energy. You’re proud to bask in their glow, but at home, they’re totally different. They may privately denigrate the person they were just entertaining. You begin to wonder if they have an outward “as if” personality. Maybe you’re reassured of their love when they bestow complimentary and caring words and gestures, are madly possessive, or buy you expensive gifts, then doubt their sincerity and question whether they’re being manipulative or saying what’s appropriate.

Sometimes, you might think they love only themselves. That’s a common misconception. Actually, they dislike themselves immensely. Their inflated self-flattery, perfectionism, and arrogance are merely covers for the self-loathing they don’t admit – usually even to themselves. Instead, it’s projected outwards in their disdain for and criticism of others. This is why they don’t want to look at themselves. They’re too afraid, because they believe that the truth would be devastating. Actually, they don’t have much of a Self at all. Emotionally, they’re dead inside. (See Self-Love.)

Early Beginnings. It’s hard to be empathic with narcissists, but they didn’t choose to be that way. Their natural development was arrested as a toddler due to faulty, early parenting, usually by the mother who didn’t provide sufficient nurturing and opportunity for idealization. They’re left with an unrealistic view of themselves, and at time make you experience what it was like having had to feed the needs of a cold, invasive, or unavailable narcissistic parent. Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat had such an emotionally empty mother, who devotedly bonded with him to survive. The deprivation of real nurturing and lack of boundaries make narcissists dependent on others to feed their insatiable need for validation. Like the mythological Narcissus, they don’t know themselves, but only can love themselves as a reflection in the eyes of others. Poor Narcissus. The gods sentenced him to a life without human love. He fell in love with his reflection by a pool, and died by the water, hungering for a response from his reflection.

Diagnosis. All personality traits, including narcissism, exist on a continuum from mild to severe. Narcissism ranges from self-centeredness and some narcissistic traits to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (“NPD”). NPD wasn’t categorized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association until 1987, because it was felt that too many people shared some of the traits and it was difficult to diagnose. The summarized diagnosis is controversial and undergoing further change:
Someone with NPD is grandiose (sometimes only in fantasy), lacks empathy, and needs admiration from others, as indicated by five of these characteristics:

1. A grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents
2. Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Believes he or she is special and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or of high-status people (or institutions)
6. Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes
7. Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends
8. Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her
9. Has “an attitude” of arrogance or acts that way

Of all the narcissists, beware of malignant narcissists, who are the most pernicious, hostile, and destructive. They take traits 6 & 7 to an extreme, and are vindictive and malicious. Avoid them before they destroy you.

Codependency. People with codependency lack a core Self, and define themselves based on others. This is true for all narcissists, whose Self is so weak and insecure, they need constant validation. Stereotypically, they’re not interested in taking care of others – but some narcissists are caretakers. Many narcissistic men do this with money, because it boosts their self-esteem.

When two narcissists get together, they’re miserable needing each other, yet fighting over whose needs come first and pushing away. On the other hand, it can be a perfect fit, albeit painful, for ordinary codependents, because their low self-esteem, is boosted by the narcissist’s attributes and aura of success. It also allows them to tolerate the narcissist’s emotional abuse. They feel needless and guilty asserting their needs and caring for a narcissist makes them feel valued. Because they feel undeserving of receiving love, they don’t expect to be loved for who they are – only for what they give or do.

Treatment. Narcissists don’t usually seek help unless a major loss shatters their illusions. But both narcissism and codependency can be healed with courage, time, and a commitment to yourself. Recovery entails improving boundaries and self-acceptance based upon real self-knowledge. Psychotherapy and joining a 12-Step program are beneficial ways to start.
© Darlene Lancer, 2011
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45 thoughts on “Do You Love a Narcissist?

  1. Hi, i believe my sister has this narcissistic personality trait. She has recently ruined a family Christmas gathering making arguments with another of my sisters and me for no reason whatever. This behaviour has been going on for years, but the most recent episode was the limit. I started looking into personality traits and really feel she is a narcissist. Trouble is, how do you get her to realise this and get her to treatment? We live far apart, but see each other about twice a year (though she has threatened never speaking to me again now). What can I and my family do?

    • It’s very painful to have a narcissistic loved one. Relationships can improve with consistent boundaries. I’ve seen some miracles where only one partner is in therapy. Narcissists don’t often come to therapy and I doubt you can apply the pressure needed to influence her living so far apart. Learn more about setting boundaries and not being codependent with her from my books.

  2. Hi Darlene,

    Thank you for these posts, I am trying to wrap my head around being married to a narcissistic for 4 years and trying to accept that I am codependent. We are back in counseling although the advice from my last counselor was to split because we are inevitably doomed to fail. I brought up to my wife that she may be a narcissist and she turned it around to only convince me that it is ME who is the narcissist, without fully critiquing her own self. This is why I predict therapy will be a futile attempt again as she uses it as a tool to expound on my negative traits instead of delving into her own past. Wish us luck, and thanks again

    • It’s useless and counterproductive to label someone. Also, narcissists tend to project as a defense. Your relationship can improve if you work on your self-esteem and setting boundaries when she’s critical. Change your part in the dysfunctional dynamic and the relationship will change.

    • It’s useless and counterproductive to label someone. Also, narcissists tend to project as a defense. Your relationship can improve if you work on your self-esteem and setting boundaries when she’s critical. Change your part in the dysfunctional dynamic and the relationship will change. Do the exercises in my books and ebooks and go to CoDA meetings.

  3. I have found myself in a co-dependent relationship not romantically or with an addict (my father is a drug addict), but in a non-romantic relationship with someone of the same gender who I idealize as this wonderful person. It got to the point where I started to conform myself and made decisions like join the same church in order to seek approval and acceptance and to avoid rejection. This person is a family member, so it makes it harder to just be who I am even if it is different than this other person because the relationship is important to me and the fear of rejection and abandonment is so great. Any insights?

  4. I recently decided to leave a ex alone completely who had broken up with me because he couldnt be bortherer for the relationship anymore. I continued to talk to him and after going on a circle of rinse, drain and repeat that maybe he has what you have explained. But as I am in the process off completely trying to forget him, isit normal to keep researching and wondering if it could of worked and could have been friends with him. I have lost all connection with him but at times I message him and he hasn’t now replied. Considering myself having ptsd for 4 years. Could it also be me who needs to change myself and learn that I have to not attract these types of men. I feel slightly confussed to weather I am looking to much into his behaviour but I know if he messages me again I will go running and i want to have the strength to let go.

  5. I am from Sydney and I have just found this great site. Thank you Darlene. I have just ended a 14 month relationship with a woman I still love very much but realise our relationship was going south fast. We generally had a beautiful relationship until the last 1 month. At first our relationship was great, she showed me respect, love and caring as I showed her the same. Over the last month she started getting distant, our communication dwindled and she would ridicule me infront of friends and would say beautiful stuff like how good I was for her one on one but when we were not together she would go distant. I tried talking it out and she said she wanted to have this work. Last week she went out with two male friends whilst I was out at a fundraiser for Ebola. She asked me if I was ok with that and I said I was not content but you must do what you wish. She chose to go and then decided to tell me I was supposed to trust her and she could go with males out. She didn’t realise how disrespecting it was that she would not invite me and yet when I raised if she was doing this for validation purposes for to get some kick out of it, she went into a rage. The next day she texted me saying she missed me and wanted to talk and we did talk. The morning after I get this email saying “Its over”. Came across cold. I did beg and ask her to talk to me and she took that as open season to tell me my pitfalls as a person and that she didnt ‘need to be tied down’. She wanted to enjoy herself.
    I didn’t take this well. Got on the drink and went into a text rage where I kind of just launched into her and how she devalued me and disrespected me too many times. Since then we have not talked but I did tell her in an email I was sorry and that was it.
    It is a few days later and I actually realise I had a tendency to be codependent. She came from 2 failed marriages and she said the level of caring and love I showed her was something she never had before. She told me about a emotionally abusive childhood by a mother who was narcissist but when I asked her to maybe look at counseling she said “I don’t think I can change”.
    In retrospect I am starting to feel better emotionally for I did feel emotionally abused. It felt like being on a rollercoaster. The good times were great but the bad times….were draining. I have work to do also on myself and your site and books are helping me. I also believe I am a highly sensitive person due to several personality tests I have done and have I believe my ex could have been not the grandiose type narcissist but the ‘vulnerable narcissist’.
    Thank you again for your site. Great info and help :)

  6. Hello and thank you for what you do….your website has had me quite emotional since seeing it. Im 30 years old, was the baby, adored, over protected,coddled and loved with such a fiercness it sometimes felt smothery. My mother was in many abusive relaationships her whole life until my father nearly killed her in 1989. She was never with another man after that. We found out my mom was sick a little less than two years ago – kidney disease brought on by unciontrolled diabetes. Her and I lived together through out most of my life, so naturally i took on the role of caretaker when she fell ill. After 3 strokes, going partially blind, having both of her legs amputated and being on dialysis – she gave up the fight in April and was called home to be with God. shortly after she became sick i became addicted to meth, it was my “escape” from reality. ( i should mention that I have 2 sons myself 7&13. At the end of my moms illness I couldnt take it anymore and she moved into assisted living and from there into a nursing home. When this happened I became homeless, with my two boys. That was june of last year. Last summer I stayed place to place, camping alot sometimes sleeping in our car. I was so deep into my addiction I didnt do anything at all to change or improve my situation from June-September of last year. Over the summer I met a man, someone whom had tried and treid for months to get me to pay him attention, to no avail. When i became homeless, i stayed mostly (where my drug friends lived) which happened to be where he hung out. He has a long history of domestic voilence, has been in prision. When I first gave him my time it was really because there wasnt much better to do – and often times (while my children were with their other grandma) I would ride with him in his van all day – even sleeping in there. (He basically lived in his van too) He was so nice to me, tellung me how much better i was thn that and encuraging me to stop using and hangng around the crowd I was. He fed me, held me, made me forget that there was a real world out there with two growing kids and a dying mother. it was so easy to just let him take the wheel most of the time. other times i would ditch him to get high, not caring about his feelings, avoiding him and even sleepping with soomeone else. In september i went to jail for 45 days for theft and while i had a chance to sober up I realized what a jack ass i was to this guy who had gone out of his 3way to always look out for me and be good to me. I was terrified he would leave me, and wrote to him every day while there telling him how i was going to change and show him how much i valued him, and appreciated him and how great he was to stick with me. He readily agreed that he probably should have just left, but he decided to stick with me. Hes always right, he claims to mae so much money (but lives out of his van) and claims he knows everythign about everything – evn when he clearly dont. He always repeats what he says twice, and wants you to validate and agree that he is right. He says hes going to take over the world one day. And when he is faced with the truth that he is a petty drug dealer with no ambition that is down right lazy – he blames everyone or anything else possible. (Things just arent the same as they used to be, if things would just go right for me like i want them too, if everyone wasnt always talking about me, hating on me) Theres no limit to his (seeming) vanity in himself. He is uber offensive, and feels disrespected by EVERYTHING. He feels like every mistake I make is a personal insult and direct and purposful disrespect to him. Right before i went to jail i found an apartment. I didnt want to lose it so I had my brother give him the keys and asked if he would help pay the rent and i would repay him. boy did things change when i got home from jail. it really was like overnight – suddenly nothing I did was right, i was a junkie and a whore and had no respect for myself so why should he. He never did end up helping pay and just a couple months later i was evicted. (I decided enough was enough and i got clean and went to a shelter …where my boys and I have finally started to get our life together) Thru my stay at the shelter i was very insecure about what he was doing, who he was with, did he still love me, etc. When I tell him I love him – he doesnt respond with I love you to – every time he asks me why..and says if i cant give him reasons then i must not love him. My mom passed in april of this year, im roud to say that she seen the changes I made and her and I made our peace. Around the time my mother passed away, he took on a sudden interest in my cousin (also a drug user who found herse3lf with no place to go) and basically i felt he went out of his way to make sure the things got back to me…him asking her to come strech out in his van, and saying he wanted to taste her, hurtful, destroying things to me. After all, since i had been out of jail i basically cut off everyone in my life but him and my immediate family in an effort to get sober. i stoped going places, would cook for him, clean the house, do the laundry, and of course perform sexually whenever he wanted becasue otherwise i “was cheating” For some reason hearing about the things with my cousin didnt send me running away – it made me panic and try to show him i was worth it. i just wanted the original HIM back. My cousin said she wasnt intersted in him but hung out with him anyways, sometimes starting problems between him and I until it came to a head and I called him on it. That day, in front of about a dozen people (none of whom helped me) he had his sister come and beat me up to the point I was on the ground and she was kicking me in the face. I got away, and within an hour he came to where i was at. Super apoligetic, nice ( a glimpse of the original him) and I fell for it. He had been so mean and unind, and after just losing my mom and everything else i was facing I just needed a hug for crying out loud….and so i decided that while it wasnt my fault, i provoked the voilence. Since then he has put his hands on me about a hald a dozen times, which is always my fault for ‘being disrespectful” by standing up for myself. He has told me that he wants to see my head cut off, he has told me he will shoot me in the fce, he will start my home on fire. He has publicly threatened my childrens father for inquiring about our saftey. He has demanded I stop talking to anybody but my brother and sister. he goes through my phone, my facebook. He constantly accuses me of sleeping around, getting high again, not being able to do anything on my own.When my older son said he wanted to move out becasue he cant stand to see me treated like this i decided I have finally had enough – but honestly – Im so ashamed to admit this huge problem to anyone. I now have stable housing through the YWCA, i have support counselors and therapists that are helping me with my depression and greif. I have made great strides towards becoming self sufficiant and stable. But somehow i cannot bring myself to tell anyone about this problem. My mother raised me (since she left my dad) to NEVER let a man treat me as less than worthy. I dont know how i have gotten into this situation or how Ive stayed. My mother raised me better than that, she spent her whole life trying to protect me from harms way. Ive never had a TON of self esteem but I dont think i faced anything more than what most young women go through – dealing with body issues and appearences and media. But this has really taken its toll on my self worth – my self value,self image. I told him I am done…that was a few days ago i told him come get the few things he had here i wanted nothing to do with this abusive, controlling relationship anymore. He didnt respond. Not once did he call or text. Until today – he texts CAll me. NOW. which of course I do. I dont want to be with him but some inner part in me wants him to tell me he loves me, to vaidate me. To admit that I have been making incredibe effort, walking on egg shells tryng to gauge his moods and please him. So i called, and he questioned who i was with and said he figured i was getting high…he has a way of getting these little digs i that offend me to where im screaming mad – but i now any confrontation will lead to voilence and i dont want that. I recognize the narrcisim in hm, and the codependancy in me. I am so disappointed in myself for allowing him to treat me this way, in the fact that somehow after all hes done – just seeing him freshly shaven and smelling good makes me want to fall back in his arms, seeking attention, affection, validation. Im so lost on what to do about all this. I KNOW i have to get out of this unsafe, emotionally (and sometimes physicall) damaging relationship….I just dont know how to stop loving him and wanting him to change. I know it is him, and I dont deserve this. my logical brain knows that. But something keeps saying if you try harder, talk to less people, deactivate your facebook, cook better, stop complaining so much, that he will see Im worth loving and protecting. I know this is a destructive thought pattern, and it terrifies me. But I AM READY to face the fear (will there be voilence in retribution once he realizes Im really done) the pain (Ive already lost so much how much more can one person take?) the unknown. I guess, I dont know where to start. I dont have money to buy books and I dont have access to my library card (becasue there a gazzillion dollars in fees dating back to the late 80’s) and online seems to be alot of descriptive information, and honest – your site has really opened my eyes so much, but i dont know how to change this. I dont now how to resist his pull when he tries to manipulate me, convince me that im crazy and this is my own fault – and make me feel like im the one realizing it not him feeding me the manipulation. Even when he does not call or text – that feels like rejection which makes me crazy and want to text or call him. How do I heal the hurt, the distrust towards anyone, the self loathing, the fear, the sadness. How do I look past the good memories, how do i give up my quest to prove (to him or me im not sure) that Im good enough, that I can change his abusive, manipulative, narrsicistic behavior, that Im worth it. Im sorry to ramble on – this is kind of the first time ive gotten this off my chest….guess I better start talking to the therapist about it, hiding it makes me feel ashamed too. Is there a free version of your book, maybe online or in audio that i could get some more information on this. I know that he needs a loit of help, but Im past thining that even WITH help (that he would never admit he needs because his wrong doings are becasue of something i did or said or caused him to feel/do) I know that I do not want to be with him. Im committed to healing and learning from this experience becasue I dont want to be old and cynical and alone like my mom was. But i have a habit of choosing the wrong guys. always have. either too old, addicted to drugs, cheaters,guys with no job, tho i have never been in a physically abusive relationship now….Ive been in several verbal, mental and emotionally abusive relationships. I know the change has to come from within me, and I know I have the power to do it. I have two awesome kids that love me and I love, and I want a happy healthy, productive life. Any advice or feedback you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Again thank you for doing what you do! Its a relief to know that there are others who have faced this, and Im not just nuts! And thank you for being that non threatening faceless listener who has already helped me to admit my problem and actually talk about it. God Bless

    • There is no shame in being abused by someone. You would benefit from doing the exercises in my books, which you can also find in libraries (or request they order them) along with therapy and 12-Step meetings. Best wishes on your journey of recovery!

    • It’s like an addiction now with this person. You have to make a plan to commit to yourself. Make it your job to go to meetings, to seek support with healthy people. You need to establish a healthy relationship with yourself- talk to yourself the way a healthy parent would. You can make changes. You have to be a friend to yourself, and that is the ONLY friend you need. Move on, give yourself other things and time. Go to your meetings like your life depends on it, AA and CODA. You are making a great first step in facing things and opening up, just be careful that they are healthy people you share with, cause narcissists are looking for vulnerable people to exploit.

    • This reply may find you already on your road to recovery as I hope it does! First..not everyone that comes in to your life is meant to stay forever. That is the beauty of life’s little gifts, people weave in and out to be there when we need them and to teach us lessons we may not have known. Second…You can NOT change anyone, not matter how hard your try. Third….in your situation you aren’t even speaking the same language. He is incapable of hearing what you are saying, it is foreign to him. Fourth…you don’t hurt people you LOVE. You use people and as a result they get hurt. Fifth..this is YOUR life, what do YOU want for it?

  7. Your article was a revelation for me. My husband and I have been together since high school and married 26yrs. I have always been the “pleaser” that is rooted in my childhood and find myself always trying to “be there for everyone”. That was until chronic illness introduced limitations that I (or he) weren’t prepared for.
    His childhood consisted of a father that left physically and a mother that left in every other way. He was always very “competitive”, almost “threatened” by the possibility of a controlling woman. In fact, many of our family relationships are fractured because of his view toward strong women or perceived weakness.
    I was the perfect wife for him because I wanted to fulfill the role of wife and mom more than my professional career. So I waited on him, encouraged him, maintained most of our relationships and home duties, and thought that I had deep respect for him. But I quickly learned that, through the years, I was learning all his negative cues and dancing around him at my expense. And he was happy with this arrangement because I didn’t often challenge him. Oh, I will speak my mind when convicted which doesn’t go well if he feels threatened or accused in any way. In the beginning, he was supportive with my health issues but quickly became detached, saying he wasn’t a caregiver. When I expressed that I needed his support, he began the blaming. It’s not your fault , but it is your fault kind of thing.
    He is very charming at work and outside the home. Throughout many surgeries, doctor and counselor visits, he somehow could manage to get them to empathize with him as caregiver and I would feel invisible, even as I expressed the many names and labels he would call me. It seemed no one had the courage to challenge his behavior which has made it difficult to get well. Until, my last doctor, who was growing frustrated along with me, at him constantly saying that I didn’t need something the doctor ordered, that doctor was just “being nice” and nothing else is really wrong with you. He was told that the tests and medication were warranted for a possible life-threatening condition that could progress. But I continued to be called irrational, a victim, selfish, just like my mom, and most recently that I brought all this upon myself (made myself sick). He blames me or the meds. One male counselor told him to “run while he could”, one female said we had codependency going on and that he may be narcissistic. I interpreted that we are both codependent but he only heard “me” so he uses it against me to say I’m the one who needs help. He is stonewalling and when I want to talk to resolve things, he says like a broken record that, “he won’t be blamed”, that things will not get better until “I get help”. I have been to my own counselor and we both feel I have come such a long way. He says I still need to do all the work, not him. Most importantly, our teen daughter is in residential treatment for depression, and drug/alcohol abuse. It took years for him to admit that we needed outside help so she and I were alone in that too. We will be starting Al-Anon meetings soon and they stressed the importance since this is a family disease. He already said that he’d go but didn’t want it to “become his life”.
    Most recently, he said that if a doctor or counselor tells him that he has issues, he would listen. At the same time, he’s ready to go with me to my counselor because he is truly convinced that he will garner more sympathy and no fault! I am tired of the psychological mind games that he plays with me. Please help. Any suggestions appreciated. I do want to save our marriage and family!

    • The first suggestion is to see an independent therapist who yours recommends so that your husband doesn’t think that he or she is biased. Maybe get a referral to someone who treats narcissism. Al-Anon should help you with your daughter and husband. Continue on your own. Also, my book would be helpful.

      • My issues are similar of the above woman. Been married 25yrs, have 9 children together and am feeling miserable, angry, depressed and helpless. My husband will never agree or see that he is wrong. Specially comming from me. We are Christian so the Biblical wife submitting to husband is ivery advantageous to there any way that he would ever cooperate or be sympathetic wih me? BTW I believe he may also be a misogenyst

        • Why would he ever change if you go along with the program? It’s working for him. Waiting for someone else to change is like waiting for the cows to come home. Better plan is to change and empower yourself. Read my books, go to counseling and join Codependents Anonymous.

  8. My wife and I have been having difficulties almost from the beginning of the relationship. We have been together 6 years and for the last 4, I have been seeking counseling. At first, we thought I was experiencing anger management issues. Just recently, she handed me an article on Narcissism. I was floored by the truth that I found in those words. So, I admit I have some of the characteristics but not all and I am learning that I am also codependent. I cannot begin to know how to correct this on my own. I see many group therapy sessions available for codependency but none for the Narcissist. Aside from your books (which I plan to purchase) can you offer suggestions for seeking help?

    • The fact that you want help and therapy is very auspicious and makes me question if you truly are a narcissist. I strongly believe that narcissists are codependent, but I’m in the minority. If you heal your narcissism, you’ll heal both. I would do the exercises in my book on shame. Shame underlies both, and it starts in childhood. Try CoDA and you’ll need individual work for the narcissism. Best wishes to you.

      • So Darlene are you saying then if someone has been in counseling and therapy for a few years and has tried to study and read and figure out what the issues are in there marriage for years someone who has been trying to get help is more then likely not Narcissist ?

        • There’s no way I could make an assessment without interviewing the person, and narcissism runs on a scale from some traits to malignant NPD. That being said, if a person is seeking greater self-knowledge, connection and closeness, he or she may not be narcissist. That you worry you are also makes it unlikely!

  9. Hello Darlene!
    I am a codependent married to a narcissist/borderline/sociopath….Cluster B, in any case. He refuses to be tested so I may never know for sure. We have been together going on 30 years. We are currently separated. I just read the book by Ross Rosenberg titled: The Human Magnet Syndrome. This book describes in detail the “dance” between a codependent and a narcissist and how we were magnetically joined. I have read 25 books on the subject and have participated in therapy for years (14 therapists). Therapy is something I have always valued. I have been so dissolutioned by it as well. I am not sure I am in recovery from my codependency, but I am working very hard. I now understand that the Narcissist is addicted to provocative words and behaviors, because he/she needs the “fix” that the codependent person gives when he/she “reacts”. THe simple answer is to “stop dancing/reacting” which is easier said than done. Another aspect I learned about is that the Narcissist my actually turn the tables in therapy and successfully get the therapist to believe that the codependent is actually the narcissist or borderline or something along those lines. THis was earth shaking information to me, as I feel that this is exactly what has been occurring in therapy. Seems to me that, based on Ross’s book, that codependents and narcissists are on a continuum and fall at the opposite ends of that continuum. If that is true, is it still somehow possible for a codependent to be a narcissist? Is there a test to take to find out specifically? I have been tested in the past, because my husband kept insisting that I was borderline. I was tested and the psychologist told me that I am not borderline, nor do I have any personality disorders. She also explained that there are milestones and I fall in something like the #2 on the scale which is very low and would not even warrant a suggestion to be tested. Even so, I am continually bombarded with accusations that I am somehow my husband. Of course, he is doing this in very covert and manipulative ways, but he continually wins over the therapists. The 2 most resent therapists both ended up sharing that they were Narcissists with the reply “So what”, because I was asserting that my husband needs to be tested for his narcissism so he can get out of denial. I truly believe you cannot change what you will not acknowledge. I understand he is very unlikely to acknowledge and/or own his behaviors, but this is were I am currently “stuck”. I have always hoped (at least since I started hearing about narcissim) that my husband would be willing to get help. He states that “no therapist has ever called me a narcissist” which is not really accurate. However, even the ones that acknowledge the narcissism don’t address it. They don’t suggest he get tested, they dont discuss the hurtful, manipulative, harmful effects on others, particularly children. It just feels like a vicious cycle and therapy feels like it has furthered the abuse, not help resolve it. My primary question is, can a codependent also be a narcissist?

    • You raise an interesting question. I disagree with Ross, but the answer also depends on how one defines codependency, and there isn’t one definition. Mine is aligned with John Bradshaw and Dr. Charles Whitfield, among others. I don’t know what Ross’ is. Have you read Codependency for Dummies? I cover codependency in depth, offer a definition, and provide an entire chapter devoted to letting go and not reacting. One study showed a significant correlation between codependency and narcissism. That doesn’t mean all narcissists are codependent, but if you eliminate self-sacrifice from the definition, all the other core symptoms line up. I also don’t think telling someone they’re a narcissist is helpful, but it is therapeutic to teach narcissists to empathize and heal their shame to enable them to take back their projections, which they use as their main defense. They carry a lot of shame linked to codependency, as discussed in my new book, Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You. Unfortunately, many are not interested in seeking help. Working on your codependency will help change the dynamics in the relationship.

  10. Hello Darlene,
    Thank you for this post, very timely. I was involved with a narcissist for a little over a year. My question for you is what are your tips regarding closure? I recognize it’s not possible to receive typical closure from a narcissist as they don’t acknowledge their faults. I’m in a wonderful healthy relationship now but have an unbelievable amount of anger left towards my ex, and am not sure how to resolve it.
    Also, any tips on how to interact with said ex narcissist if we encounter each other in public?
    I’m struggling with how to empower myself and “take back my life”. Its very challenging with this type of personality as there seems to be no logic there.
    Any perspective you have would be much appreciated!

    • You raise very good questions. First, in any relationship although closure is ideal, it’s not always possible. Sometimes, the other person is dead. Closure is an inside job. One suggestion is to write your ex a letter, say whatever you want, then read it to a counselor, sponsor or wise friend. Throw it out or do a ritual with it. You may decide to send an edited version. Before you do, I’d suggest writing a dialogue with your ex, and have him reply with your left hand. (You’ll know just what he’ll say.) Keep going until you feel some resolution. Work on self-forgiveness, also. See my blog and do the exercises there. (Also some in Ch. 15 of my Dummies book) Seeing him in public won’t be difficult when you have released your anger and forgiven yourself. Some sessions with a therapist or counselor may be helpful.

  11. Hi Dr. Lancer,

    I enjoyed your article. Thank you for caring enough to write it. I have recently (finally – after 4 years) come to the realization that I am in love with a man that suffers from NPD. I’ve spent hours reading about it and have also come to realize I am codependent on him for, well lets face it, my misery. We are sales partners, business partners and he has become my best friend and plays a big role in my 10 year old daughters life. To make matters worse we have a 20 year age difference between us. Having a “boyfriend” that is so much younger than myself AND suffers from extreme NPD isn’t make life very easy lately. He is text book NPD. We are often times joined at the hip and others he is so outrageously nasty to me I can’t think straight. There are probably so many avenues that will lead me to make a smart decision on my path to struggle free days. Perhaps a direction that will help me make smart choices on how to find myself again or how to continue to love him and be in business with him, or simply to help me find the strength to leave him, but I’d love to hear your order of suggestions. I instantly thought you had a kind smile and I’m hoping you will kindly try to help point me in the right direction. Thank you in advance for the valuable time you took to read this post. Best to you and yours. Hope to hear back from you. :)

    • Begin to ask yourself how is it that you want to love or be friends with with someone who is emotionally abusive toward you? How does it make you feel? What are you doing to protect yourself? What do you sacrifice by being with him. When you start to value yourself more, you will begin to find answers. First, to raise your self-esteem, and set some boundaries with him. I suggest my Codependency for Dummies book and ebooks on my homepage. Join a CoDA meeting or seek a counselor for support, if necessary. Roll up your sleeves, and work on yourself.

  12. “The cause may be linked to a dysfunctional childhood, such as excessive pampering, extremely high expectations, abuse or neglect. It’s also possible that genetics or psychobiology . . . plays a role.” There is no body of research on the psychobiology at this point.

    Yes it can go either way .But there is now a thought that it is to do with genetic makeup, chemicals in the brain white matter etc, as much as parenting. I can only say that I have seen this behaviour run in siblings one of them I know for sure has similar rages the other is very haughty and has sadistic tendencies this is what I have observed from the outside they may be even worse to those they live with. The one I have known for many years has the full blown malignant syndrome. A case of some very odd genetic makeup . This is why I feel they can’t help it. But never the less their behaviour is most evil and debilitating and for anyone connected to them it is at times unbearable. You really need to be a Saint to live with it.

    • One problem for codependents is their willingness to take on the role of saint and sacrifice themselves, but they’re unaware of the debilitating effect due to their shame about their needs and idealization of self-sacrifice. Resentment and low self-esteem grow as their happiness declines.

  13. I am a recovering codependent for about 7 yrs.,although that recovery revolved around a codependency cd series by Melodie Beattie and meeting once a week at local mental health for a two person group for families of alcoholics (consisting of myself and a case manager,in total)for 5 yrs.and I found an al-anon late 2011 almost an hr and half away….Ive been separated from an alcoholic husband since late 2011 after a relapse….**How can you tell if an alcoholic is a narcissist?
    My current issue is with my alcoholic sister…released fro a mental facility this year after a year long stint.She’d been out of her mind since 2006 from possibly attempting to self detox from prescrp.meds. and/or a nervous breakdown.Was in a mentally abusive marriage.
    She is also suffering from back issues and walking is a challenge.She is drinking and needs to get a lawyer as she feels her husband is planning on taking everything and moving away.My online group says i should help myself only and let her help herself.I am trying to overcome an injury and deal with a husband who seems to be a narcissist,avoidance addict(i know ive been a love addict w/him and a major codependent in the pas, but improving).
    My sister lost her license and gets confused slightly.Her husband wont put in a phone and makes good money.She is ignored as her husband goes out and sleeps around–yet i feel she had burned a few bridges w/ her addictions im sure….
    I am barely able to help my self as i have ptsd ,major depression and injured and homeschool my son and dealing with a divorce..
    Do I do as my online group suggests and let her help herself with lawyer,etc? Seems unkind.She is a really nice person and has helped me when she wasnt addicted…But she is back on the drink at times I hear…and that makes me resentful….

    • You sound understandably overwhelmed with troubles in your own life, and need all the energy and support you can possibly get. Whether you reach out to your sister is a personal choice, as well as how much effort you put into it – whether it’s referrals, taking her somewhere or talking on the phone. Your program teaches you that you can’t convince her to do anything and trying will only drain you. I recommend my ebook on assertiveness, that can help you decide what boundaries you want to set and to do so in a way that respects you both.

      • Thanks for your reply…I want to get the ebook. However, I have so many issues, I’m not really sure which one to work on first.Realistically, it woud be the one that is the most troubling.But seeing as how there are several troubling things that have been going on its still overwhelming to know where to begin.So what I’ve done is try to deal with all, and well, you can imagine how burned out I am. I have thought of some boundaries that I could set . I just don’t know (1) should I help? am I enabling if I do? (2) how much?
        I realize I will have to decide.I try to take it slow as far as how much I help, as I’m easily overwhelmed..

        • Yes! You can imagine how hard it was to organize Codependency for Dummies! But it is the most concise and well-organized book on the subject. The book is laid out so that takes you through a recovery plan. Read it and spend time with each chapter doing the exercises. You can go back and do them again and you’ll get different results. You can work it for years. Be patient with yourself. See what others are saying here. Best wishes!

  14. I recently discovered that I myself have been a codependent for many years. I was in a 5 year relationship with a narcissist and it took my own life safety for me to leave the relationship. Then after leaving him a year and a half later I found myself again in another relationship with a narcissist that was very unhealthy, he was addicted to drugs and alcohol and I kept finding myself trying to help him, while giving up my own life in a way. Nothing was ever good enough that I did, and found myself being very emotionally abused. I thought to myself why do I keep attracting these kind of men? How do they find me? Then recently realizing that not only are they looking for women like me but I was subconsciously looking for men like them. Men who seem very charming and the life of the party you might say, while deep down they are manipulative and users in a way to get what they want. My family and friends didn’t understand why I stayed in the relationship. They’d tell me that I was a pretty and an educated woman, why do I allow myself to be used and manipulated by men. Right before I met my last boyfriend who was a narcissist I had gone on a few dates with a really nice guy who was very different from anyone I had ever dated, and then when my last boyfriend came into the picture I just automatically got sucked in and told the nice guy that I had met someone else. I really regret it, I didn’t realize at the time what I was really doing was putting myself in another bad relationship and letting go of a really nice man who probably would have treated me how I deserve, even though I do believe that things happen for a reason. I guess realizing my codependence is the first step in my process of recovery, now I need to focus on setting boundaries and building my self-esteem so I am in a better place for when the right man does come along.

    • Thank you for your honesty. Your story is true for so many people – men and women I see who repeat relationships with abusive or withholding partners. As we build our self-esteem, the quality of our relationships improves. We can only allow as much love in as we believe we deserve – like getting attention or compliments that might make us uncomfortable. How we talk to ourselves and core beliefs is important and something we can change. My ebook, 10 Steps to Self-Esteem focuses on working with our inner critic – that’s half the battle. My coming book on shame digs deeper into our past, defenses, an core beliefs of unlovability. Read my other posts on self-esteem, abuse, an self-love and nurturing. You can make better choices and will if you work on yourself.

  15. I am the mother of a narcissist, and find the following line from your article incorrect, distasteful, unprofessional and revolting – to say the least!
    My son could not have been loved, cuddled, listened to, supported in every way, or valued more by me!
    ‘Their natural development was arrested as a toddler due to faulty, early parenting, usually by the mother who didn’t provide sufficient nurturing and opportunity for idealization. They’re left with an unrealistic view of themselves, and at time make you experience what it was like having had to feed the needs of a cold, invasive, or unavailable narcissistic parent. – See more at:

    • Thank you for your comment. Perhaps I should have added that sometimes, a parent can be overly attentive or indulged. From the Mayo Clinic: “The cause may be linked to a dysfunctional childhood, such as excessive pampering, extremely high expectations, abuse or neglect. It’s also possible that genetics or psychobiology . . . plays a role.” There is no body of research on the psychobiology at this point.

  16. I believe that I am married to a narcissist and I can finally admit that I become fully codependent. Married nine year and four of which he has used drugs and recently started gambling. We own a business and I have become the over-functioning spouse while lately he has taken on the under-functioning role for more reasons than the drugs. I have FINALLY set boundaries and out of spite he has stopped helping with our home and business, completely. His vengeance has been cruel as a result of my standing up for myself. I could ask your guidance and advice for multiple areas, because I certainly need it, but what I am wondering at this moment is: I have convinced myself that I am trying to maintain the business not to ruin my own credit, financial situation or standing in the community but at the same time I am doing that for him too. Saving his ‘standing’ too. I am having a tough time deciphering where its codependency or not. What do I do or not do? What do I fix or not fix? I have seen a lawyer and am seeking guidance as how to proceed with a divorce. This is not an easy decision. I’ve sincerely appreciated your website and valuable wisdom. Thanks for what you do!

    • Congratulations for setting boundaries and finding your voice. To your question, there are no easy answers. This often comes up when financial matters are involved. Getting professional advice from lawyer an accountant is wise. One question to continue to ask yourself is what is the most loving gesture toward yourself. Similarly, just because an addict ruins a holiday meal and won’t help out, that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t make it – if done so for oneself, without expectations and resentments. If you’re saving the business for yourself and your family, you’re taking care of yourself and feel grateful. Working the exercises in my book should be helpful.

  17. Help!! My girl friend is in classic codependent/narcissistic relationship. She is the codependent. Her ex-husband (they were married for 10years) is the narcissist. He cheated on her. She keeps going thru the same cycle over and over of distancing herself, but getting sucked back in by this selfish chump. Everyone else can’t understand how she can actually believe his “promises” of wanting to still be with her. He only says it when he senses her leaving. When she returns, he says he still needs space. And it’s almost like his cheating never happened! It’s like he’s doing her a favor. We’ve tried over and over and even staged an intervention, but nothing seems to get through to our dear friend. What can we do to help her break this destructive cycle? Please help us help her!

    • I’m sorry to say that there’s no way you can help your girlfriend. She has to want help enough to get professional help. You may be surprised to learn that repeatedly trying to help someone who doesn’t want to change IS Codependent behavior. Get my tips on Letting Go, and read my book. If your friend is interested, she can also get a copy. Best wishes to you both.

  18. This was a very helpful article – thank you so much. I am a codependent, who feels so trapped by a narcissist. It has just been the last year that I have come to realize that I am codependent and my spouse is a narcissist. Is it possible, through counselling, for the narcissist to realize his disorder??? Or does he just manipulate his way through that as well – could you ever really be sure that he has changed??? Once trust is broken in a relationship – it is so hard to repair. I feel scared and trapped, frozen by my fear of leaving him, but so scared of what it would mean to stay with him. Counselling would be my last attempt – but I’m just not sure if it is just a waste of time? Or I’m also afraid it is just my codependency trying to hold onto to broken relationship a little longer??? Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you again for your helpful article.

    • Lisa, there are varied levels of narcissism. Many people have a little, and extreme narcissists are cruel and vindictive. Some benefit by therapy, but most are too fragile to examine themselves and don’t stay. Regardless, therapy would benefit you to rebuild your self-esteem, learn to set boundaries, and leave if you choose to. Don’t scare yourself thinking you have to leave before you’re ready. Try counseling together, and continue if he doesn’t. Join CoDA and do the exercises in my book and ebooks. There are reasons why you married him and were in denial so long. Find out. Start working on yourself whether or not he changes. If you leave, you will still have to create a life for yourself. Best wishes on your journey. Darlene

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