For my new Human Magnet Syndrome website, I am putting together graphics. Here is one for the reviews.
WHEN “SELFISH” IS REALLY GOOD
It is GOOD for SLD’s (Self-Love Deficients or codependents) to be selfish. It is like learning to ride a bike. Doing something for yourself and not caring what people think is a dangerous proposition. “Selfish,” therefore is good.
The problem is the voices in your head have been lying to you; telling you that you are being bad, when you are just trying not to drown anymore.These voices have never been yours. Rather, they are covertly implanted narratives that were designed to confuse you, turn you against yourself, and break you down. It is time to break the gaslighting spell and regain the true voice in your head…your own! Fall a few times, brush off the pain, and get back on the “bike.”
Learning to love yourself will frighten people, who have only one way to get you to quit the nonsense of SLDD (Self-Love Deficit Disorder or codependency) recovery. They will call you a “narcissist” and try to make you feel ashamed and guilty for your moments of self-care. Scoff at the projection, this is more about them than you. Ride your bike all the way out of their life!
Creator of “The Codependency Cure: Recovering from Self-Love Deficit Disorder” seminar (and upcoming book)
I am so grateful to the many people who have told me that my book The Human Magnet Syndrome was life-changing. Having such a positive impact on the human condition is my teenager “gonna change the world” dream come true. I couldn’t be happier!
My book was written to inspire and motivate people to understand their part in thedysfunctional dance they have been irresistibly drawn into their whole life. It WAS NOT written to be used as a defensive or offensive strategy in dealing with harmful pathological narcissists (PNarcs).
The “codependent” and “narcissistic” designations in The Human Magnet Syndrome were designed to identify a very serious personal and relational problem so the reader would be motivated to get help to disconnect from it. The book was never intended to be used as a retaliatory weapon to be used by angry, vindictive and/or controlling codependents, or what I now refer to as individuals with Self-Love Deficit Disorder (SLDD). Similarly, it wasn’t written to be used as a countermeasure against narcissistic harm.
The mere mentioning of my book to a PNarc is almost always counterproductive, as it will ALWAYS trigger a negative reaction, no matter how much you believe otherwise. I strongly suggest that you never give a copy of my book to PNarc. Never! It will always trigger a narcissistic injury and set up a dysfunctional interaction, or dance, where the PNarc has complete control and the person with Self-Love Deficit Disorder does not.
If a PNarc learns or is told that their partner is reading my book, they will react in one of two manners:
The latter is more dangerous as the PNarc is allowed to maintain their victim role, while manipulating their partner into believing that they have the problems, not them. In these cases, some of my clients, in the beginning of therapy, are convinced that they are the PNarc and their significant other the SLD. Believe it or not, a few of these clients’ PNarcs read my book, and then gave it to their partner with the continued brainwashing narrative that they are the “codependent” and their partner the “narcissist.”
Plain and simple, any suggestion that the narcissist is at fault will elicit a narcissistic injury. Giving them my book, or referring to it, while telling them you are SLD or codependent, is and will cause them to react in one of two ways. One, they will project onto you that you are the narcissist and they the codependent; or, two, they will be triggered with a narcissistic injury, and subsequently rage against you for the comment or suggestion. You will be the target of their unmitigated fury and vitriolic criticisms, and they will punish you.
The following excerpt from the Human Magnet Syndrome exemplifies the predictable negative response that PNarcs have to my work.
“According to their verbal and/or written feedback, they feel the seminar is offensive, ill-conceived, biased and even absurd. In particular, they are quite bothered by what they perceive as prejudice. These participants hear me say that codependents are the victims and emotional manipulators are the perpetrators of their dysfunctional relationships. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the training (and this book) specifically details how both the codependent and the emotional manipulator are equally willing magnets in their dysfunctional “dance.” The codependent’s tendency to find harmful partners and remain with them cannot and should not be blamed on emotional manipulators, or vice versa.
It would appear that the severe reactions from my audience are likely products of a narcissistic injury, which occurs when the narcissistic individual felt criticized, judged or defeated.
Anger and defensiveness are the common reactions of a narcissistically-injured emotional manipulator, as they feel offended, degraded and/or humiliated when confronted about their wrongdoings.” (Rosenberg, 2013).
Depending on the PNarc’s sub-type or diagnosis, their narcissistically prompted rage will be either delivered directly (“in your face”) or passive aggressively/covertly, which is the common strategy by Covert Narcissists and Malignant Narcissists. The covert and passive aggressive form of the narcissistic injury is more harmful than the reactions from the garden variety overt narcissists. They deliver maximum damage to the triggering (activating) SLD because of the invisible, secretive and manipulative nature of their counter-attack. Examples include triangulation of family, friends or co-workers, in order to promote their victim narrative.
Sadly, and ironically, the mere fact of fighting for what SLDs most want and need — unconditional love, respect and care (LRC) — results in the loss of it. Once in a relationship with a PNarc, any attempts to control or coerce the narcissist into loving, respecting and caring for the SLD are quickly offset by a dizzying array of self-serving manipulative countermeasures. These come in various forms, depending on your PNarc’s subtype. Unfortunately, as long as codependents fight for LRC in a manner that renders them powerless and ineffectual, they are virtually guaranteed never to receive it.
I learned 22 years ago that setting boundaries, resolving conflict, and defending myself from a PNarc was a complicated and dangerous endeavor that left me feeling worse than I felt before the ordeal. I was surprised to learn that my repeated and unsuccessful attempts to control my PNarc’s neglectful and harmful treatment were the primary interactional components of our relationship. My behavior was so automatic and reflexive that I was completely oblivious to it. Adding insult to injury, the only predictable outcome of my control compulsion was feelings of shame, loneliness, anxiety, and anger.
We must learn that PNarcs are never the primary problem. Instead, it is a SLD’s distorted and delusional belief system that compels them to keep trying to change and control their PNarc partner, who has a great deal riding on not letting you succeed. Despite ample evidence that SLDs can rarely effectively and consistently control their PNarcs, they blindly continue.
In conclusion, please do not use my book or other works to wage a battle against your PNarc. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, I beseech you to Observe and Don’t Absorb your PNarc into oblivion!
I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig.
You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it!
– George Bernard Shaw
Excerpts from The Codependency Cure: Recovering from Self-Love Deficit Disorder Book Proposal
Chapter 3: “CODEPENDENCY” NO MORE – THE SELF LOVE DEFICIT DISORDER STORY
Discovery Phase V – Core Shame Pathological Loneliness
At age 43, about two years after my humiliating second divorce, my life spiraled out of control and seemed be irrevocably reduced to shambles. My success driven self, the one that kept winning races because of the blinders he had on, could no longer carry the day. Like an old battered row boat with one too many holes in it, I took on more water than I could frantically bail out. No matter how much I tried, dragging on life’s rocky bottom, made it impossible to keep the “good” Ross afloat. As rapidly as one part of me was sinking, another part was rising upwards, seeking the light of day.
To my great dismay, from the murky depths of my unconscious mind, arose my emotional nemesis – core shame. This wasn’t the first time we met, as “he” had repeatedly and unremittingly tapped me on the shoulder back in my exquisitely sad, lonely teenage years. In an effort to stop the throbbing loneliness he caused, I almost self-medicated myself into oblivion. Twenty-eight years later, I was back to my self-medicating ways, trying to anesthetize myself from the ever-present reminders that I was essentially broken, worthless and unlovable. “Bottoming out” at age 44 served as a wake-up call, when I decided to awake from my self-medicated slumber and got myself back into therapy. This time around, I would not stop, until I could permanently eradicate my shame core, that part of me that kept leading me into the arms of a pathological narcissist.
Proposed Table of Contents
Forward: Another author will write?
Introduction: The Journey to Self-Love: Breaking Free to Recovery
Chapter 1: “Magnets” and “Cures:” The New Codependency Landscape
Chapter 2: Codependency, Narcissism, And The Human Magnet Syndrome
Chapter 3: “Codependency” No More – The Self-Love Deficit Disorder Story
Chapter 4: Paleopsychotherapy: Uncovering Trauma Fossils
Chapter 5: Codependency Addiction: “Hooked” on Your Narcissist
Chapter 6: Organizing The “Codependency Cure.” A Six Stage Recovery Model
Chapter 7: Hitting Bottom – From The Ashes the Phoenix Does Rise”
Chapter 8: Stop Wrestling with “Pigs!” The Observe Don’t Absorb Technique
Chapter 9: Finding Your Voice: Setting Boundaries in A Hostile Environment
Chapter 10: Maintaining Safe & Secure Boundaries
Chapter 11: Healing the Wounded Child Technique
Chapter 12: Discovering Self-Love: Building A Self-Love Foundation
Chapter 13: Relationship Math: The Addition of Two Self-Loving Individuals
Chapter 14: Reaching Self-Love Abundancy – The Codependency Cure
CHAPTER 6: ORGANIZING THE “CODEPENDENCY CURE.” A Six Stage Recovery Model
The Inevitable “How To” Question
It seemed every time I talked about the Human Magnet Syndrome (HMS)—in seminars, YouTube videos, blogs, articles, and of course, in my book—I was repeatedly besieged by the same emphatic question: “When will you tell us how to solve the problem?” Even with the epiphanies and watershed moments that the HMS material made possible, these same people were still mired waist-deep in the muddy swamp of a lifetime of codependent pain.
Naturally, the HMS’s explanation for why they repeatedly mistook harmful Pnarcs for loving life-partners was helpful, but it wasn’t enough. It helped them identify and understand their destructive self-sabotaging tendencies, but they also craved guidance on how to break free from the bonds of codependency , while learning how to be in a relationship with a lover, a best-friend, a mother, or a brother, who was mutually loving, respecting, and caring.
In writing The Human Magnet Syndrome, my goal was to explain what codependency is, not the solutions to it. It was my intention to both revise and redefine it, while explaining its predictable and reflexive behavior pattern, and why codependents repeatedly “dance” with harmful Pnarcs despite cascades of consequences, losses, and emotional pain. As much as I sympathized with the urgency of these questions, I maintained the course of my mission, which was to create a seismic shift in the understanding of codependency. I would not waver from this decision, since I had already planned to follow-up my HMS work with an instructive “how to” book focused on practical solutions and the path to healing.
Even with the clarity of my master plan, I still needed to convince others—both professionals and patients eager for help—why my “why material” needed to be separated from and to precede the eventual “how to” discussion. The following lays out my rationale.
CHAPTER 8 STOP WRESTLING WITH PIGS! How to Master the Observe Don’t Absorb Technique
The Emotional Wrestling Ring
The emotional ring is the fight that occurs in the SLD’s head, a fight which the SLD always loses. This thought and feeling-based wrestling ring consists of the flood of thoughts, feelings, suppositions, predictions, and judgments that overwhelms the SLD before, during, and after the SLD enters the physical ring. Adding another level of complexity, in any given emotional ring, the SLD is wrestling the current Pnarc, as well as Pnarcs from the past, namely the narcissistic parent or parents responsible for attachment trauma (the cause of SLDD).
The emotional wrestling ring is more dangerous than its physical counterpart. Not only is it invisible and lacking a definitive shape, but it is also the venue in which inner voices or dialogue command your attention. On a good day, the voices or dialogue are patient, accepting, self-forgiving, and self-loving. On a bad day, the Pnarc takes residence in your head, berating you with a cacophony of conclusions, judgments, and impatient commands that unfairly second-guess, judge, and ridicule your actions while degrading and derailing any attempt to secure healthy boundaries.
With the Pnarc infecting your thoughts, feelings, and judgments, the wrestling match is over before it starts, and the inevitable outcome is assured. When you add to the mix the flight or fight and false power responses, the SLD’s thought processes and judgment are impaired, rendering them the surefire loser of any altercation, argument and/or conflict with their Pnarc partner. In addition, once the SLD “rents” the Pnarc “space in their head,” all bets are off, as defeat in the emotional ring ensures another humiliating smack-down in the physical. The fight may seem to the SLD to be fought and lost in the physical ring, but this is an illusion, as most fights are lost in the emotional ring.
Muhammad Ali’s Emotional Knockouts
Muhammad Ali, international sports icon and boxing legend, exemplified a person who dominated his sport because of his mastery of both the emotional and physical rings. Many boxing aficionados and sports historians would agree that Ali may not have always been physically stronger, faster, or more skilled than his opponents. However, these same people would agree that despite his opponents’ obvious advantages, “The Champ” would find a way to win the boxing match. It is unimportant to this book to determine if Muhammad Ali was a Pnarc or not. But what is of value is to demonstrate how and why his psychological boxing methods were a masterful use of the emotional ring, and how they enabled him to achieve dominance in the boxing world.
Especially in the mid to later part of his career, Ali racked up wins through the carefully executed psychological manipulation of his opponents. His big wins, especially against the likes of Joe Frazier and George Foreman, were attributed to his ability to get into their heads, provoke unbridled anger, and ultimately, render them their own worst enemies. Winning in the emotional ring was achieved by taunting, ridiculing, and embarrassing them, which got them so enraged and hell-bent to pulverize Ali that they would ultimately sabotage their own efforts to win the fight.
Once Ali’s opponents were antagonized to the point of rage and a hyper-focused obsession to beat him to a pulp, they expended huge amounts of their energy early on in the match. The combination of his opponents’ triggered vindictive rage, their all-out intention to knock him out in the first few rounds, and Ali’s successful use of his “rope-a-dope” strategy (hunkering down in a safe, defensive position), all but guaranteed Ali a win. By the time his opponent lost his steam, and perhaps his false power, Ali would tap into his reserves and deliver a flurry of bout-ending punches.
Simply speaking, Ali won most of his fights by leading his opponents into an emotional ring and manipulating them to fight unknowingly against themselves; just as the Pnarc does with the unsuspecting SLD.
A Rosetta Stone For Relationships, March 5, 2014
By Farrell F Neeley
After reading Rosenberg’s work, I can highly recommend it to people who have been ‘hit’ by the runaway train of a love that turned out to be anything but love. The writing is insightful and easily accessible to both lay persons and academics. I also think it can provide valuable insight for those in management positions who encounter Narcissists and other disruptive personalities in their workplace. I believe that this book can be an asset to both the every day people that Rosenberg directs it at, and the academics and counselors out there who may need a fresh perspective.
Farrell F. Neeley, PhD
Relationships and marriage are difficult., March 1, 2014
I found this one of the better books as it talks about people’s differences without placing blame on one side or the other. Sometimes you can love a person very much but find it almost too hard to be in a relationship with them. This helps explain the problems and helps you figure out whether or not you can work through this.
Enlightening book page after page, December 25, 2013
By Amazon Customer “Melaphant N.”
This review is from: The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us (Paperback)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found my jaw drop several times as the ah-ha’s kept rolling out. I’ve recommended it to everyone I know.
Amazingly concise, extraordinary but simple to understand insight,
February 2, 2014 By Joe Bernard
I have had a lot of therapy including psychoanalysis, but never has anyone written down my problems with my self-value with such great insight and power as Rosenberg. He is actually talking about the guy inside me, one that no-one really knows or can figure out. His simple language struck me like a tidal wave. It is the best purchase I have ever made, His book has made me change. “Mr. nice guy” no more, from now on I am becoming me.
Inspirational and healing… giving light to the dark path, January 23, 2014
This book was authentically written from the perspective of the authors own personal journey to wholeness and transformation. Rosenberg is walking the walk that many of those with codependent traits wish to transform into like a chrysalis. Thank you for sharing your personal journey with us. Your vulnerability will open the steel doors which trap ourselves when we look down and see we are holding the key. We just need the courage to open the door
Gives you the Ah-Ha factor. May be the motivation you need., November 23, 2013
By K. Michael
This Is a great book that’s a quick read. Ross does a fabulous job explaining why we continue the dysfunctional dance and why we are attracted to these toxic people. After four years of struggling with a man who cheated, lied and repeatedly gave me punishments of silent treatments I found it very satisfying that i was NOT crazy and this behavior was not going to change. This book has helped me pick myself up and dust myself off. I am ready to focus on me for once and start healing. It Is not an easy process and sometimes I still crave that passion, chemistry and love I thought we shared but I realize it wasn’t real. That was my Co-dependency..You may have to remind yourself you deserve a healthy relationship. I pray that we all find a mutually satisfying, balanced loving relationship and if we find ourselves faced with another narcissist or whatever it may be, we RUN.
A very helpful guide, October 30, 2013
By Harvey Kelber
I have had a private counseling practice for 35 years,and I specialize in couples counseling. I think Ross Rosenberg has made a significant contribution to the literature on this topic for the general public and for professionals. Ross builds on the shoulders of Harville Hendrix, Susan Forward , Robin Norwood, John Gottman, and others who have insights on this topic. His continuum of self conception and graph gives a uniquely easy way to conceptualize his thesis. I strongly recommend this book.
The Human Magnet Syndrome, July 2, 2013
By Charles S.
Ross Rosenberg’s book, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us, is clearly written; explaining complex ideas in a very accessible manner. I really appreciated the way Mr. Rosenberg wove in psychological concepts without getting overly clinical or unnecessarily intellectual. I especially appreciated his openness about his personal journey. His self-disclosure was impressive and heart felt. As a career & relationship coach, I think it’s really an important and accessible book. I was talking to one of my clients about it before it was published, and she ordered it when it came out. She said the book resonated with her and helped her understand why she keeps making unfortunate relationship choices that don’t work out. I definitely recommend it to therapists, coaches, consultants, and anyone who wants a better understanding of a powerful and profound relationship dynamic that has an impact on most of us.
A Breakthrough Book!, June 26, 2013
After years of trying to understand my codependency, and having different counselors at the same time–this book clearly explains in an understandable way the pull of the codependent with the narcissist.
After a divorce from a 30-year marriage, I still wanted to go back, but not understanding the reasons why. Thank you so much, Dr. Rosenberg. Your book is outstanding, and life-changing!
A dysfunctional dance, June 18, 2013
I recommend this book to anyone recovering from a failed relationship and asking the question WHY.The Human Magnet Syndrome is not a “how to” book. It is a WHY book. In that sense, the book is more akin to a blueprint than a tool box. Once you understand your personal “blueprint”and why a relationship failed, you can begin to address the HOW to fix it. By “design” in my blueprint, I am a codependent – who married an “emotional manipulator”. That was not by chance – it was by design – thus the “magnet” metaphor in the title of the book. We danced the perfect and dysfunctional dance that the author explains.This book helped me see an early blueprint of my relationships.
As a codependent – I ALWAYS sought out “emotional manipulators”, not because we were the same – but because they had strong and opposite qualities that appealed to me as a codependent. Cracks in my foundation – now evident in my “blueprint” have been evident from my early childhood. They contributed directly to the failure of several relationships, including an over 20 year marriage.The book helped me better understand WHY I and my partner were initially so attracted to each other, loved each other, achieved many positive things, but ultimately ended a very long marriage. Now that I understand some of the WHY – I can begin to move on to other more healthy relationships.I highly recommend the book. It helped me make some sense out of chaos in my life…..
Excellent book that will help many, August 14, 2013
By Joyce Marter, LCPC
As a licensed psychotherapist with nearly 20 years experience, I highly recommend this book for therapists and all people interested in gaining insight and improving their relationships. Rosenberg hits the nail on the head in this book about one of the most prevalent yet under addressed issues I have seen in my practice—why givers are attracted to takers and how to achieve balance in relationships. He cites the classic books that address codependency and narcissism, while taking the discussion further–his “continuum of self” and “sum zero” concepts are ground breaking and extremely helpful. I really appreciate Rosenberg’s authenticity in bravely sharing his own therapeutic journey and discussing codependency among therapists and helping professionals. He is a positive example for clinicians and offers a wealth of insight in this user-friendly book.
For Professionals and People Who Want Healthier Relationships, July 1, 2013
A fresh approach to view relationships. A way to understand complicated personality types and apply those traits to your life. Whether you are a professional guiding your clients, a life coach offering tips, or just someone who needs to understand why they have difficulties attracting nice people, this book is for you. Highlights include: understanding others’ selfishness, identifying takers and givers, providing a scale to see where one fits in, and identifying what about ourselves attracts these types of individuals. Most of the books I’ve read, as a professional Social Worker/Therapist, about Narcissism are complicated. So having this book to aid in not only understanding Narcissists, but also to have a book to be able to recommend to my clients, is appreciated. Thank you.
Donna Crunkilton-Stiegel, MSW, LCSW
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Psychotherapist & National Seminar Trainer
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT Candidate
We therapists live for moments when everything “clicks” and our client arrives at an understanding that, until that moment, had eluded him. There is nothing more rewarding than when a well-placed analogy or metaphor creates the breakthrough moment. When spot-on, the resulting “light bulb” reaction or “aha” moment is priceless!
Of all of the metaphors I use in psychotherapy, “the dance” has been the most provocative and powerfully impactful with my codependent clients. It has helped them understand their predilection for choosing “dance partners” who are irresistibly attractive to them, but ultimately controlling and harmful. It has also assisted them in coming to terms with their seemingly magnetic attraction to narcissistic romantic partners. Over time, the dance metaphor would develop into one of my favorite psychotherapeutic techniques, which would ultimately facilitate perception of rigid thought patterns, break down systems of denial and enable emotional and intellectual understanding of dysfunctional relationship dynamics.
The dance metaphor works because it almost perfectly aligns with what we know about real dancing partnerships. For example, compatible dancers are well matched in their dance approach or dance roles: one always needs to be the leader and the other the follower. The leader always navigates the dance with precision and the follower acquiesces seamlessly. These two choose songs to dance to that they know completely and intuitively. They are exquisitely experienced, familiar and attuned to the other’s dancing style, moves and idiosyncrasies. To an onlooker, it appears that they dance with ESP, each knowing and predicting the other’s moves before they happen.
Codependents and narcissists “dance” so well with each other because their pathological personalities or “dance styles” are complementary or, in other words, they are perfectly matched partners. Their well-matched dance preferences bond them together in a resilient and lasting partnership, even if one or both partners are unhappy, resentful or angry. As well-matched dancers, they perform magnificently on the dance floor because they instinctively are able to expect each other’s moves. They dance effortlessly with each other, as if they have always danced together. Each knows his or her role and sticks to it. Dysfunctional compatibility is the driving force behind this dynamic dancing duo.
As perfectly compatible dancing partners, the narcissist dancer is the “yin” to the codependent’s “yang.” The codependent’s giving, sacrificial and passive nature matches up perfectly with the narcissist’s entitled, demanding and self-centered traits. Like metal magnets or, as I call them, “human magnets,” codependents and narcissists continue their rocky and seemingly unstable relationship because of their opposite dance roles or, as I refer to it in my book, The Human Magnet Syndrome, their “magnetic roles.” The lasting bond created by perfectly matched human magnets or dysfunctional dancers is interminably powerful; binding them together despite myriad consequences or shared unhappiness. Although their rollercoaster-relationship provokes more anxiety and disconnect than happiness, both seem compelled to continue the dance.
These perfectly matched dancers always seem to nail their dance routines, which are to be expected, as they have been practicing their passive and predictive dance moves their whole adult lives. Codependents’ dancing skills are distinctly connected to their reflexive dysfunctional agility – the ability to be attuned to the cues, gestures and self-serving movements of their pathological narcissist partners. Codependents, in almost every facet of their life, pride themselves on knowing what people want and need, almost before the friend, family member or partner knows it themselves. Hence, they are adept at anticipating their narcissist partner’s moves, while still experiencing the dance as a positive experience.
Conversely, narcissistic “dancers” are drawn to codependent partners because they are allowed to feel dominant, secure and in-control in an activity that brings them much attention, praise and appreciation. They habitually choose or fall in love with codependent “dance” partners because they are given open and tacit permission to be the center-focus, lead the direction of the dance and, ultimately, determine where, when and how the dance will proceed. In other words, the narcissist’s grandiosity, entitlement and need to be in control are not only allowed by their codependent partner, but also paradoxically make the partner feel safe and secure in the dance.
The dance metaphor has been instrumental to my work with codependent clientele because it assisted them understand their persistent dysfunctional attraction pattern to hurtful and selfish narcissistic romantic partners. It also helped them in breaking their perpetual and reflexive pattern of choosing a dance partner who initially felt perfect, but eventually would reveal themselves to be so wrong and harmful to them. As my dad, who sadly is a narcissist, once told me when he was explaining the nature of relationships: “The soul mate of your dreams is gonna become the cellmate of your nightmares.”
Therapy that utilizes my dance metaphor consistently provokes a deeper understanding of dysfunctional relationship patterns. Over time, my clients developed the confidence, insight and feelings of personal efficacy and power to break free from their dysfunctional relationship patterns. Released from their propensity to fall in love with narcissists, these “recovering” codependents would finally be able to fall reflexively, if not magnetically, into the arms of a loving, desirable and emotionally healthy dance partner.
In 2007, following an inspiring breakthrough therapy session with one of my clients, I decided to consolidate all of my ideas about the codependent/narcissist dance phenomenon into one essay, which I would entitle “Codependency, Don’t Dance.” The essay flowed from me with ease, as I had been thinking, contemplating and talking about these concepts for over five years. I would later realize that the ideas/concepts had been marinating in my mind ever since I made the promise to myself that I would put an end to my own penchant for dating, falling in love with and marrying narcissistic women. I have no doubt that if I didn’t figure out how to change my own dysfunctional dance pattern, the dance “light bulb” would never have appeared above my head!
It was an immediate hit with my codependent clients as it seemed to galvanize their understanding of their own dysfunctional and self-defeating relationship choices. It worked for them as it represented my own truism about the psychotherapy process: you can’t change a long-standing dysfunctional pattern until you first understand what it is and from where it comes; the deeper the understanding of the internal processes, the more apt the therapy experience will yield positive results.
Since writing this essay, it has become the most requested piece of my written work and is also included in my book, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us. Over the past six years since it was written, I’m honored and grateful that the essay has helped thousands of people to analyze and, ultimately, understand their seemingly mysterious and habitual relationship patterns with narcissists.
What follows is an excerpt of the essay:
When a codependent and narcissist come together in their relationship, their dance unfolds flawlessly: The narcissistic partner maintains the lead and the codependent follows. Their roles seem natural to them because they have actually been practicing them their whole lives; the codependent reflexively gives up their power and since the narcissist thrives on control and power, the dance is perfectly coordinated. No one gets their toes stepped on.
Typically, codependents give of themselves much more than their partners give back to them. As “generous” but bitter dance partners, they seem to be stuck on the dance floor, always waiting for the “next song,” at which time they naively hope that their narcissistic partner will finally understand their needs. Codependents confuse caretaking and sacrifice with loyalty and love. Although they are proud of their unwavering dedication to the person they love, they end up feeling unappreciated and used. Codependents yearn to be loved, but because of their choice of dance partner, find their dreams unrealized. With the heartbreak of unfulfilled dreams, codependents silently and bitterly swallow their unhappiness.
Codependents are essentially stuck in a pattern of giving and sacrificing, without the possibility of ever receiving the same from their partner. They pretend to enjoy the dance, but really harbor feelings of anger, bitterness, and sadness for not taking an active role in their dance experience. They are convinced that they will never find a dance partner who will love them for who they are, as opposed to what they can do for them. Their low self-esteem and pessimism manifests itself into a form of learned helplessness that ultimately keeps them on the dance floor with their narcissistic partner.
The narcissist dancer, like the codependent, is attracted to a partner who feels perfect to them: Someone who lets them lead the dance while making them feel powerful, competent and appreciated. In other words, the narcissist feels most comfortable with a dancing companion who matches up with their self-absorbed and boldly selfish dance style. Narcissist dancers are able to maintain the direction of the dance because they always find partners who lack self-worth, confidence and who have low self-esteem — codependents. With such a well-matched companion, they are able to control both the dancer and the dance.
Although all codependent dancers desire harmony and balance, they consistently sabotage themselves by choosing a partner who they are initially attracted to, but will ultimately resent. When given a chance to stop dancing with their narcissistic partner and comfortably sit the dance out until someone healthy comes along, they typically choose to continue their dysfunctional dance. They dare not leave their narcissistic dance partner because their lack of self-esteem and self-respect makes them feel like they can do no better. Being alone is the equivalent of feeling lonely, and loneliness is too painful to bear.
Although codependents dream of dancing with an unconditionally loving and affirming partner, they submit to their dysfunctional destiny. Until they decide to heal the psychological wounds that ultimately compel them to dance with their narcissistic dance partners, they will be destined to maintain the steady beat and rhythm of their dysfunctional dance.
Through psychotherapy, and perhaps, a 12-step recovery program, the codependent can begin to recognize that their dream to dance the grand dance of love, reciprocity and mutuality is indeed possible. Through therapy and a change of lifestyle, codependents can build (repair) their tattered self-esteem. The journey of healing and transformation will bring them feelings of personal power and efficacy that will foster a desire to finally dance with someone who is willing and capable of sharing the lead, communicating their movements, and pursuing a mutual loving rhythmic dance.
In conclusion, it is my belief that all codependents, if motivated and committed to a healing and engaging psychotherapy process, are able to stop their insanity-inducing dance with narcissists. Through a non-wavering belief in one’s self-worth and commitment to the ideal of healthy and resilient love, we all can finally experience personal and relational joy. The quote that best captures my philosophy of the codependency recovery process comes from George Eliot: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Or, as I might say it, “It is never too late to dance with the partner of your dreams.”
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Psychotherapist & National Seminar Trainer
Interviewed on December 7th at 2pm CDT
Rob Carson is a major market radio personality currently in Washington DC working at Mix 107.3 and 105.9 WMAL. Rob’s comedy has been heard nationally on America’s biggest radio networks and shows including the Rush LImbaugh Program since 1990. Rob also is a lifestyle video host specializing in cooking and home improvement. Rob’s podcast is a new generation of talk radio featuring politics, pop culture, personal experiences, observational humor, great guests and the biggest satire in the country.
Rob Carson Bio: Rob Carson is an anchor on Envision Radio Networ. He is a talk veteran and comedy writer as an anchor for its weekend news-talk program “America Weekend.” Carson previously worked at talk stations including WMAL, Washington; WIBC, Indianapolis; and KMOX, St. Louis. He works alongside fellow anchors Paul Harris and Turi Ryder, and weatherman John Wetherbee.
Covert narcissists are masters of disguise – successful actors, humanitarians, politicians, clergy members, and even psychotherapists who are beloved and appreciated, but are secretly selfish, calculating, controlling, angry and vindictive. Covert narcissists create an illusion of selflessness while gaining from their elevated status. Although they share similar basic traits with the overt narcissist, i.e., the need for attention, affirmation, approval and recognition, they are stealthier about hiding their selfish and egocentric motives. Unlike the overt narcissist who parades his narcissism for all to see, the covert narcissist furtively hides his real motives and identity. These narcissists are able to trick others into believing they are honest, altruistic and empathetic individuals. They are successful at pretending to be a more likable version of themselves, knowing that if their true identity was uncovered, they would not be able to maintain the respect, status and prestige that they have so furtively garnered. From Ross’s book, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us.
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Psychotherapist & National Seminar Trainer
To quote William Shakespeare, “What’s in a name?” Well, Mr. Shakespeare, in the mental health field, quite a bit! Correctly labeling mental health disorders is powerfully important to the person in their pursuit of seeking help to overcome their problems.
Even with the potential for misuse, such terms are required by the researcher, educator, practitioner and, most importantly, the patient to understand, identify and seek help for a specific mental health-related condition. Diagnoses or mental health terms, when not experienced as derogatory or belittling, have inherent power to lead distressed and suffering people to seek professional help, which has the capacity to be psychologically healing, transformational and even life-saving. Conversely, mental health terms that carry negative stereotypes or connote weakness and feebleness can cause grievous personal and psychological harm.
Like other misunderstood and misused psychological expressions, “codependency” has taken on a life of its own. Once it went mainstream, it was haphazardly and conveniently reshaped to fit our mainstream vocabulary. Since its introduction in the 1980’s, its meaning has unfortunately devolved to describe a weak, needy, clingy and even emotionally sick person. To some, it incorrectly is interpreted as a dependent person who is in a relationship with another dependent person. Thirty years later, the term “codependency” has become a caricature of its original meaning. This is so much the case that many therapists refrain from using it in clinical settings.
To understand the development of the term “codependency,” it is important to trace its origins. In 1936, Bill W. and Dr. Bob created the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) movement. Prior to AA, alcoholism was attributed to a weakness in character and lack of personal motivation to stop it. Thanks to Bill and Dr. Bob, alcoholism was redefined as a disease over which the individual had little to no control. From AA, other 12-Step groups came into being. Thus started the myriad other life-enhancing and life-saving 12-Step groups.
In 1951, Lois W., wife of Bill W., and Anne B. founded Al-Anon, a 12-Step recovery program for the families and significant others of the alcoholic. It addressed the other side of the alcoholism coin – the suffering family members who, like the alcoholic, felt their lives were out of control and littered with obstacles and losses. According to the Al-Anon website (2013), “Al-Anon is a mutual support group of peers who share their experience in applying the Al-Anon principles to problems related to the effects of a problem drinker in their lives. It is not group therapy and is not led by a counselor or therapist; this support network complements and supports professional treatment.”
By the 1970s, alcohol treatment providers began to consider the limitations of the one-dimensionality of the medical treatment model, which typically just treated the alcoholic (treating the disease). As treatment centers began to embrace the emerging practice of treating alcoholism within the context of social networks and family relationships, partners of the alcoholic, or the co-alcoholic, and other family members were included in the treatment process. This practice yielded lower incidents of relapse and longer periods of sobriety.
Since drug addictions and alcoholism shared more similarities than differences, beginning in the early 1980s, various drug treatment programs adopted the term “chemical dependency,” as it better reflected the similarities between alcoholism (alcohol addiction) and other drug addictions. With a unifying diagnostic term, treatment for all chemical/drug addictions coalesced into a unified treatment paradigm, “chemical dependency.” To fit in with the changes, “co-alcoholism” was updated to “co-chemically dependent.” Being too much of a mouthful to say, it was shortened to “co-dependent.”
Early on, the term “codependency” described a person’s compulsive predilection to be in relationships with chemically dependent partners. According to S. Wegscheider-Cruise (1984), a person was considered codependent if they were (a) in a love or marital relationship with an alcoholic, (b) had one or more alcoholic parents or grandparents, or (c) were raised within an emotionally repressed family. Soon, “codependency” became the standard diagnostic term used for the chemically dependent individual’s partner or other individuals who enabled a chemically dependent friend/loved one. Hence, addiction treatment centers began to regularly provide treatment and/or support services to the partners of the addict and their family members. The primary focus of codependency treatment was to support the codependent during the treatment process, while facilitating care and understanding about their enabling role in the problem, or disease.
By the mid-1980s, thanks to many key advances within the chemical dependency and addiction treatment fields, the term codependency took on a more broadly understood meaning. It evolved to describe a person who was habitually attracted to or in a relationship with a narcissist and/or an addict. Codependents were understood to be people-pleasers who would reflexively sacrifice and care for others who would not care for them in return. They felt powerless to resist relationships with addicted, controlling and/or narcissistic individuals. It became evident that codependents came from all walks of life and were not necessarily only in relationships with addicted individuals.
Thanks to codependency authors like Melody Beattie, Claudia Black, John Friel, Terry Kellogg and Pia Melody, just to name a few, the term codependency finally saw the light of day. It came out of the closet and was no longer considered a shameful secret for which there was no help. These early books helped change the world’s attitude towards the partners of addicts or narcissists, who were no longer viewed as weak and defenseless victims who were powerless to leave their harmful and dysfunctional relationships.
Next came the plethora of media depictions and satires of codependency. Whether it was on “Saturday Night Live” or in People Magazine, by the late 1990’s, the term lost its original meaning and clinical purpose. In my 2013 book, “The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us,” I took great pains to specifically and operationally define codependency. What follows is my concise definition of codependency.
Codependency is a problematic relationship orientation that involves the relinquishing of power and control to individuals who are either addicted or who are pathologically narcissistic. Codependents are habitually attracted to people who neither seem interested nor motivated to participate in mutual or reciprocal relationships. Hence, the partners of codependents are often egotistical, self-centered and/or selfish. Typically, codependents feel unfulfilled, disrespected and undervalued by their relationship partner. As much as they resent and complain about the inequity in their relationships, codependents feel powerless to change them.
Thanks to many other committed writers and clinicians, codependency is still on the forefront of modern and cutting-edge mental health and addictions treatment. Understanding what “codependency” means and where it came from helps to keep hope alive for the partners of both addicts and narcissists.
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Psychotherapist & National Seminar Trainer