(except from my book – The Human Magnet Syndrome)
Over the last ten years, I have been asked more times than I can count, primarily by codependents, “Can a codependent be a narcissist?” Since these two disorders are opposite in almost every respect, it is impossible to be both at the same time. The complex psychological dynamics at play in the codependent-narcissist relationship trigger a psychologically manipulated codependent to believe their needs, requests, and desires are either less important, or secondary, to those of their narcissistic significant other. Worse yet, they are conditioned to judge themselves as inconsiderate, needy, or selfish when asking for something the narcissist would normally deprive them of.
Taking on the narcissism moniker is also explained by being a victim of the narcissist’s projection. Some codependents get so worn down by the constant barrage of projections, they begin to adopt and identify with them. Hence, this is why so many obvious codependents profess to be narcissists. Projective identification is the term that explains this phenomenon.
Since codependents lack confidence and feelings of personal and relational efficacy, they are prone to various forms of psychological manipulation tactics, which pathological narcissists use to establish power and control. One such form of mental manipulation is gaslighting, coined from the 1944 film, Gaslight, which will be discussed in Chapter Eleven. Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse, like brainwashing, in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. Victims are not aware they are being covertly and methodically manipulated into believing they have a problem that renders them powerless and in need of the same person who created the problem.
Psychological gymnastics and brainwashing are behind the codependent’s distorted beliefs of being a narcissist. Codependents often carry a personal narrative that condemns them for being selfish or narcissistic when wanting or seeking to meet their own needs and desires. This no-win situation, or double bind, compels them to feel selfish or narcissistic when defending themselves or when trying to take care of themselves or any person other than the narcissist. Because of the dysfunctional narrative, they submit to the belief that they are good and loving when they sacrifice and bad, selfish, or narcissistic when they seek to meet their own needs or show some modicum of self-respect and self-love. These thought distortions come from a lifelong experience of being blamed for their pathologically narcissistic loved one’s narcissism.
The simplest proof I can provide to the confused codependent is most narcissists would reject the claim they are narcissistic and wouldn’t invest any emotional energy feeling bad about it. Narcissists typically blame others for their problems, while experiencing little-to-no internal conflict about the harm they cause others. In contrast, codependents are quick to blame themselves for mistakes and problems, whether it was their fault or not. They are also prone to convoluted thought patterns about what they might have done wrong, what they could have done better, and how to make the people who are upset with them happy. The codependent is primed to believe any serious problem may very well be their fault. In short, a codependent will very likely believe themselves to be a narcissist; a narcissist would never consider that to be a possibility.