People are easily charmed by a narcissist, especially codependents. Narcissists can be beguiling and charismatic. In fact, one study showed that their likable veneer was only penetrable after seven meetings. I’ve had a number of clients who claimed that the courtship with their narcissistic spouse was wonderful, and that abuse only began following the wedding. However, with greater insight, these clients admitted that there were signs that they’d overlooked.
Blind Spots when Dating a Narcissist
There are unconscious explanations why you might not spot a narcissist. Here are some reasons why you might not recognize a narcissist: more
Pervasiveness revelations of sexual harassment and assault have surprised most men, but not women. However, both genders are largely unaware of the damaging impact that objectification of women can cause. It perpetuates a cycle of shame in both men and women. Even if never overtly harassed or assaulted, women experience the destructive effects of sexual objectification, including abuse and violence, eating disorders, body shame, depression, risky sexual behavior, and sexual dysfunction. Men don’t realize how sexual shame also harms them. Sexuality brings abundant opportunities to exaggerate both our vulnerability and shame, to feel pleasure and close, but also to feel unworthy, unacceptable, and unlovable.
Shame and Manhood
Boys must separate from their mothers to establish their masculinity. To accomplish this task, they look to their father. more
Authenticity is the opposite of shame. It reveals our humanity and allows us to connect with others. Shame creates most all codependency symptoms – including hiding who we are, sacrificing our needs, and saying yes when we rather not – all to be accepted by someone else. It warps our communication and damages our relationships so that we control, patronize, criticize, blame, deny, withdraw, attack, and make empty promises to keep a relationship and reassure ourselves we’re okay even when we don’t believe it.
Hiding Who You Are
For most of us, our self-doubt and hiding has been going on so long that by adulthood, we’ve lost touch with who we truly are. We’ve grown accustomed to behaving in certain predictable roles that worked in our more or less troubled families, in school, and in our work. In the process, we sacrifice a degree of freedom, spontaneity, vulnerability, and parts of ourselves. When we marry, for most of us, our personality contracts further into the role of husband or wife, father or mother, and what is acceptable to maintain the marriage. more
When long-awaited sobriety finally arrives, partners expect their past relationship problems will disappear. Often, there is a “honeymoon” period when they’re on their best behavior and reaffirm their love and commitment. After all that they’ve been through together, they have high hopes for a rosy future and easier times ahead. Yet, sobriety destabilizes the status quo, and the longer partners are together, the more their patterns become entrenched. It’s an unsettling time. Both partners feel vulnerable. In new sobriety, couples don’t really know how to talk to one another. It’s a rocky transition in the marriage or relationship that presents many challenges. more
If you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone emotionally unavailable, you know the pain of not being able to get close to the one you love. They’re evasive, make excuses, or just inept when it comes to talking about feelings or the relationship. Some use anger, criticism, or activities to create distance. You end up feeling alone, depressed, unimportant, or rejected. Usually women complain about emotionally unavailable men. Yet many aren’t aware they’re emotionally unavailable, too. Getting hooked on someone unavailable (think Mr. Big and Carrie Bradshaw) disguises your problem, keeping you in denial of your own unavailability. more
Since writing Codependency for Dummies, countless people contact me about their unhappiness and difficulties in dealing with a difficult loved one, frequently a narcissistic partner or parent who is uncooperative, selfish, cold, and often abusive. Partners of narcissists feel torn between their love and their pain, between staying and leaving, but they can’t seem to do either. They feel ignored, uncared about, and unimportant. As the narcissist’s criticism, demands, and emotional unavailability increase, their confidence and self-esteem decrease. Despite their pleas and efforts, the narcissist appears to lack consideration for their feelings and needs. Over time, they become deeply hurt and frustrated. When the narcissist is a parent, by the time their children reach adulthood, the emotional abandonment, control, and criticism that they experienced growing up has negatively affected their self-esteem and capacity for achieving success or sustaining loving, intimate relationships. more
Research has well-established the link between good self-esteem and relationship satisfaction. Self-esteem not only affects how we think about ourselves, but also how much love we’re able to receive and how we treat others, especially in intimate relationships.
A person’s initial level of self-esteem prior to the relationship predicts partners’ common relationship satisfaction. More specifically, although happiness generally declines slightly over time, this isn’t true for people who enter a relationship with higher levels of self-esteem. But the steepest decline is for people whose self-esteem was lower to begin with. Frequently, those relationships don’t last. Even though communication skills, emotionality, and stress all influence a relationship, a person’s past experience and personality traits affect how these issues are managed and therefore have the greatest bearing on its outcome. more
Many people, especially codependents, are haunted by inner loneliness. Twenty percent (60 million) of Americans report that loneliness is the source of their suffering. In fact, our emotional reaction to rejection emanates from the area of our brain (the dorsal anterior cingulated) that also responds to physical pain. (Cacioppo and Patrick, 2008)
Loneliness is associated with living alone, which surveys indicate has steadily risen to 27 percent in 2013 and to 50 percent and higher in parts of Florida, West Virginia, and especially California. However, being alone only describes a physical condition. We don’t always feel lonely when we’re alone. Individual needs for connection vary. Some people choose to live solo and are happier doing so. They don’t suffer the same sense of abandonment caused by the unwanted loss of a partner through a break-up, divorce, or death. They may also have greater inherited insensitivity to social disconnection, according to recent research. more
We’re wired for attachment – why babies cry when separated from their mothers. Depending especially upon our mother’s behavior, as well as later experiences and other factors, we develop a style of attaching that affects our behavior in close relationships.
Fortunately, most people have a secure attachment, because it favors survival. It ensures that we’re safe and can help each other in a dangerous environment. The anxiety we feel when we don’t know the whereabouts of our child or of a missing loved one during a disaster, as in the movie “The Impossible,” isn’t codependent. It’s normal. Frantic calls and searching are considered “protest behavior,” like a baby fretting for its mother. more
Sons of narcissistic fathers are driven by lack of confidence. Raised by a self-centered, competitive, arrogant father, they feel like they can never measure up or are enough to garner their father’s approval. Their father may be absent or critical and controlling. He may belittle and shame his son’s mistakes, vulnerability, failures, or limitations, yet brag about him to his friends. He may boast about inflated versions of his achievements, while disparaging those of his son. A narcissistic father may ruthlessly bully or compete with his son in games, even when the boy is a less-capable child. Similarly, he may be jealous of his wife’s attention to the boy, compete with him, and flirt with his girlfriends or later wife.
Lack of empathy is typical of narcissists. Many narcissistic fathers are authoritarian and rigid about how things should be done, the correctness of their opinions, and getting their way, portrayed by Robert Duval in the movie The Great Santini. (Pratt & Carlino, 1979) Franz Kakfa articulately describes a literary example of such an imposing intolerance in Letter to His Father: more
Envy, jealousy, and shame are inextricably intertwined. Envy and jealousy are primal emotions that frequently overlap. They’re commonly first felt in the form of sibling rivalry and oedipal longings. A child innately wants mommy and daddy all to him or herself and feels “excluded” from the marital bond, especially if there have been parenting deficits that have led to shame and emotional abandonment. Typically, young children of heterosexual parents see their same-sex parent as a rival for their opposite parent’s love and feel both envious and jealous of their same-sex parent. Similarly, an interloper in a marriage may feel both jealous and envious toward the spouse he or she wishes to replace, possibly re-enacting childhood feelings toward his or her parents. Children are frequently envious and jealous of the attention showered on a newborn sibling. Belief that a sibling is favored can create lifelong feelings of shame and inadequacy. more
Are you searching for a soul mate or unconditional love? Your quest can set you on an impossible journey to find an ideal partner. The problem is often twofold: No human being, nor any relationship can ever achieve perfection, and often unconditional and conditional love are confused.
Usually, we yearn for unconditional love because we didn’t receive it in childhood and fail to give it to ourselves. Of all relationships, parental love, particularly maternal love, is the most enduring form of unconditional love. (In prior generations, paternal love was thought of as conditional.) But in fact, most parents withdraw their love when over-stressed or when their children misbehave. To a child, even time-outs can feel emotionally abandoning. Right or wrong, most parents at times only love their children conditionally. more
If you’re discontented in a relationship or go from one to another or even remain unhappily alone, you may be caught in a worsening cycle of abandonment.
People tend to think of abandonment as something physical, like neglect. Loss of physical closeness due to death, divorce, and illness is also an emotional abandonment. It also happens when our emotional needs aren’t being met in the relationship – including in our relationship with ourselves. And although loss of physical closeness can lead to emotional abandonment, the reverse isn’t true. Physical closeness doesn’t mean our emotional needs will be met. Emotional abandonment may happen when the other person is right beside us. more
Conventional belief is that we can never love too much, but that isn’t always true. Sometimes, love can blind us so that we deny painful truths. We might believe broken promises and continue to excuse someone’s abuse or rejection. We may empathize with them but not enough with ourselves. If we grew up in a troubled environment, we might confuse our pain with love. Although relationships have disappointments and conflicts, love isn’t supposed to be painful and hurt so much. By not having boundaries, we harm ourselves and the relationship. We might also confuse love with being someone’s caretaker. more
Caring about someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) tosses you on a roller coaster ride from being loved and lauded to abandoned and bashed. Being a borderline (having BPD) is no picnic, either. You live in unbearable psychic pain most of the time and in severe cases on the border between reality and psychosis. Your illness distorts your perceptions causing antagonistic behavior and making the world a perilous place. The pain and terror of abandonment and feeling unwanted can be so great that suicide feels like a better choice.
If you like drama, excitement, and intensity, enjoy the ride, because things will never be calm. Following a passionate and immediate beginning, expect a stormy relationship that includes accusations and anger, jealousy, bullying, control, and break-ups due to the borderline’s insecurity. Nothing is grey or gradual. For borderlines, things are black and white. They have the quintessential Jekyll and Hyde personality. Fluctuating dramatically between idealizing and devaluing you, they may suddenly and sporadically shift throughout the day. You never know what or whom to expect. more
Donald Trump has grown an empire of wealth and power, but is it enough? He admits that it isn’t the money that motivates him. (The Art of the Deal, 1987) What drives narcissists are their fears of feeling weak, vulnerable, or inferior. Consequently, for male narcissists in particular, achieving power is their highest value – at any cost. Trump is “certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred.” (Trump on Trump)
There is great disparity between what narcissists show the world and what goes on inside. Despite their big egos, they’re frightened and fragile – just the opposite of their grandiose, powerful façade. They must work hard to keep up their image, not only for others, but for themselves. In fact, their immodesty and exaggerated self-importance are commensurate with their hidden shame. “Me thinks you protest too much,” defines them. Shame is paradoxical in that it hides behind false pride. Its defenses of arrogance and contempt, envy and aggression, and denial and projection all serve to inflate and compensate for a weak, immature self. Like all bullies, the greater their defensive aggression, the greater is their insecurity. more
Wonder whether you’re in love or in lust? Whether your obsession about someone is a sign of love or addiction? Whether you’re staying in a troubled relationship because you’re addicted or in love? It’s complicated, and lust and love and addiction don’t always exclude one another. Endless analyzing doesn’t help or change our feelings, because we’re often driven by forces outside our conscious awareness.
Initial attraction stirs up neurotransmitters and hormones that create the excitement of infatuation and a strong desire to be close and sexual with the person. These chemicals and our emotional and psychological make-up can cause us to obfuscate reality and idealize the object of our attraction. Time spent in fantasy fuels our craving to be with him or her. This is normal when it doesn’t take over our lives.
It’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. more
Do you feel trapped in a relationship you can’t leave? Of course, feeling trapped is a state of mind. No one needs consent to leave a relationship. Millions of people remain in unhappy relationships that range from empty to abusive for many reasons; however, the feeling of suffocation or of having no choices stems from fear that’s often unconscious.
People give many explanations for staying, ranging from caring for young children to caring for a sick mate. One man was too afraid and guilt-ridden to leave his ill wife (11 years his senior). His ambivalence made him so distressed, he died before she did! Money binds couples, too, especially in a bad economy. Yet, couples with more means may cling to a comfortable lifestyle, while their marriage dissembles into a business arrangement. Homemakers fear being self-supporting or single moms, and breadwinners dread paying support and seeing their assets divided. Often spouses fear feeling shamed of leaving a “failed” marriage. Some even worry their spouse may harm him or herself. Battered women may stay out of fear of retaliation should they leave. Most people tell themselves, “The grass isn’t any greener,” believe they’re too old to find love again and imagine nightmarish online dating scenarios. Less so today, some cultures still stigmatize divorce. Yet, there are deeper fears. more
The term codependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, research revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had been imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, it’s likely that you’re codependent. Don’t feel bad if that includes you. Most families in America are dysfunctional, so that covers just about everyone, you’re in the majority! They also found that codependent symptoms got worse if untreated, but the good news was that they were reversible.
Here’s a list of symptoms. You needn’t have all of them to qualify as codependent. more