Relationship addiction and narcissism: Are you trapped in the cycle of codependency?

We only exist in our parents’ gaze until we learn how to view ourselves objectively. Beginning from the moment we are born, the process of emotional development carries us from dependence towards independence, where we learn to rely on ourselves. We sail across the messy terrain of childhood into adult seas on a boat crafted from the sands of time. Pieces of driftwood attach themselves at random shaping into the form we believe we need to survive in order to reach our destination. Yet if we have been emotionally abused in any way as children feeling responsible for the parents' moods e.g., sadness, happiness, anger or hatred, we are left "adapted" and ill-equipped to develop a strong sense of self. "You make me angry", "It's your fault" and "You're so selfish" are the lyrics in your mind. We arrive ego broken and battered, in need of tender repair through compassion, love and care. Unconsciously we are left expecting that life will treat us badly, exacting the same punishment as on the journey from whence we came.

Addict families promote toxic love. Love that is based on conditional love and acceptance. The alcoholic, the gambler, overeater, heroin addict, workaholic etc. are only too happy to have you taking responsibility for everything. In such manner you end up taking the blame, feeling their pain and suffering their shame enabling them to abuse you, taking advantage of you again and again. Or perhaps a parent leaned on you to sort out their own relationship errors, arrears or alleviate all of their fears. So you became enmeshed, not knowing where the emotional boundary lay between what is yours and what is theirs. Ending up feeling anxiously prematurely mature as you take responsibility for matters too advanced for your developmental years.

Narcissists, self-centred, self-focused, opinionated, charming and seductive takers can be thought of as leading in relationships. Codependents, who are self-sacrificing, submissive, giving and consumed with meeting the needs of others, follow. Codependency or “relationship addiction” can be used to describe the way an individual meets their needs by being needed by another, rather than working out for themselves how to cross new terrain discovering the excitement of what their own unique life circuit contains. If you are codependent, you are susceptible to having your actions manipulated into meeting the desires of others. Bitter, angry, exhausted and resentful without your needs met, self-esteem at rock bottom, being alone is a pain you cannot allow to be felt. That is why codependents find it almost impossible to voluntarily leave abusive relationships. The fear of loneliness feels overwhelming. The words "You're history" after the first physical or verbal attack fail to form. Your mind tells lies whispering you are powerful, in control and can teach "better" behaviour, telling you try and try again to "change" your destructive other half into the norm. 

If you are codependent the world is seen through the gaze and lens of another, e.g., your friend or lover, wife or father, husband or mother. You surrender your own thoughts and feelings as if your very survival is dependent upon gaining their approval. Terrified of feeling guilty, you adapt your actions to their decisions, or dress up your own desires as belonging to them, fearful that to do otherwise will attract retaliation, rejection, exclusion or abandonment.  So you try to make the other dependent upon you. This can range from providing financial funding or emotional backing, sorting out fist-fights, and smoothing over family and friend fall-outs. Minor illnesses are elevated to end-of-the-world statuses. All manner of over-nurturing leaves you feeling powerful whilst you become all-consumed with rescuing and protecting them from all of life's rich lessons. Cooking and cleaning, driving them around, reminding them of important dates, covering up their mistakes. They prefer to feel helpless, comforted by this infantile state. This enables the narcissistic personality so reliant upon your care, sets up an obligation for them to share all of their private self so when they mess up and feel vulnerable, you are always there to help. By way of return on your emotional investment, you expect they will behave as you want them to do. Undeveloped and incapable of authenticity, they feel even more like the fake and the fraud. The imposter that you never knew. Their identity depends upon ranking themselves against others as superior, in order to to avoid feeling inferior as they are missing a middle state containing a balanced view of themselves that affords mistakes. Lost in the emotional world, they view you as more capable which means they position you competitively as their superior. An unsatisfactory state that facilities hate.

Your codependent self-personalizes everything and anything that happens to anyone so you frequently take responsibility for that which is not yours to own. And martyr yourself to “the cause” as your tortured soul cannot stand to be alone. This is the reason why you may often swap one abusive relationship for another without pausing for breath. And end up with your spirit in denial at its death. The worst killer for your psyche is silence from your mate. The toxic pull-push will make you further subjugate. Sacrificing all that truly belongs to you, believing this will result in the best outcome in lieu. 

Perhaps you people-please instead of prioritising your own essential wants and needs…  Blundering through life in a state of confusion, you try to second-guess the outcome of each and every interaction. Anxiety, stress, depression, alongside a desire to confess, weakens your spirit leaving you passively compliant with a syndrome known as “Miss Congeniality”. Pleasant and polite and so eager to please, “I’m sorry”, “I’m so sorry”, “I’m really sorry” is the hallmark of your discomfort and unease. Equally, you expect others to be just as self-deprecating, polite and appeasing. You simply don't understand any culture other than people-pleasing. Your mind struggles to face reality. Imperfection. Policing others' style of relating to the world affords you the right to moan. Anyone not behaving as you think they "should" is construed as "rude", "disrespectful", "ungrateful" or "stupid" and not following the rules as you think that they "could". The reality is that when you think in this way, it is you who has lost your humility and humanity along the way. 

I’m happy when you’re happy” is your standard response. Society survives due to a certain amount of insincerity. But no-one is ever entirely happy, as to be human is to experience times of total misery. So ask yourself why are you trying to make someone else’s happiness your goal? Feeling resentful and angry having sacrificed your soul. You will feel weary and war-torn and emotionally spent when you realize you have ended up pleasing no-one, least of all you.  Healthy relationships afford the luxury of being able to depend upon each other, mutual sharing of feelings build love layered on a foundation of trust. If emotions are absent, the relationship will rust.

So how do you move away from addictive codependency? Emotional abuse? Domestic Violence? Harm to the self or others? Or is it your loved one trapped in codependency with a parent or sibling? Does it hurt you to witness their emotions being played if they express their own thoughts and feelings or don't call their relatives every day? Either as an individual or a couple find a therapist who can help you discover your own longings, passions, hopes and dreams. Become curious as to who or what inspires you, promotes feelings of excitement and passion in you, developing your self. Learn to set boundaries as recovery means being able to say "no". Listen thoughtfully to the opinions of others as they can help you reflect on the conviction of your choices, yet find freedom from the responsibility that comes from knowing ultimately any decision that we make must be our own. A 12-step programme ( can assist in breaking the cycle that has such a hold by filling the hole burned deep into your soul. 

There are two questions a man [or woman] must ask himself [or herself]: The first is 'Where am I going?' and the second is 'Who will go with me?' 

If you ever get these questions in the wrong order you are in trouble” Sam Keen

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leigh-on-Sea SS9 & Basildon SS13
Written by Amanda Perl, Psychotherapist Counsellor MSC BACP Accred CBT Practitioner
Leigh-on-Sea SS9 & Basildon SS13

I am a BACP Accredited Counsellor and Existential Psychotherapist, a CBT practitioner, member of the British Psychological Society and Course Lead Stage 4 BACP Accredited Counselling Diploma. My private practice reflects the belief that each of us is unique with the potential for growth and development and can move forward in our own way.

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