Printer Friendly

The Structure of Codependency and its Relationship to Narcissism.

Codependency and narcissism are distinct behavioral patterns developed in response to emotional neglect. The codependent and narcissist's experience of emotional neglect stem from parenting styles, where parental needs were prioritized over the wellbeing of the child. What each have in common are parents whose manipulative behavior created childhood coping strategies that supported an ability to withstand neglectful environments.

These normative patterns that appear behaviorally, are essentially coping strategies that in adulthood become maladaptive. This maladaptive behavior becomes more noticeable as it begins to affect the quality of intimate relationships. The challenges that arise in adult relationships are in response to the developed schemas or templates of childhood: where what is replicated in relationship is similar to what was experienced in childhood.

It appears that unresolved challenges experienced during formative developmental stages come up from the past to find us. These challenges arise in current situations under certain circumstances, imbuing familiar flavors of what we have known, but egoically repressed from consciousness.

Whether we see it or not, our ability toward relationship, and the quality of relationship, depends upon what we are willing to take notice of and then change. Until this comes into awareness or until we are able to recognize patterns needing to change, our behavior will remain inconsistent with what is desired past the powerlessness of childhood.

Dependency, emotional deprivation, and the powerlessness of childhood

Our way of being in the world, derives from the early experiences of childhood. Developmentally, childhood holds many key aspects for what is sought after for self-understanding. It is here within these formative years that we learn who we are in relation to others. We come to identify the value we hold, based on ways in which we are valued. We learn ways of thinking, acting and behaving, based on ways relationships are facilitated. Early on, we learn the conditions associated with getting needs met, within our dependency.

As children, getting what is wanted and needed depends upon the state, and wellbeing of the caretaker offering such care. If the caregiver has their own trauma, stemming from their own emotional deprivation, psychological health and wellbeing are affected. Effects of that trauma transmute to the child, and in turn impact a caregiver's ability to meet the needs of her child effectively.

Emotional neglect occurs when a child does not have a caretaker to whom she can turn in times of need or danger. A result of neglect is trauma. Emotional trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can be traumatic, even if it doesn't involve physical harm. It's not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized (Robinson, Smith, & Segal, 2017).

Author Walker (2013) further states that trauma is a fight or flight response in outcome to attack or abandonment, felt so intensely that the person cannot turn it off once the threat is over. These triggers are observed within the dysregulation experienced in response to perceived emotional threats. If a child can successfully manage and contain a parent's emotional duress when triggered, the child is valued and furthermore idealized. If the child is unable to meet such needs, the parent's perceived abandonment by that child is triggered. From this, their trauma experience arises. As the caretaker is regressed back to feelings of their own emotional deprivation, those feelings get projected onto the child.

Emotional neglect makes children feel worthless, unlovable, and excruciatingly empty. It leaves them with a hunger that gnaws deeply at the center of their being. They starve for human warmth and comfort (Walker, 2013. The researcher Miller (1997) establishes how this framework occurs within the parent-child dynamic:
What happens if mother not only is unable to recognize and fulfill her
child's needs, but is herself in need of assurance? Quite
unconsciously, the mother then tries to assuage her own needs through
her child. This does not rule out strong affection; the mother often
loves her child passionately, but not in the way he needs to be loved.
The reliability, continuity, and constancy that are so important for
the child are therefore missing from this exploitive relationship. What
is missing above all is the framework within which the child could
experience his feelings and emotions. Instead, he develops something
the mother needs, and although this certainly saves his life by
securing the mother or father's love at the time, it may nevertheless
prevent him, throughout his life, from being himself (p. 30).

The adult's own trauma creates an environment where a child is pushed into learning how to care for the needs of their parent. This is primary, particularly when the parent becomes triggered and exhibits a regressed state. Within this state, the parent's needs are primary to the child's. This establishes a dynamic where the child, needing to care for the parent, faces their own emotional neglect, as they cannot depend on the parent to meet their needs.

Within this particular style of caregiving, a methodology is created where one learns how to think, act, and behave in accordance with others' needs. A child learns what others are needing, in hopes of then earning from them the reward of having their own needs met.

Often it is the family dynamic and the roles enacted by caregivers that prompt us to adapt to and also forego who we are for the needs of others. Early on, this revocation or forfeiture of self becomes a necessary means, whereby doing so allows for the attention and recognition of our existence. The consequence is one of conflict, putting us at dis-ease with ourselves, and eventually others, as maladaptive behavior leads to ongoing dysfunction.

Dysfunction within relationship arises when toxic familial patterns beginning in childhood are carried into adulthood. These relationships are characterized by frequent or perpetual conflicts, which often go unresolved. The evidence of this can be felt in the absence of emotional support, and in helplessness, where interaction with another feels unsatisfying, mentally or emotionally abusive, where there are feelings of helplessness, and feelings being out of control.

Within dysfunctional relationships, partners lack an ability, are unmotivated, or are powerless to interact with each other in a positive and empathic affirming manner. They often interact with each other in a manner that is harmful and destructive to either or both parties. This pathological relationship is maintained by implicit and explicit rules and roles, which are unconsciously developed (Rosenberg, 2013). Ironically, the patterns that create such dysfunction are in fact the cause of conflict and ongoing contention due to communication styles that convey blame, criticism and accusation.

A child who is unable to figure out ways to placate the parents' dysfunction finds herself punished. The expectations placed upon the child in having to both understand and furthermore care for that parent's emotional needs are unreasonable. Within that demand, should the child be unable to identify ways that soothe the parent's need, the child inadvertently exacerbates the parent's distress. The caregiver's dysregulation in response devolves into intensely painful alienation for the child, a punishment in which the child experiences the distress of their own abandonment. The parent's subconscious wounding leads them to experience the child as the adversary. With this perspective in mind, the child is further punished, rejected and abandoned, within the polarization of the ego's defensiveness. Splitting allows the ego to reject what it felt attached to. It further defends against the pain of loss through dissociative means.

This unconscious defense, according to Goin (1998), identifies splitting as a primitive mechanism characterized by a polarization of good feelings or bad feelings, of love or hate, of attachment or rejection. Splitting is archetypally embedded in a person's psychic structure, and acts as a powerful unconscious force to protect against the ego's perception of dangerous anxiety and intense affects. Within this split the child, the adversary, is polarized as bad, and internalizes that identification.

The threat of abandonment within this relational dyad prompts the ego's split in which perception is of an all-or-nothing, black or white dichotomy. This defense mechanism's purpose works to shelter the experience of abandonment and the fear it elicits in consequence. Therefore, what is understood is that the trauma of emotional abandonment, rejection and distress provoke ego defenses. These mechanisms support the emotional fluctuations threatened by overload of the traumatic event.

The narcissist and his persona in defense of trauma

Parents who lack an ability or the insight necessary to meet and care for the needs of their child create for them subjective experiences of emotional trauma. The child's burden of psychological consequence is abandonment trauma. Sadly, the child who cannot, or will not conform to the parent's needs find they are subjected to punishment. The demarcation denoting the parental split fluctuates between emotions of idealization or devaluation. If a child has an ability to adapt, to know the ways of caring and meeting that parent's emotional need, they are favored. Conversely, the child who is unable to adapt, is devalued. The child learns he/she is worthless, and for this reason reinforces their rejection. Viewed contemptuously, they are powerless, and in that powerlessness, "Kills his anger, and with it a part of himself, in order to preserve the love of his mother" (Walker, 2007, p. 13). Abandoning himself, the ego repressively puts to rest the authentic child.

Dissociated from the self, the child creates a persona more acceptable for the environment in which they are threatened, and likewise, a threat to. In essence, this child is similarly acclimated to an emotional neglect and deprivation similar to what the caregiver confronted within their own parent-child exchange. This legacy prompts yet another generation condemned to hide from the true sense of self while operating unconsciously under the influence of repressed memories. They learn through experience they cannot rely on their own emotions. With no sense of their own real needs, they alienate themselves to the highest degree (Walker, 2013).

Dysregulation and affective lability are incurred costs of emotional neglect. A child confronted with this survives by identifying interpersonal triggers that can then be thwarted off to preserve or maintain conditioned love. This adaptive reasoning forcibly demands a skill set in compromise of the self, which distances one from the true nature of their soul's being. It is here, inside of this adaptation that the false self of the narcissistic persona develops.

In his work, Rosenberg (2013) describes the narcissistic personality as a person with an inflated sense of superiority and importance, while preoccupied with thoughts and feelings of success and power. According to his continuum of self theory, emotional manipulators (narcissists) have a self-orientation that is almost completely focused on their own needs and desires to the exclusion of the needs and desires of others. This sort of extreme tyrant has a vast terrain of ego to defend. Their goal is to oppress our will and energy so that they can feel better about themselves. Consciously or unconsciously, they see our advance as a threat to their power or a sign of their weakness. And so if they can minimize us, they can minimize their loss of stature (Burchard, 2014).

As this egoistic self develops, so too does a construct of personality that disenfranchises the authenticity of the individual. In order to master the false self it becomes necessary to repress aspects of identity that have been met with disdain or contempt. These constructs developed in outcome to abandonment are thought patterns that safeguard, and vigilantly protect against prospects of emotional suffering. To survive the emotional depravity of one's environment is in fact masterful. In the long run, however, what appears normative becomes fixed within the fallacious self. This repression of self imbues a repertoire of patterns that, when acted out, behaviorally fall within a continuum of psychopathology.

The level to which dysfunction persists within the parent-child relationship determines where one will fall within the continuum of adaptive vs. maladaptive behavioral traits. When a parent is not emotionally attuned to a child, there is no mirror held up, no positive reflection being shared with the child. Developing a positive sense of self, then, becomes more challenging for the child (Summers, 2016).

Depending on the level of one's maltreatment, and the psychic injury incurred, we find that the subjective nature of what was sustained in childhood impinges upon what is wanted moving into the adult relationship. The dysfunction of youth, made normative, interferes with an ability to connect deeply and meaningfully to ourselves, while also isolating us from true connection with others. The behavioral continuity of early dysfunction characterizes itself in traits as seen within both narcissistic and codependent personality types.

In childhood when emotional needs go unmet, the ability to feel loved, to be seen, and to feel accepted creates mistrust. One's ability to adapt conversely creates a hypervigilance borne in response to survival needs within the environment. Watching the response of caretakers, one identifies ways in which to maintain safety while also determining how needs can be met. When needs go unnoticed, adaptation determines what will be received by those governing our existence.

A child's ability to adapt within a given circumstance is indicative of awareness rather than resilience. The child's observance of the structure he must operate under becomes the methodology that permits for his survival. The ability to self-preserve within the system is mastery. This is indicative of what the narcissist learns to do. Unable to trust another's ability to meet the needs of his emotional care, the narcissist creates his own paradigm. He masterfully designs and attends to his own creation. Nurturing that creation, he substitutes the object of mother, for himself. Mastering his own universe, he learns the skills that allow for his survival.

Survival can require us to let go of who we are, so as to obtain what it is we are needing. Therefore, under adverse circumstances of emotional neglect and abuse, one learns to adapt. Under the dysfunction of pervasive maltreatment, children learn to condition themselves in preparation for the navigation of their given experience. With keen acuity they come to understand both the norms, and the rules of engagement. They strategize through understanding the necessity of that which provides protection against further attack, while also managing feelings of toxic shame.

Toxic shame can be created by constant parental neglect and rejection. Both the narcissist and codependent are challenged by overwhelming identifications of internalized fatal flaws stemming from the contempt and attack of the traumatizing parent. Toxic shame obliterates self-esteem. It causes one to regress instantly into feeling and thinking that they are worthless and contemptible in the same way the parent has perceived them.

Toxic shame devolves into the intensely painful alienation of abandonment. This abandonment according to Walker (2013) is the fear of toxic shame that surrounds and interacts with abandonment depression. The abandonment depression itself is the deadened feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that afflicts traumatized children. Toxic shame also inhibits us from seeking comfort and support. In the reenactment of the childhood abandonment we are flashing back to, we often isolate ourselves and helplessly surrender to an overwhelming feeling of humiliation.

The codependent persona

Behavioral conditioning creates responsive outcomes that assist the child to navigate the norms of their given environment. This allows for the minimization of potential rejection, or emotional abandonment. Norms, and their associated rules for acting, feeling and behaving, must be recognized by the child in order to obtain parental engagement. These rules, which often are inflexible, and furthermore authoritarian, leave little to no room for creativity within their structure.

A child's noncompliance in an ability to meet expected norms is essentially an abandonment trigger felt by the parent, consequently affecting the child. It is role reversal in which the parent, threatened by the child's disloyalty, becomes dysregulated as subconscious abandonment fears arise. In response, the parent projects those fears onto the child who themselves experience abandonment in the form of emotional neglect through contempt. Contempt is a toxic cocktail of verbal and emotional abuse, a deadly amalgam of denigration, rage and disgust.

Rage creates fear, and disgust creates shame. Particularly abusive parents deepen abandonment trauma by linking corporal punishment with content. Before long, the child gives up on seeking any kind of help or connection at all. As the child's bid for bonding and acceptance is further thwarted, they are left to suffer. Within their suffering is the fright and despair of faced abandonment (Walker, 2013).

Avoiding this means that what must be learned is an ability to either conform or dissociate from the self. Both are a form of self-abandonment. Through conformity, the child learns what the parent values. They then translate those values in ways that best cater to parental need. The child arranges him/herself to attune to the parent in like-minded and enmeshed ways. Doing so the child finds comfort in the caregiver who rewards and praises performance. Conversely, the caregiver is also rewarded, as the performing child is indebted to the parent who has taught them how to conform, for the reward of the praise and acceptance received.

This is an unnatural burden placed on the child of an emotional manipulator, as it is a manipulative and coercive tactic that pushes a child toward behaving in a manner that allows the parent to feel better about himself. The child's successful integration of expected behavior, as dictated by the caregiver, merits praise and conditional nurturing. This also feeds the parent's delusion that their parenting fantasies are undeniably absolute.

The child who navigates this is highly valued. They are both adept at what they have learned to provide, and furthermore objectified because of it. Within their objectification the value they feel is from what they offer, rather than who they inherently are. This delineates differences between the codependent and narcissist: a codependent's ability to make their narcissistic parent feel good about themselves versus the narcissist, whose self-absorbed single mindedness cannot see beyond the self (Rosenberg, 2013).

Lancer (2016) identifies codependency as characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. Whereas the codependent seeks to care for the needs of others, the narcissist seeks to have his own needs met. Each exhibit behavior conversely paralleling the other. Rosenberg (2013) suggests that, "As a result of their well-matched relationship orientations, codependents and emotional manipulators are irresistibly drawn to one another" (p. 47).

The narcissist

Narcissists navigate their world shallowly, enmeshing with others to manipulatively take for themselves what they feel they deserve. Underlying this entitlement are feelings of intense shame. Embittered by alienation and rejection, they seek relation with idealized figures who have a capacity to become lost in the care and tending of their needs. An ability to secure such care compensates for what was not given, as they manipulate others to provide for the demands of the ego.

The narcissist persona is an adapted behavioral pattern, a pattern habituated into one's structure of personality in consequence of the abuse of emotional deprivation. Vaknin (2005) suggests, "The emotional consequences of rejection and abuse are too difficult to contemplate" (p. 277). Unable to bond or become adept in attuning with caregiver need, the narcissist finds himself persecuted and punished, shamed for their very existence. Vaknin (2005) goes on to say, "Narcissism ameliorates him by providing a substitute object, an adaptive survival oriented act, in which the child comes to grips with his thoughts and feelings to revert to a different strategy more suited to the new-unpleasant and threatening data" (p. 277).

The child merely replaces one object (his mother) with another (his self) (Vaknin, 2005). The child is then no longer a burden, having been devalued because of it. Whereas devaluation alienated the child from securing care, adaptive reasoning provides mastery in an ability to secure from themselves what is warranted.

The narcissist compensates for inadequacy by manifesting a more acceptable personality, a pseudo personality which is adopted. The mask supports ego functioning by enabling its ability to survive. Narcissists frequently find their identity enmeshed with others. The self identification they project is an idealized illusion which deludes them. The delusion allows the narcissist to see himself, the way a caregiver was never able to. Through simulation, the narcissist assumes the characteristics of those he chooses to idealize, making them an extension of himself.

What nurtures this existence is the attention received from others. Their ability to make real the mask worn is the manipulation that leads others to acknowledge and idealize them. The narcissist redefines himself by creating an image consistent with his held illusion. The illusion is the mask, symbolic of who he truly wishes he were, only a better version. Lost in delusion, he embodies this false representation, sustained by others who idealize the mask, but not the person.

The grandiose image the narcissist projects is a further dramatization of their inner workings. The compulsion underlying that grandiosity is one of obsessiveness. Living in an inner world of anxiety, the narcissist commandeers the adoration of others, which in turn reinforces what he wishes to believe. Since emotional manipulators are fundamentally shame-based, self-loathing and anxious about being lovable and appreciated, they rely on others to make them feel competent and worthwhile (Rosenberg, 2013). Therefore, any perceived abandonment is an overwhelming personal rejection the narcissist works to avoid.

The narcissist's tendency toward grandiosity reveals an underlying despair. They enact an image they identify with, an image that excites them, an image created from a familiar construct. They believe that they are the persona they have constructed, a persona that is in contrast to who they believed they were. Their entitlement allows for the suppression of feelings, associated with unworthiness.

Therefore, grandiosity may be more of an enactment, a reaction formation, similar to what was experientially felt in childhood, having been exhibited as an exaggerated, dysregulated, emotional affect. The object that caused their own dysregulated reactions, with massive contempt, communicated the shame of their existence. From this parent, the narcissist internalized a toxic shame that they vigilantly avoid engaging. Sadly, "the grandiose person is never really free, first because he is excessively dependent on admiration from others, and second, because his self respect is dependent upon qualities, functions and achievements that can suddenly fail" (Miller, 1997, p. 36).

This grandiose behavior pattern is a reiteration of a repetitious experience he has made tolerable through the defense of reaction formation, where one "converts unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous into their opposites" (Rosenberg, 2013, p. 76). With no memory of the former self he only acknowledges what he chooses to accept. What he previously acknowledged about himself became the bane of his existence; it is now repressed within the ego. Therefore, anything that contradicts the mask, or created persona, doesn't exist. Denial furthermore supports an ability to reject incongruities that pose threat to the narcissist's delusion.

John Bradshaw describes the devastation of this child's emotional nature as soul murder. He explains this as involving a process where the child's emotional expression is so assaulted with disgust that any emotional experience immediately devolves into toxic shame (Walker, 2013, p. 35). In essence, the world of the narcissist is cold and isolative. Throughout their experience, their shame and abandonment get reinforced.

The narcissist's competency as a child was the ability to escape a world of emotional neglect, of shame, by creating a world unto himself, a world where he was powerful and strong, worthy and valid. He created for himself all that was contrary to the caretaker's identification. However, as an adult, this behavioral adaptation is now the pathology that makes hard the ability to be in relation with others, too experience what he always desired.

Understanding the patterns

As we transition from the child-parent relationship to adulthood, maturation and personal growth begin to expose more noticeably patterns and themes of ongoing strains faced relationally. At some point we are forced to take notice as relationship with self, in partnership with other breaks down, causing our survival needs and emotional stability to become threatened. The breakdown of relationship creates the crisis. "When the developmental need to practice healthy relating with a caretaker is unmet, survivors typically struggle to find and maintain healthy supportive relationships in their adult life" (Walker, 2013, p. 42). With that crisis comes recognition that on some level, what we have learned to master is not relationship, but instead an identification or persona employed maladaptively that no longer serves the adult life.

Our ability then to subconsciously manipulate others, borne from abandonment fears, provides the blueprint of an emotional repertoire of inherent dysfunction, carried into the narrative of adult life. From this dysfunction we learn to engage others relationally in ways that we can then become at odds with. This form of repetition compulsion seeks to replicate the experience of our childhood, so as to master with partners, what we felt powerless to do as children. These relational attributes, imprinted within our functioning, interfere with development. As we are oppressed, the development of healthy functioning within personality is repressed. This is a selling of the soul, necessary for the created persona or mask's survival.

The repressed personality learns to abide by rules established by the pseudo persona. As those rules are carried forth what emerges are behaviors indicative of parental needs, rather than that of the child's. Aspects associated with the former self must be repressed in order to gain the acceptance of others; others being the parents who hold what we require. Conditions where love is a reward, make for competitiveness. Love is then something to be won, rather than given.

We work to win the affection of our parents by learning to coddle their emotional needs. This role reversal places the child in a position where he or she is now responsible for the parents' emotional wellbeing.

Through passivity and compliance, the child recognizes that to get what is needed she must first care for the need of her parent. This form of early manipulation supports the child within her environment as she determines ways to be most pleasing rather than aversive. In turn, this allows for the emotional regulation of the caregiver, while inadvertently affording the child the care that she needs. Albeit limited, that care lends to the child's sense of security. Psychologist Alice Miller terms the child who adapts these patterns as the gifted child. These are children who are able to cope with their narcissistic parent's selfish, self-centered and reactive parenting by developing convoluted, although effective coping strategies (Rosenberg, 2013).

This particular adaptive style, or moreover, mechanism of coping, is referred to as codependency. Codependency is a reactive coping style employed to negate feelings of perceived abandonment. Abandonment fears stemming from an enmeshed parent-child dynamic teaches that the emotional needs of the caregiver are first. From this, the child learns to exclude needs of their own. Giving care in this way averts abandonment fear, and the subsequent feelings that arise in response. Therefore, to manage abandonment fear, the codependent finds safety in an ability to give, to absolve the discomfort of what may be received otherwise. This aggressively passive dichotomy is the push and pull of the codependent's inner world.

Codependency and its relationship to narcissism

A codependent when behaviorally engaged, embraces a victim mentality. It was inside of this role that they were egregiously tended to. Coerced and manipulated by the caregiver, it allowed for their own feelings of worthiness. The codependent carries suppressed anger within their identification. This anger is in having to become disempowered from their own need for validation.

Parents of codependent children do this, as Walker (2013) asserts, "shaming or intimidating you whenever you have a natural impulse to have sympathy for yourself, or to stand up for yourself. The instinct to care for yourself, and to protect yourself against unfairness, is then forced to become dormant" (p. 26). As this dynamic plays out, the codependent becomes more disempowered and grows resentful. Within this resentment lives also the shadow of entitlement, passive aggressively acting and behaving in ways commensurate with the victim mentality. This is a shadow they oppose, as it contradicts their perfection as both helper and good child.

This opposition creates conflict as they play the role of victim, feeling victimized. Victimization occurs unilaterally when he or she has not received what was warranted and manipulation is the mechanism for control. Within this experience the codependent fluctuates between the victimization of others, and their own. They repeat the emotional experience of punishment, and shame, when attempts to control and manipulate fail. What is learned and further replicated as with repetition compulsion, are ways one can self-abandon, a shame-based punishment employed by both the narcissist and codependent persona.

Codependency is a behavioral template, originating from adaptive schemas. These schemas play out relationally with others as the codependent learns early that to bond to the parent they must cater to that parent's emotional needs. The codependent's ability to position themselves in this way, stabilizes this relational dynamic, both as the child and in their adult role. It provides for needs that reinforce fallacious security.

This perpetuated cycle within relationship is a behavioral pattern that repeats within subsequent experiences. What becomes habituated is a compulsion to meet the needs of others, without recognition or identification of their own needs. Such programming allows the codependent to masterfully manage moods of the narcissist, moods that are well read and were vigilantly observed throughout the childhood experience.

The codependents adaptation to programing by the narcissist is a protocol within her assigned role. She has learned she gets care only when the narcissist's needs have been met. Objectified, her value is commensurate only with an ability to please. Her responses are habitually programed through hypervigilant observation. She is adept to reading the shifts of the narcissist's mood lability.

The narcissist's vicissitudes, alternating between idealization, or devaluation are triggers that activate the codependent's dysregulation. The codependent will always seek within that activation to avert potential emotional abandonment. Conversely, the narcissist's vigilance vacillates within their own fear, fear stemming from their own abandonment trauma. Perceived abandonment is what the narcissist deflects and furthermore avoids.

The grandiosity associated with self estimations are reaction formations to early introjection of projected parental shame. This shame is at the core of both the narcissist's and codependent's experience. The enmeshment of shame that pervades the relationship interplays as a mechanism of emotional manipulation. So much so, that it is the narcissists' assessment, through their objectification of the codependent, that determines how they can then permissively view themselves.

The narcissist's personality is one adapted early in childhood. The narcissist, similar to the codependent develops a persona, a pseudo personality, whose job shelters each from the experience of abandonment trauma. The trauma of the narcissist is of emotional neglect and abandonment. Emotionally abandoned and unable to effectually bond with their caregiver they are guilted and shamed for being. The narcissist's shame based identification is consistent with the introjection of the parent. Powerless within this process, the child ultimately dissociates from the self. His malignant self-perception is the projective identification he works against seeing.

Shame, coupled with the injury of abandonment, leads the narcissist to dissociate himself. The persona they imbue, a creation in service to self, barricades them from what was painfully experienced. Numb to themselves and others, they are apathetic. Repressed feelings and emotions, when triggered, contain injuries of abandonment whose distress create trauma. Their emotionally dysregulated affect when triggered is of little consequence to the narcissist. They do not see their projections, nor do they feel connected to how their behavior impacts others. Having repressed a capacity toward true feelings, the threat that abandonment triggers may be the only potential threat to the narcissist's consciousness.

The narcissist's repression is a protective factor that enables him an ability to survive his world. What he knows is the identity of the illusory persona created. He has limited insight due to emotional deficits sustained from his trauma, which maintain primitive coping skills relegated to childhood and childlike behaviors. This lack of mature consciousness is illustrated within adult relationships where dependency needs engage codependent partners.

The one who needs such care identifies in the codependent a means by which to meet their needs. They do this by taking on, or mimicking, others' characteristics. They then reflect back what is seen. When what is seen are the very things that evoke anger, they discard what they no longer have use for. The codependent looking at the narcissist sees someone whom they can fix. Through their manipulation of the narcissist, they work toward making possible the love they crave. Within this dynamic they are rescued by the narcissist, who in his own illusion idealizes her.

Seeing her as the symbolic nurturer, she is the mother whose attachment he craved. So he reflects to the codependent an exceptional self that allows for her importance. This is an eventual setup, as over time it will be she who comes to his rescue. This dynamic repeats relationally because it is one of familiarity. Both the codependent and narcissist engage behaviorally within patterns of impaired emotional functioning repetitiously, until the codependent decides to work toward healing her identification of worthiness. And the narcissist works to heal by allowing others into his world in an ability to see the worthiness of others.

Emotional trauma, neglect, and abandonment are psychological injuries whose impact greatly impresses upon personality, affecting an ability toward healthy relationship. The experience of abandonment early on creates an attachment trauma that leads us to adapt in ways that ultimately sabotage the authentic self for egoistic needs. For both the narcissist and codependent, this is organized within personality as adaptive patterns expressed through behavior.

These patterns become impairments that in adulthood reinforce the trauma of childhood experience. Both have in common a mastery that allowed for their survival. That protection, or mastery in consequence, currently maintains distance, creating a barrier to what each truly desires. That is to simply love and be loved, to feel connection and the inherent value of the authentic self, which is within our right to epitomize.


Burchard, B. (2014). The motivation manifesto: 9 declarations to claim your personal power. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

Goin, M. K. (1998). Borderline Personality Disorder: Splitting Counter Transference. Psychiatric Times, XV (11). Retrieved December 4, 2006, from http: //

Miller, A. (1997). The drama of the gifted child: The search for the true self. New York: BasicBooks.

Robinson, L., Smith, M, & Segal, J. (n.d.) Coping with emotional and psychological trauma. Retrieved May 20, 2017, from

Rosenberg, R. (2013). The human magnet syndrome: Why we love people who hurt us. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing & Media.

Summers, D. (2016). How to recognize and overcome childhood emotional neglect.

Vaknin, S. (2005). Malignant self love: Narcissism revisited. Skopje: Narcissus Publications.

Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma. Createspace Independent Pub.

Keesha Sullivan, LCSW, ACHT (*)

(*) Contact Keesha Sullivan at
COPYRIGHT 2018 Wellness Institute
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Sullivan, Keesha
Publication:Journal of Heart Centered Therapies
Article Type:Report
Date:Mar 22, 2018
Previous Article:The Influence of Birth Trauma on Developing Secure Attachment Relationship(s) with Caregiver(s) and the Treatment for Birth Trauma.
Next Article:Mind/Body Healing: Hypnotherapy, Functional/Integrated Medicine, Epigenetics, Cancer & the Immune System.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |