In an earlier post I asked if you were Narcissus or Echo.
It recently occurred to me that for those who struggle with dysfunctional relationships, both parties in the relationship are narcissists on some level. So, regardless of whether you identify more strongly with love addiction or love avoidance, you’ve probably been in a relationship at some point where there were actually two narcissists doing a good job of going through the motions of relating. Meanwhile, they were both feeding their narcissistic supply.
Let’s check out that idea in more detail.
In her book, Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, author Sandy Hotchkiss identifies what she calls the seven deadly sins of narcissism. It’s not always easy to see how we might be guilty of these “sins” when we’re looking about ourselves. It’s much easier to “diagnose” someone else. Love addicts and codependents are often heard freely accusing their partners of being narcissists. But let’s turn the lens the other way for a moment and see how a love addict/codependent might also share these traits.
- Shamelessness: The feeling that lurks beneath all unhealthy narcissism, and the inability to process shame in healthy ways.
Pia Mellody defines people who are shameless as having “detached from their own emotional reality (especially feelings of shame) in order to survive the overwhelming abuse of their childhood years. Such people are thus set up to offend and victimize others and it is highly probable that they will do so.” (Facing Codependence) These people no longer feel the shame associated with low self-esteem. People who are shameless call people names, bring up painful things from the past to hurt someone else, break things in anger, use physical intimidation or violence, and resort to other offending and victimizing behavior. They don’t feel any shame about this, but instead rationalize and justify their behavior. “She started it.” “I had to protect myself.” “I’m not just going to sit there and take it.” The truth is, you protect yourself by walking away from dangerous situations. Or not getting into them in the first place.
- Magical thinking: Narcissists see themselves as perfect, using distortion and illusion known as magical thinking. They also use projection to dump shame onto others.
It is very easy to believe that all the relationship problems are because of the other person and that you have done nothing wrong. This is a variation of magical thinking. Every relationship is the result of two parties. Every interaction is a reflection of what you bring to it. I’m not saying anyone asks to be abused or neglected, or makes someone else abuse or neglect them, only that we are not as perfect as we would like to believe.
- Arrogance: A narcissist who is feeling deflated may reinflate by diminishing, debasing, or degrading somebody else.
Love addicts and codependents do this with stealth. Rather than openly putting someone down, their preferred method is to offer helpful criticism, or ongoing help. The problem with offering unsolicited help is that it assumes that the other person isn’t already capable, or that they have a problem or issue (since they haven’t asked for help, they may not see their situation as a problem). It’s a sneaky way to slip in a passive-aggressive message that they aren’t good enough as they are. So they are subtly diminished because they obviously need help, and you get to be built up because you are the one to swoop in with a solution, a rescue, a “can’t-live-without-me” presence. I know a woman who is constantly finding fault with other people, in the nicest, most helpful way possible. It’s the most insidious form of arrogance I’ve ever encountered, and yet it’s not a word anyone would normally associate with her because of her demeanor. Sweet, cheerful arrogance is still arrogance.
- Envy: When someone else is demonstrating ability, a narcissist may get a sense of superiority by using contempt to minimize the other person.
One of the saddest things I’ve witnessed is the tendency of people in dysfunctional relationships to be contemptuous of people who are in happy relationships. I’ve heard all kinds of sarcasm, cynicism, suspicion, outright accusations of lying, and predictions of future failure and doom. It doesn’t matter if the happiness is at a wedding, after 25 years, or even a brand new dating relationship. It seems that relationship happiness produces a great deal of envy for many love addicts and codependents and they process this with contempt. This isn’t limited to relationship success; I’ve also seen this kind of behavior relative to career success, general life success and satisfaction, and almost anything that relates to fun and enjoyment. They may put on a public face of celebration and congratulations, but privately there may be shows of a completely different nature.
- Entitlement: Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Failure to comply is considered an attack on their superiority, and the perpetrator is considered an “awkward” or “difficult” person. Defiance of their will is a narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.
Have you ever become enraged with your significant other because they didn’t treat you in that special way you thought you deserved? They didn’t text you back right away? Didn’t call? Didn’t respond to your request? Didn’t fall in line after all your efforts on their behalf? Have you found yourself wondering why they are so difficult? Thinking that if they just did XYZ things would be so much easier? It’s not always clear that some part of this thinking might be because we feel entitled, special, superior, and our will is not to be defied. We’re probably feeling the opposite: humble, small, unworthy, unlovable, weak. There is a paradox here that offers a wealth of opportunity for exploration.
- Exploitation: Can take many forms but always involves the exploitation of others without regard for their feelings or interests. Often the other person is in a subservient position where resistance would be difficult or even impossible. Sometimes the subservience is not so much real as assumed.
Can you think of a better way to exploit someone than to make them the subject of your fantasy and then try to force their reality to look like that, without their awareness and permission? There is no actual “love” shared or expressed in “love addiction.” There is only an obsession with the feelings of love and romance. Basically, what happens is you force someone else to comply with how you want your relationship experience to go, and if they don’t comply, you make their life awful. It’s not a plan exactly, but it’s a well defined pattern. Their feelings and interests have nothing to do with it, no matter what is said. Codependents do something similar. Both people frequently try to make themselves indispensable to the other person so that there is some level of dependency between the parties which makes resistance to the demands of the love addict/codependent very difficult. Often this relationship is between parent/child.
- Bad boundaries: Narcissists do not recognize that they have boundaries and that others are separate and are not extensions of themselves. Others either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Those who provide narcissistic supply to the narcissist are treated as if they are part of the narcissist and are expected to live up to those expectations. In the mind of a narcissist, there is no boundary between self and other.
Boundaries. One of my favorite topics. What resonates with me most in this section are these two sentences: “exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all” and “expected to live up to those expectations.” In some ways they are saying the same thing. You are here for me and that is your one and only reason for being, so get it right. Pia Mellody addresses boundaries exhaustively in her books on codependency and love addiction. Additionally, she describes the concept of unconditional love as something we could have expected only from our parents. This issue of meeting needs is similar. It’s not someone else’s job to meet my needs at this point in my life; it’s my job to meet my needs, with support from someone else when necessary. And I have no right to thrust my expectations on someone else. The demands of the narcissist are the demands a child has of a parent. But many love addicts and codependents are still expecting someone else to meet their needs and live up to their expectations. They haven’t yet grown up that part of themselves that is still yearning for a parent figure to make the world safe and loving.
The question may be one of degree, and I’m not suggesting a diagnosis of any psychological condition. But it is worth considering that love addicts and codependents have their own flavor of narcissism that shows up in relationships which adds a level of complexity to the dynamic. Without this understanding, there can be no healing in this area. It is the healing that comes from this understanding that paves the way for new relationship experiences filled with happiness, joy, peace, fun, and fulfillment.