An unhealthy relationship between a narcissist and a codependent partner is defined above all by hidden pain and a lack of healthy boundaries. When two people lack boundaries, they mould into one unit. This enmeshment eventually grows uncomfortable and painful, since humans have a core need for autonomy and individual growth. As these two people progress in an enmeshed state, one person eventually tries to make some emotional space from the other using force. This causes a wound in the other, and that person strikes back. As a result, a power struggle arises, while the law of the jungle states that the fittest will survive. A natural hierarchy ensues. One is the master, the other is the appeaser. This leads to what is known as the narcissist/codependent relationship dance. The narcissist exerts overt, hard power, while the codependent exerts covert, soft power.
How codependents and narcissists exert power in a relationship
Soft power includes people-pleasing, acting nice, being submissive, being charming and appeasing the other person to go along with your agenda. Hard power includes ordering the other person around, yelling, threatening, ridiculing, dominating and controlling the other person. Typically, a narcissist will use soft power at the beginning of their relationship with a codependent partner, then revert to hard power when they feel threatened or sense the other person has sufficiently lowered their boundaries.
At some point, the codependent will feel scorned and upset with the narcissist’s constant use of hard power and selfishness, and will apply hard power of their own while threatening to leave the relationship. The narcissist senses the end and reverts immediately to soft power. Once the relationshp is restored and the codependent is appeased, the narcissist will switch back to being selfish and harsh. This is what lies at the core of the narcissist/codependent relationship dance.
Leaving the narcissist/codependent relationship dance floor
To end the narcissist/codependent relationship dance and recover from narcissistic abuse, a codependent needs two simple yet soul-shaking steps:
- Confront yourself.
- Confront death.
Codependence means you derive your sense of Self through another person. You don’t exist without the narcissist. Without another person to feed your energy through, you fall into an endless abyss, terror grips you, and you grasp even more. In such a state, the narcissist does not need to try very hard to keep you under their influence. You do most of the work for them. They just need to press a button here, make a backhanded comment there.
Since childhood, codependents lost awareness of their divine nature; the place that provides you everything you need for a fulfilling life. This ‘Self’ springs from emptiness. Allowing yourself to die to this reality is where you find life.
The abyss is the source of everything, the place where wisdom, strength, love and self-esteem flow up. However, you still need scaffolding; a structure for those energies to express themselves. Here is where the ego comes in, as well as the Higher Self.
Ego: A representative in the world, a blueprint for who you are and how to be in society. It is your inner judge, for better or worse.
Higher Self: A reassuring presence which sees all, knows all, and can handle all. A container and a leader to bring order to the chaos you feel inside.
Codependents have an underdeveloped ego, and a weak sense of their Higher Self. Since childhood, they were strongly discouraged from developing their own by dominant and controlling figures. Delegating their ego structures and Higher Self to others therefore became natural. You can’t know what you’re missing out on if you have never had it.
When a codependent feels unsure, they ask another person what to do. When they need reassurance, they look to others immediately. This is what feeds the narcissist/codependent relationship dance. They never ask themselves what makes the narcissist the ultimate authority? Where does that person get such a godly gift from? And most importantly; Can I develop this gift for myself?
The answer is that every person has the potential to develop those gifts, and every person can develop them for themselves with enough support and courage — codependents included. Narcissists create the illusion of being a higher authority with the ultimate ego and leadership qualities. Then they convince you that you will never be that person. Bullshit.
Now, before you can develop these two crucial developmental components, you need to be standing on solid ground. You can’t install a light bulb while falling down an endless pit. You need a firm stage and a ladder. The paradox in all of this is that the abyss is solid ground. When the codependent focusses inside and allows themselves to fall while without grasping, they realise that they are still here. Everything is fine. In the abyss is something more. Much more. In solitude, in the dark night of the soul, the codependent comes to be comfortable with nothingness. That’s when the process of developing healthy structures can begin. Only then does the narcissist’s power fade.
The end of codependency, the beginning of living
Unless we stop grasping onto others and face our inner darkness, we can never grow to the next stage. We will remain fodder for a narcissist. Conquer yourself, conquer death, and you gain strong footing. From there, you can focus long enough to figure out what you need. When you trust the Self, the ladder toward your Higher Self develops naturally. This is what actualisation is about. Helping you from within is the True Self, with its infinite wisdom, strength, love and grace. Now that you are not distracted trying to please others, now that you are calmer and more focussed, you can finally hear what the Self has been trying to tell you all along; You are enough; You can handle this; You are infinite potential.
Achieve this initial milestone, and you have a chance of ending the narcissist/codependent relationship dance and recovering from narcissistic abuse. The act of falling will at times induce insane levels of fear, shame and confusion. The fall is likely the most difficult endeavour you will ever undertake. So get all the support you need. Therapists, friends, a loving group. But if you do not find the courage to let yourself fall, you will never make progress. It is scary, it is difficult, but once you catch on, you will see; it is infinitely beautiful. Awaiting you on the other side of codependency is a life worth living.
To begin healing from a narcissistic relationship and end the narcissist/codependent relationship dance for good, check out How To Kill A Narcissist.