What Is the Connection between Narcissism and Codependency?

R. Soden

Narcissism and codependency are behaviors that are characterized by the patient having an unrealistic view of himself or herself and other people. Both narcissism and codependency usually stem from dysfunctional childhood experiences. Narcissists generally form due to either excessive pampering, or neglect and abuse during childhood. Codependency is learned from other family members with the same type of behavior. It is handed down through generations by parents who unknowingly teach their children this dysfunctional behavior.

Narcissism may develop as a result of neglect or abuse during childhood.
Narcissism may develop as a result of neglect or abuse during childhood.

A personality disorder, narcissism is defined as abnormal self-love with an exaggerated sense of superiority. Narcissists often seek attention and admiration from others, and they believe that they are better than others and are therefore entitled to special treatment. They are willing to take advantage of those whom they consider beneath them to achieve their goals.

Codependent people may feel an exaggerated sense of responsibility towards other people in their relationships.
Codependent people may feel an exaggerated sense of responsibility towards other people in their relationships.

Narcissists display arrogant behavior and an inability to identify with the feelings of people around them. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is diagnosed through a series of physical and psychological tests. Doctors run often physical tests to rule out physiological causes to the behavior. Subsequent therapy and questionnaires are completed to confirm the NPD diagnosis.

Individuals who suffer from narcissism or codependency may benefit from psychotherapy.
Individuals who suffer from narcissism or codependency may benefit from psychotherapy.

Codependency is a learned behavior in which a person enters a relationship with another person and becomes emotionally dependent on him or her. Codependent people maintain an exaggerated sense of responsibility toward the other people in their relationships. They tend to do more than their share in their relationships and are hurt when they do not get recognition for it. They often are sensitive to criticism, are inflexible to change and have problems with intimacy. Codependency is not considered a mental disorder and can be diagnosed by a certified professional.

Unlike codependency, narcissism is characterized by excessive self-love.
Unlike codependency, narcissism is characterized by excessive self-love.

Narcissism and codependency seem on the surface to be completely opposite of each other. Narcissists focus on themselves; codependents focus on others. There are some similarities between the two which affects the sufferers' ability to relate to others. People who have these behavior disorders are easily hurt when they do not get the recognition that they feel they deserve, and they are hypersensitive to criticism or insults. Both disorders cause a person to have an unrealistic self-image, with one causing exaggerated self-esteem and the other causing low self-esteem.

Codependency occurs when a person becomes dependent on another person in a relationship.
Codependency occurs when a person becomes dependent on another person in a relationship.

Treatment for narcissism and codependency includes psychotherapy to help change the behavior. Narcissists are encouraged to develop more realistic self-esteem and expectations for other people. Codependents benefit from group therapy to help them rediscover their identity and stop self-defeating behavior. In both cases, drug therapy with anti-depressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) might be indicated to help reduce or eliminate destructive behaviors.

Codependent behavior can be financially driven.
Codependent behavior can be financially driven.
Codependency is often found in abusive relationships.
Codependency is often found in abusive relationships.

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Discussion Comments


Through my experiences with narcissists, it seems to me that they are the most codependent of them all. They cannot live without their "narcissistic supply." This always comes from other people. Narcissists are unable to be independent. They are parasitic and always need someone to leach off. A loner is never a narcissist. This is where their fabricated and exaggerated sense of superiority has it's drawback. They target independent people because they know their codependency makes them weak. They have contempt for independent people and seek to destroy them.


I believe it's basically the same thing deep down, but inflated self-confidence or deflated self-confidence decides if it comes out as narcissistic or co-narcissistic, one person thinks he must be superior and taking to be a 'good' person - the other thinks his or her value comes from being submissive and giving. different sides of the same coin; "I am better because X" - where "X" is either more taking or giving. childish ideas about how to be to define ones value as a person.


It is. My ex-boyfriend is one good example of it. Me too. We were dancing this crazy swing dance for four years.


My parents have been married 61 years. My mother says the most outlandish things: "I wouldn't miss Daddy if he died", or "Well, I would!" (to my father's comment during a conversation that he “wouldn't change a thing” about their life). Most recently, at my father's 80th birthday party, my mother (who did not invite me at all to this event!) was telling everyone there that she was going to get married again “when Daddy dies.” She thinks this stuff is hilarious.

She has never had a job (except as a secretary when she was 18 for a few months). My dad owned his own company and retired quite successfully at 50, so she has never been anything but pampered. She has no social filter and although she can be funny, her humor is usually at someone's expense and full of sarcasm.

She has a very overinflated sense of her abilities. I have been in fairly successful sales positions and have made good money during my career. My mother, who has never once asked me what I do (in fact, she commented once that she didn't like my neighbor, who was nice enough to invite them over for drinks while they were visiting us on vacation, that "you probably get along with her since you are both nurses”). I am not a nurse but my two sisters are.

I am the oldest and she has always seemed to resent and compete with me. She flies into drama and hysterics if I cross or challenge her and has to constantly interrupt if she is not the center of the conversation or attention. She not long ago stated in a huff that my father kept her “barefoot and pregnant, but she could have been a CEO if she wanted to". Coming from someone who never even had a job, her impression of her capabilities is very high! I said that neither my husband (who is very successful in his corporate job and has been in an upper management positions) nor I ever thought that we could be CEO's. Wow.

She has told me she never “bonded with me when I was a baby.” Also that I was a “very cold (not affectionate) baby,” so as to explain our bad relationship. So it must have been my fault, even as an infant!

My father gets some payoff from this stuff. He gets to look like a saint. They have been married since they were 17 and 20, and love to gloat about their obvious perfect decision making, citing that they have been married this long, my dad was so wealthy and successful, etc. When he brings up my mother, he seems to go in to a fog about his vision of her when she was 16 in some brown dress that he liked. I believe he is in total denial. He can hear her say one thing, walk out of the room and recreate history to his version.

I am the whipping post and my four siblings don't seem to mind. It is quite a dysfunctional mess, and with the money, they are all pandering to this awful, out of control behavior of hers. If anyone corrects her, she flies into a rage and will stop at nothing to elicit sympathy as well as trash the person who called bull crap on what she has done (usually me).

They used to come to our house for a vacation every year for a month or so, paid for very little (she thinks she is the queen bee and since I am her daughter, assumes I will just wait on her hand and foot). After the most recent antics she pulled - not really important to get in to details but I set a boundary and she became incensed - she has been sending me monthly crazy grams with Bible verses and the terrible things that she has to say to me. She has said she has told her whole church what a terrible daughter I am and to "keep the letters coming since I love to show them to all my church friends" (I haven't written her anything in 20 months. I have totally given up trying to explain anything or fix anything with her any more).

My dad just wants it “fixed,” and has all my life never cared how she unleashed the demons on me. When I appealed to him about what she's done, he just said, “I don't believe that.” I asked him if he was saying I was lying and he said, "I just don't believe a mother would say that to her daughter.” He completely knows what she's like but says he is standing by his wife.

The last thing she wrote to me was so bad that my husband finally called both of them and told them to lose our number. I think I am just done. I don't feel any love for her at all. I don't wish her ill. I just don't care anymore. If she were to die, I would feel relief.

My parents and the rest of my siblings, who, by the way, all live within a few streets of each other, are a classic case of complete codependency and dysfunction. I really want nothing to do with the whole mess.


@ysmina-- I agree with @fBoyle. Codependency is sometimes called "inverted narcissism."

The issues that narcissists and codependent individuals face are the same. It's about needs and the importance given to them. The difference is that narcissists give importance to their needs above all others' needs and codependents give importance to others' needs before their own.


@ysmina-- I have no idea. If it's possible, I'm sure it's very difficult.

My ex was a narcissist though and I've had codependency issues since childhood. That relationship did not work because she only cared about herself and I only cared about her. So at the end of it, both of us still felt like we weren't getting anything out of the relationship.

Narcissist and codependency traits are truly at the extreme ends. If they have one thing in common, it probably is that people with these characteristics always feel unsatisfied.


Is it possible for someone to have characteristics of both narcissism and codependency at the same time?

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