I've decided that the reason narcissists are drawn to me is that I'm codependent. This is really hard to face. I've always thought of myself as a strong minded, stubborn, independent person who didn't take crap from anyone. But I'm starting to realize that I take a LOT of crap from EVERYONE. This is a big hit to my ego. But OK. I won't get better unless I face this dragon and slay it. This is what makes me attractive to narcissists and so vulnerable to their manipulations. So... let's face this bad boy, and get rid of it.
First, I have to get a bead on what codependency is. It's typically used to describe people who live with and enable alcoholics and drug addicts. But it is much bigger than that and is very applicable to personality disorders too. Here are the primary characteristics of codependency. This is not to diagnose other people. If you are reading this for yourself, you don't have to have them all to qualify as a codependent. This is solely for my education and the benefit of anyone else trying to free themselves from the emotional manipulations of the personality disordered. Take what fits, leave what doesn't.
Low self esteem
This is a mandatory requirement for a codependent or for someone you can emotionally manipulate. Low self esteem is basically feeling like you are less than others, feeling like there is something inherently wrong with you that everyone can see, feeling like you are crazy and everyone else is sane.
I think the gaslighting my parents did when I was kid and the fact that I was the scapegoat in the family greatly contributed to this feeling that I'm not "OK". I see this in a lot of children of narcissists; golden children or scapegoats alike. The gaslighting makes you distrust your own perceptions, thoughts, beliefs and feelings. You feel inferior, seriously flawed and uncertain of yourself.
This is one of the ways a narcissist "gets" me. I've come to see that one, shallow, superficial compliment will cause me to overlook a thousand slights. That's because I feel so badly about myself. I will endure a lot of mistreatment for just a few kind words.
Codependents typically absorb other people's emotions and feel responsible for them. This is learned from the narcissistic parent who demands all the attention and requires their children to live for them. Codependents also find it very hard to say "No". They will sacrifice themselves to avoid displeasing people, saying "No" or causing a "fuss" (because they don't think they are worth the fuss). Codependents put everyone else's needs ahead of their own.
I find myself enduring slights, physical discomfort, and a lot of things I don't like just to avoid saying "No". I also have the strange belief that I have to have a very good reason for saying "No" which I can justify. Just not wanting something is not good enough. I have to be able to justify it sufficiently to the other person's satisfaction.
So I end up stuffing down things I don't like, things that hurt me, things that make me uncomfortable, etc. until I can't take it any more and then I blow up. Then I am dismissed by the narcissist for "being in a mood". And they are somewhat justified. I went along with this 100 times and didn't have a problem, why is it suddenly a problem today? People with good boundaries and healthy self esteems say "No" the first time, and mean it.
"Boundaries" are those imaginary lines where you end and the next person begins. Or more appropriately in the case of codependents, where the other person should end and where you begin. On your side of this boundary you should have the right to have your own feelings, have your body be respected, be able to have your own thoughts and make your own decisions, handle your own money, wear clothing which you personally like and act in the way which you think is right - without interference.
Codependents are very bad at knowing where their boundaries are, standing up for them and maintaining them. They absorb other people's feelings, are swayed by other people's opinions, put other people's needs ahead of their own, allow their belongings to be taken or used without their permission and don't defend their person or space.
Codependents can also develop very high and rigid boundaries as a reaction to having very poor boundaries. And this is my case. I always knew I had very high boundaries until I realized the reason my boundaries were so high and rigid was because they were alternatively weak and/or non-existent. I would absorb so much I couldn't take any more and would alternatively just cut everyone and everything out of my life in self defense. I went through life vacillating between these two extremes.
Because codependents absorb everyone else's feelings, and stuff down our own until they are at the blowing point, we can be highly reactive. Because we alternately have no boundaries, then vacillate wildly with really high, rigid boundaries, we are one moment absorbing everything someone else feels and says, then we reach the breaking point, throw up our walls and nothing anyone says will get through. We either take it all in or become blindly defensive. Because we have such poor boundaries we can't realize that an opposing opinion by someone else is just that, an opinion which has nothing to do with us personally. Instead, we take it as a judgement, take it personally and feel threatened.
After absorbing everyone else's emotions, we then take responsibity for fixing what's wrong. If a friend tells me they lost their job and they're worried about money, I will take it upon myself to help them find a job or loan them some money. I seem to think that people don't just tell me their problems for empathy. I feel like I am expected to fix the problem.
I think this results with children of narcissists because many of us were put in the role of having to parent our narcissistic parents. We then become the parents of the world. Narcissists are also famous for blaming everyone else for their bad behavior. If they came home and beat the sense out of us, they then blamed us for "making them mad". So we were trained that we were responsible for other people; their behaviors, thoughts and emotions.
It's natural for normal people to feel empathy for others, but codependents do this to our own detriment. And, since narcissistic parents feel no empathy, they tend to view people who do have empathy as weaklings to be emotionally manipiulated. They use their child's empathy to guilt them into doing what they want or to taking responsibility for things not under their control. As adults, this turns into caretaking.
Because of the trauma inflicted by narcissistic parents, a lot of codependents have control issues. People who are "control freaks" are usually trying to make themselves feel safe. If you lived in a world that was out of control, full of uncertainty and chaos, and, as a result, very dangerous, being in control is what makes you feel safe. Codependents may feel the need to be in control of themselves, their environment, their children, their employees, their spouses, their friends, their family members, etc.
However, needing to always be in control limits one's ability to take risks, experience new things, enjoy freedoms and open up and share ourselves. Some of us may drink to loosen ourselves up. Others may be workalcoholics or obsessive compulsives in an attempt to have more control. They may also use people pleasing and caretaking as methods to manipulate people or to feel like they have control in their lives. Many codependents will have relationships with people who are impaired or are lower functioning than themselves in order to feel more control in their lives or to feel more needed. Codependents may be very bossy, always telling people what to do and ordering other's lives. This is why we often seek out people who are less functional than themselves. We can order that person's life and feel needed. This is where the low self esteem comes in as well. We are drawn to people who need them because this too makes them feel safe and secure and "good enough".
It only makes sense, someone who is poor at speaking up for themselves and has very little confidence in themselves will likely be very bad at communicating their thoughts, opinions, wants, needs or feelings. Since codependents spend an inordinate amount of time absorbing other people's thoughts and emotions and worrying about other people's wants and needs we are often completely out of touch with our own. It can be especially hard to communicate your thoughts, emotions, wants and/or needs if you don't even know what they are!
Even when we are in touch with our own desires, we don't feel confident enough to stand up for them or are too afraid of offending someone else to speak up. Living with narcissists, who feel no empathy and take no responsiblity for their behaviors, speaking up for yourself will either be totally ignored or hotly attacked. Children of narcissists are taught early to deny their own needs in favor of the narcissist's. So they may stuff down or suck up their own feelings, but then resent doing it. Instead of saying, "I don't like that" we may say nothing then play the martyr card later, or appeal to a higher authority by saying "God doesn't like it when you do that" or "It's not right to do that" or we may endure something that displeases us but then passively aggressively "get" the other person behind their back at a later date. We may also play the "damsel in distress" card or the "I am sick" card or some other dishonest, one-down manipulation to get what we want instead of expressing it in a straight forward manner.
My personal style is to understate what is bothering me, which is easily ignored by the narcissist I'm interacting with. I then endure the thing that is bothering me repeatedly, stuffing down my feelings until I can't stuff them down any more. At that point I explode in anger and I'm dismissed by the narcissist for being in "one of your moods".
Codependents often spend an ordinate amount of time ruminating on the people in our lives and their relationships. This is because we've left no room in our lives for ourselves, our interests, our friendships , our comforts, or our entertainments. Since we are co-dependent we are heavily reliant on the other person in our relationship. We experience a great deal of separation anxiety and panic if that person should ever decide to leave because we have built our entire life, and ourselves, around that person. This can even happen if we decide to leave the relationship. When we finally face reality and realize we are living with a cheater, an alcoholic or a sociopath we may have to face the fact that our entire life has been about this person and we are now left alone and without anything, including themselves. This can inspire panic.
Because of our need to people please, codependents can also spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about keeping the people in their life happy. We may obsess about making mistakes, failing to please our partner or not being good enough. We may fixate on our partner leaving us or cheating on us because of their inadequacies.
As I mentioned before, codependents are co-dependent. This means we need other people to make us feel OK about ourselves. If we are "good" enough, we will please them and they will like us. This is because we don't feel OK about ourselves, within ourselves. We require external validation because we have no internal validation. Our greatest fear is being rejected or abandoned. The irony of this is that the codependent is usually the functioning member of the relationship. We are often married to alcoholics, drug addicts, people with anger issues , people with personality disorders, or other people who are not fully functional so that we can caretake them. We are usually the ones with the state jobs, the health insurance, the house and the car which is paid for. We are the uber responsible older sister , older brother, mother or father figure who bosses everyone around, but also cleans up everyone else's mistakes.
Codependents are typically in a relationship, and may feel depressed, lonely or even panicked when alone. This fear of being alone and our low self esteem which tells us they can't make it on our own makes it hard for a codependent to leave an abusive relationship.
Other codependents may be isolated and withdrawn seeking to avoid attachment all together because we realize it totally engulfs us. We may end up living like hermits, avoiding people and social situations completely because we intuitively know how entrenched we will become.
I always referred to my narcissist/borderline mother as Cleopatra, the Queen of Denial. It is a hard pill to swallow, but I too have this trait. My ability to deny toxic behaviors in future lovers and friends is mind boggling. One major flaw of the codependent mind is denying the toxicity or the severity of the dysfunction of the person to whom we are attracted. I can minimize, trivialize, justify, explain away and flat out ignore HUGE behavior problems in someone I want for a friend or a partner.
Another issue in codependency is denying the codependency itself. When you're in a relationship with an alcoholic, a drug addict or a narcissist it's easy to fix your attention on their behavior and fail to ask the all important question: "Why did I pick this person out?" If they are so horrible, why was I attracted to them???
Codependents also ignore our own needs in lieu of everyone else's. We deny our needs, our feelings, our discomforts, our thoughts, our beliefs, our opinions and our instincts. We deny that we have needs and therefore fail to reach out for help. We deny our need for help, love, affection, appreciation, sex, intimacy, freedom, respect, safety, autonomy and inviduality. We deny our vulnerability and our inability to accept praise or thanks. We have trouble reaching out for help and trouble receiving it.
Problems with Intimacy
Because of our low self esteem and deep suspicion that we are not "OK" we are often guarded and do not allow people to get truly close to us. We hide our true vulnerabilities or perceived flaws or inadequacies. We fear that we'll be judged, abandoned or rejected. Because of these fears we often adopt one of two ways of relating; immersion or withdrawal.
Some codependants totally immerse themselves in a relationship and become what our partner needs or wants us to be in an effort to please them. We adopt the opinions, beliefs, ideas and ideals of our partner and subjugate our own. We dress in the way our partner desires, we join their church, adopt their political viewpoint and embrace their culture norms as our own.
Other codependents, aware of this weakness in ourselves, refuse to attach to anyone. We let no one get close to us. We deny our need for intimacy and resent anyone who takes up too much of our time.
Because codependents repress so much of ourselves in order to please others, a lot of resentment and anger is created. We experience shame about being inadequate, anxiety about pleasing the other person in order to avoid abuse or abandonment, fear of being judged, fear of being rejected or abandoned, fear of making mistakes, fear of failure and fear of being trapped. All of these stressors can lead to depression, hopelessness and despair. When we become completely overwhelmed with all the emotions we are absorbing and all the emotions we are suprressing we can eventually become totally numb.