When I first stumbled upon the word codependent during my recovery process from narcissistic abuse, I bristled and attempted to ignore what was true. The word “empath” was so much more appealing than codependent.
In the end, having the strength to turn towards what was keeping me stuck in the perpetual victim stance has made all the difference. Many times what we are trying to deny and ignore is what we actually need to take a closer look at and investigate further.
For myself, recovery from co-dependence involves learning and practicing internal and external boundary setting, taking responsibility for myself, and getting conscious of what I can and cannot control.
I can own my reality and my choices. I cannot control or be ruled by the chaos, responsibilities, or realities of others.
The differences between a narcissist and a co-dependent are significant. Intent, self-reflection, connection, empathy, an actual conscience, a sense of who we are deep inside, along with the ability to make meaningful change are the critical differences.
Codependents want to gain the approval of others. Narcissists want conformity and admiration. The needs of the narcissist are first and foremost. For the codependent, the needs, wants, and feelings of others are paramount.
Co-dependents may operate with layers upon layers imposed upon them with endless doing, pleasing, fixing, attempts at control, and the imagined “shoulds” running around in our heads. Muscling through, blaming others for not reading our minds, people pleasing, having a strong desire to “be needed” and attempting to fix everyone else and “their problems” is codependency.
Feeling entitled and actively devaluing the emotional wants and needs of others, despising vulnerability and emotional intimacy, and rationalizing and justifying controlling and manipulative actions towards others is the work of a narcissist.
What does this look like in real life?
Co-dependent: feeling the pain and emotions of others . Real tears for the suffering of others. Feeling a sense of responsibility to help, fix, and save.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: crocodile tears for themselves after being held accountable or being unmasked or perceived as flawed in some way.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: anger, threats, venom, and punishment to others who may simply be standing for themselves at a “cost” to them.
Co-dependent: fear of losing the love and connection to others preventing caring and tending to our needs, wants, and feelings in a healthy adult way.
Co-dependent: Feeling a need to layer on accomplishments and accolades to feel valued while attempting to keep others happy in a futile effort to feel whole.
The intent of the narcissist is to manipulate and control others for their benefit regardless of the cost to the other. The narcissist has no regard for the boundaries of others and will intentionally push and test the limits to manipulate others solely for their gain.
The narcissist lacks empathy. The narcissist has no sense of who they are. There is no underlying feelings that something is not quite right. There is no true connection only emotional apathy. The narcissist is preoccupied with maintaining power and control. The narcissist focuses solely on the needs and wants of themselves. His or her needs come first. All others are there to serve.
Taking things personally and letting our mind spin stories with heavy judgements of ourselves and others and feeling unworthy and without inherent value is a sign of co-dependence. Difficulty standing for ourselves and asserting what is needed along with wanting to please others and be liked and approved of, at all costs, is co-dependency.
Narcissists have no self-awareness at all. Everything is functioning way below the line. The “self” is non-existent. They have no empathy as it relates to others. They do not recognize boundaries at all. They are unconscious of their problems. The self is disordered and solely focused on a mask of perfection and grandiosity. There is no chance for meaningful change. This is Narcissistic Personality Disorder at the core.
I can choose. Others can choose for themselves. I am responsible for these choices. No one is “making me” do, want, need, or feel anything. This is the thinking of a healthy, functioning adult.
When we bring compassion to these difficult truths, we can face our lifelong struggles with an awareness and acceptance that brings trust back to ourselves and a sense of peace. We no longer sabotage our own lives.