Understand Codependent and Narcissistic Traits (In Yourself and Others)
By Carista Luminare, Ph.D.
Life is busy. You have many options for how you distribute your daily time and energy. If you want to have a healthy relationship, prioritize healing each other by illuminating the bonding dynamics in your partnership. One way to do this is to clarify whether you or your partner have codependent or narcissistic traits that are undermining the quality of your intimacy.
Narcissistic and codependent partners commonly gravitate toward each other. In relationship, the needs of the more self-absorbed partner usually dominates over the needs of the more self-sacrificing partner because codependents naturally abandon their own needs to support their partner.
As with any personality trait, narcissism and codependency each appear as a spectrum of behaviors from mild to moderate to extreme. The codependent extreme is called “Dependent Personality Disorder,”
whereas the narcissistic extreme is called “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”
Because the extreme forms are considered psychopathological disorders, only a trained psychologist or psychiatrist can properly diagnose them. It is much better to use the terms “traits” and “tendencies,” because most people fall in the mild-to-moderate range. If we consider these traits to define “self-focus” or “other-focus,” it’s easier to recognize the characteristics in both ourselves and others.
When you reflect on your predominant style of relating, it’s helpful to review both your past and present partners. What kind of person are you generally attracted to? When you look at the long-term relationships you’ve been in, what are the primary patterns you and your partner exhibit?
If you fall into the more narcissistic or overly self-focused spectrum, you’ve probably seen how easily you can drop into preoccupation with yourself – sometimes to the point of forgetting about your partner’s needs and feelings. It may happen when you get triggered by something they said, or you became upset with the circumstances.
If you are focused on achieving your goals, you may not pay attention to your partner’s needs as you move forward. You may not be aware of your impact on others, and it may not occur to you to repair the damage you’ve done while being self-absorbed.
Common narcissistic traits include:
- Feeling a grandiose sense of self-importance, expecting to be recognized as superior, powerful, or an authority.
- Expressing a strong sense of entitlement with unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment in the relationship.
- Taking advantage of others to achieve one’s own needs.
- Lacking empathy – being unwilling or unable to acknowledge the other’s feelings and needs as equally important.
If you fall into the more codependent spectrum or overly other-focused, you may tend to give up your own needs to preserve your relationship with the other person. If you belong to a group, you may put the group’s needs ahead of your own – to your detriment. You may tolerate others’ unkind behavior or walk on eggshells to avoid conflict, rather than standing up to the unfairness.
We can regularly care for ourselves or others, as well as compromise at times to get along or move forward in an intentional and mature way. However, it’s time to change the patterns.
Common codependent traits:
- Difficulty expressing disagreements with others because of a deep fear of emotional or physical abandonment.
- A feeling of constantly walking on eggshells to avoid making the other person upset, and not sharing your concerns directly.
- Holding back your truth, opinion, or full self-expression to avoid any kind of conflict.
- Difficulty letting go of an unhealthy, toxic or traumatizing relationship.
- Tolerating threatening situations or behavior to maintain a connection.
Narcissism and Codependency are like two sides of a coin. Both dynamics limit your ability to experience a secure, loving relationship with another person.
If you understand these complex bonding patterns, you can rewire your behaviors to create a healthy, collaborative love together.
A healthy relationship looks like this:
● You care for yourself AND the other person in a balanced way.
● You both take responsibility to ensure that your own needs AND the other person’s needs are being considered and cared for with fairness.
● Mutual understanding is highly valued and actively worked on.
● Both partners feel respected, secure and cherished throughout the day.
● When conflicts occur (as they inevitably will), both partners care enough to repair and restore the loving bond as soon as possible.
Assess Your Traits and Tendencies
Here is a quick assessment to see where you fall on the narcissistic side of the coin (self-absorbed traits) or the codependent side (self-sacrifice traits).
Some of us have a mixture of both characteristics, and some people have healthy relationships without any of these tendencies.
Where do you place most of your attention, most of the time? Is your attention on yourself and your own needs? Or on others and their needs?
This is not a scientific or a diagnostic instrument – it’s a quick check to discover whether you tend toward one end of the spectrum or the other, or you may be balanced.
Contemplate this past week where you’ve placed your time, energy, and attention. Was it more focused on yourself and your own needs and wants? Or was it more focused on others and their needs and wants?
On each line below, write down the percentage of your time and attention you spent in each side. If it was an unusual week for some reason (e.g., travel for work or an illness in the family), use an average week of your life.
On each line, divide up 100% of your waking time and attention into two parts. For example, “I focused on my own needs 75% of the time, and I focused on my partner’s and family’s needs 25% of the time.”
We know your answers are more complex and nuanced – this is a way to get a quick approximation.
Now total each column and find your averages by taking your column total and dividing by 10.
For example, if your total in one column was 750, your average is 75% for that column. Write your averages here:
Self-Focus Average: ____ %. Other-Focus Average: ____ %.
Consider sharing this assessment with your partner and compare your results. Ask whether they agree with your assessment of yourself and see whether you agree with theirs. You may each have a very different impression of the other!
If your percentage is much higher on the left side, your self-absorption may be a problem for your partner. If your numbers are much higher on the right side, you may have abandoned yourself somewhere along the way. If your numbers were in the middle zone, close to 50%-50%, you are likely living a balanced life of healthy self-care AND care for the other.
The traits at the extreme ends of each spectrum can cause significant problems in relationships.
If you feel triggered or overwhelmed after seeing your results, consider contacting a highly qualified counselor who can help you integrate these insights.
Regardless of where you fall on this wide spectrum, you can learn more about your choices and make some behavior changes. The goal is to feel more trust in your own capacity to love… and be loved.
By Carista Luminare, Ph.D.
Carista is an Attachment Specialist and “Recovering Codependent.” Learn how Carista and her partner rewired each other and many clients from insecure attachment to secure love, featured in her 3 and 10 week online course at www.HealingNarcissismandCodependency.com