3 Reasons Codependent People Attract Narcissistic Partners

Why do codependent people tend to attract narcissistic partners? In this article we explore three reasons why people with codependent tendencies tend to have relationships with narcissistic partners. To begin, let’s clarify what we are defining as “codependent” and “narcissistic.”

What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Codependency is a relationship pattern where one partner struggles to express their authentic needs and desires, instead relying heavily on the other partner for validation and attention. This can manifest in things like giving up too much of oneself or putting the other person’s needs first all the time. In some cases, codependent behavior can be counter-productive, leading to resentment and disconnection.

There is no diagnosis for “codependency” but Dependent Personality Disorder is a DSM-5 diagnosis assigned to individuals who are excessively needy and dependent on others. Dependent Personality Disorder is classified as a Cluster C personality disorder and normally associated with anxious or fearful-avoidant (sometimes called “disorganized”) attachment styles.

As we progress through life, it’s only natural and expected to rely on others from time to time. People with this particular disorder, however, display an excessive need for external caretaking due to a fear of being abandoned. This often manifests in clingy and submissive behavior that can be difficult for those around them.

This may be expressed by:

  1. Difficulty making routine decisions without input, reassurance, and advice from others.
  2. Requires others to assume responsibilities which they should be attending to.
  3. Fear of disagreeing with others and risking disapproval.
  4. Difficulty starting projects without support from others.
  5. Excessive need to obtain nurturance and support from others, even allowing other to impose themselves rather than risk rejection or disapproval.
  6. Feels vulnerable and helpless when alone.
  7. Desperately seeks another relationship when one ends.
  8. Unrealistic preoccupation with being left alone and unable to care for themselves. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

What is Narcissism?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and lack of empathy towards others. Narcissistic people often have an unrealistic view of themselves as superior to others and may use manipulation tactics to get what they want.

Importantly, in order for someone to have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, they have to demonstrate a certain intensity and severity of overlapping symptoms, which according to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) includes…

1. Grandiose sense of self-importance

2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, or ideal love

3. Belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by other special people

4. Need for excessive admiration

5. Sense of entitlement to having special treatment or privileges

6. Exploitative of others to achieve their own goals

7. Lack of empathy towards others

8. Often jealous of others or believes that others are jealous of them

9. Arrogant attitude and behaviors

A good diagnosis will also take into account the onset of these symptoms and the prevalence of it, risk factors, comorbidities, differential diagnosis, and cultural influences.

Okay, so now we know the diagnostic criteria for these respective disorders, and having a clear definition and label is often comforting because it allows us to make sense of confusing experiences. But what’s important to understand is that many people will fall on a spectrum of these traits without meeting the full criteria for a disorder. And many disorders are only one symptom away from fitting into a category and label for an entirely different disorder.

My point is, use the labels for as far as they provide clarity for you, and then, throw them out. It’s more important to engage in a process of moving towards what feels fulfilling and purposeful for you in relationships, than it is to find new boxes to fit into.

Given that, let’s examine 3 reasons why folks that appear to fall on these codependent and narcissistic spectrums, often find themselves paired together in relationships.

Codependent people tend to be attracted to narcissists because they crave attention and validation.

Codependent people tend to be pleasers. They want to make others happy and they sacrifice their own needs in order to do so. This may stem from low self-esteem or a fear of being rejected. When you’re a pleaser, you’re essentially telling your partner that your own happiness is not as important as theirs. This sets the stage for someone who is primarily concerned with control and power dynamics in relationships, to swoop in and take as much as they can get.

We must also consider the fact that people-pleasing can also be a way of asking for the attention and validation that they never received. Narcissists also have this wound of craving and seeking attention and validation, but they do it in more manipulative and socially unacceptable ways (being grandiose and bullying), while codependent folks do it in socially acceptable and even socially rewarded ways (being selfless and people pleasing).

While this cycle of codependency and narcissism can be incredibly damaging, it’s important to remember that breaking free from habituated behavior is possible. There is hope for anyone struggling with codependency – by understanding the behavior patterns you have adopted and getting the necessary help, you can find happier and healthier relationships in both your personal and professional life.

Narcissists are often attracted to codependent people because they are caretakers and provide an ego boost.

Narcissists are often attracted to codependent people because they are caretakers and feed the narcissist’s ego. On the other hand, the need to be needed boosts the self esteem and sense of purposefulness for the codependent partner. Codependent people often stay in relationships longer than they should because they feel responsible for their partner’s well-being, and their sense of agency and identity is caught up in playing a “rescuer” role.

Remember, narcissism doesn’t usually evolve from a happy and healthy home and upbringing. Even if a partner fits a lot of criteria for narcissistic traits, they are still human, and most likely got to be that way through significant trauma and pain. This is the part that the codependent will focus on and want to rescue, either to prove their own worthiness, or as a way of rescuing the projected parts of themselves that have also experienced trauma and pain. Caretaking often leads to resentment, however, because it’s an unequal exchange – you give and give but never feel like it’s enough.

Codependent partners struggle to feel worthy, and narcissistic partners provide enough of a challenge to prove it.

Codependent partners usually come from childhood backgrounds that included conditions of love, which means affection and warmth was only provided in exchange for certain things (i.e. thinking, feeling, and behaving in the ways you are told to). That means it was also withdrawn if the child failed or did not meet expectations. This creates an unconscious system of checks and balances, that deems one worthy or unworthy, deserving or undeserving of love, based on how well they meet a certain external set of criteria.

As the child grows into an adult, they come to depend on their partner to provide that system of checks and balances, a standard by which they can rise to the challenge and prove their worthiness, and therefore earning their partners love and approval (and, thereby proving their own worthiness, to themselves). It would be difficult for a codependent person to trust and believe in a love that was not earned through some form of struggle or a challenge against which they might measure their worthiness. And a narcissist, in their inflated sense of self and tendency towards grandiosity, is often very willing to put themselves on a pedestal and feed into the idea that love is a conditional prize hard won through suffering and angst- because deep down, they harbor the same assumption. And so, it would be hard to find a more challenging or charismatic partner than someone that fits a narcissistic criteria, which makes them very tantalizing to a codependent person, at first. The underlying assumption being, “If I can get someone like that to love me, then I must REALLY be lovable.” And the narcissist will feed into this dynamic, if it provides them with adequate attention and validation.

Overall, the codependent-narcissist relationship can be a challenging situation to navigate and if you do not seek help or therapy, it can be characterized by manipulation and emotional abuse. Though these problems may persist, it is not impossible to end this unhealthy dynamic. By understanding the nature of this type of relationship, you can begin taking steps towards creating healthier forms of connection with your partner, particularly in counseling or therapy. If your partner is unwilling to change, focus on making lasting changes for your continued growth. It can take diligence and persistence, but by putting in the effort, you could create a strong foundation for healthier relationships in the future. Change isn’t easy, but when you are committed – extraordinary things can happen. Rebuilding yourself and discovering where your needs truly lie provides the opportunity of learning how to genuinely care for yourself as well as others; ultimately leading you down a path of lasting fulfillment, peace, and joy.

Briana MacWilliam is an author, educator, licensed and board-certified creative arts therapist & frequent teacher at AVAIYA

1 Response

  1. J says:

    Would you make the connection between Co dependency and how we allow our US government to hurt us?

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