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Why Do Codependents Attract Narcissists?

A woman who's a codependent hugging her narcissist partner.

While it may be a cliché in the movies, the good girl attracted to the bad boy theme is a very real part of the life experience of women across the country. In my practice as a therapist as well as in my role as a coach, I work with individuals with codependency who find themselves getting into relationships with narcissists over and over again.

The Dance
In addiction research, the relationship between a codependent and a narcissist is sometimes known as a dance. In my work, there is a definite pattern of behavior where each party plays their role, thereby allowing the other party to play their role as well.

Both the codependent and the narcissist have a poor relationship with themselves as individuals. The codependent has learned to put others first and to minimize the needs of self. The narcissist is just the opposite; he or she places his or herself above all others, with the sole goal of a relationship as one of exploitation to get needs met. In the codependent, the narcissist finds the ultimate giver, a person who gives to the extent of completely losing themselves.

In the online article, “All About Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” a published study from the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported that 7.7% of males and just over half of that number, about 4.8% of females, in the adult population would develop NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). As with all disorders, there is no test for the condition, but rather the prevalence and appearance of specific behaviors and beliefs that must occur to be diagnosed with NPD.

A few of these issues include exaggerated self-importance, fantasies about their superiority, the need for constant admiration, feelings of entitlement, and a lack of empathy towards others. They also tend to have significant false charm and charisma that they can use to their advantage to become the perfect partner for the codependent. They mold themselves into someone who meets the needs of the codependent in the early stages of the relationship, only showing their real narcissistic personality once the relationship has formed.

At the same time, the codependent person lacks the ability to set boundaries, focuses on pleasing others, has very low self-esteem, and takes responsibility for other people’s problems as well as making excuses for their behavior.

By considering these as two partners in a dance, it isn’t surprising to see how they fit together. In my coaching with codependents, helping the individual to see why this attraction occurs is critical in the individual being able to break the cycle and engage in healthy relationships.

Learn a New Dance
Working with codependents in my coaching and therapy practice is all about learning a different set of thought patterns and behaviors. To get out of the old destructive way of thinking and into something new, positive and helpful we focus on:

Building self-esteem.
Addressing the issue of low self-esteem that is found in codependency is key in being comfortable with yourself and feeling satisfied as a whole person – without the need for a partner to complete the picture.

Boundary setting.
Learning to say no and to set effective boundaries to protect yourself emotionally takes time, but it is a highly effective skill.

Learning to be comfortable solo.
Developing areas of life to focus on outside of relationships is critical. This gives you time to change your thinking and behaviors while eliminating negative coping mechanisms of the past.

Codependency is a learned behavior, and it can be changed. It’s not easy, but with coaching, therapy, and belief in yourself, it will happen.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She helps singles navigate the dating process to find the love of their lives. Take her quiz to find out if you’re a love addict, sign up for a 30-minute strategy session, or learn more about how to get over a break up. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, and is a sought after online dating and relationship coach. For more information visit of sign up today for Sherry’s online group coaching program for $19/month

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