A Codependent and a Narcissist Walk into a Meeting…
Kristen S. Smith MSW, LSW
I met *Bob at a local Narcotics Anonymous meeting many years ago, and was quite taken by his charm and confidence, that I lacked. We were both newcomers to the recovery scene, and I was desperate to find love in any way possible. That desperation led me to jot down his phone number from a male phone list that had been passed around for him, and from there, the roller coaster began. Bob and I would spend time in groups with other newcomers to the program, and mostly they would play poker after every meeting until the early morning hours. I mostly sat around gazing at him, waiting for him to notice me or speak to me, but just knowing I had a romantic prospect on the horizon kept me coming to the (anti) social events. We ended up all going to a convention a few hours away, and I finally got my chance to be alone with him in the car for a few hours. He seemed aloof and uncaring-exactly what I was willing to tolerate after a lengthy active addiction. We all stayed at his parents’ vacation home, and the group spent almost all of the time playing poker, and staying up all night. Bob barely spoke two words to me the first night, and finally uttered, “I’ll sleep with you, but I have no interest in dating you.” I tearfully and dramatically called another addict to pick me up from the vacation home, and vowed never to speak to him again.
Bob resurfaced several years later, living in a recovery house and seeking to make amends with me for his AA program. I agreed to let him take me out for coffee so I could hear his tearful plea, and once again I was charmed by his arrogance and persuasiveness. Shortly after, Bob moved in with me, and the rollercoaster of a codependent/narcissistic, tumultuous relationship took off. I was attracted to the initial romance and sizzle of the relationship, which quickly faded, and the partner I knew, no longer existed. Bob had put me on a pedestal early on, and made me feel as though he was truly in love with me, and made me believe that he would one day be my adoring husband. The “honeymoon” period of a narcissist relationship is a period in which everything seems perfect, as a way to bait the partner.
For a codependent/narcissistic relationship to blossom, it requires two opposite, but balanced partners: the pleaser/fixer (codependent), and the taker/controller (narcissist). Codependents confuse caretaking and sacrifice with loyalty and love, and end up feeling bitter, resentful, and angry at their partner who refuses to fulfill them. The narcissist is attracted to a partner that appreciates them, and feeds into their self-absorption. The narcissist will pick partners whom they can control, who lack self-worth, confidence, and who have low self-esteem.
Shortly after, the traumatic, dysfunctional, relationship began, and the “honeymoon” period began to fade. I learned a few months later from Bob’s friends, that Bob had been asked to leave the recovery house where he had been working on his AA amends, for multiple positive urine tests for opiates. This is why he was in such a hurry to move in with me-he had nowhere else to go, and found the perfect victim to prey on. He could not keep a job, was unable to provide me any rent money, and began the cycle of entering into treatment centers over and over for the duration of our relationship. I struggled to admit to myself that Bob was using, but found him sleeping more often than not, and had erectile dysfunction and caffeine pills in his car, (which he later admitted to me that he took so I would not be aware of his heroin use.) I became increasingly angry, hostile, fearful, and controlling of his every move. I became an expert-level private investigator, placing tracking devices on his phone, analyzing his phone bill, and showing up to his job. I threw him out multiple times, only to bring him back in again, sacrificing my joy and happiness for the hope that I would one day meet his potential, and get to fall in love with the man that I met for only two months out of the entire relationship.
Only later, after the relationship dissolved completely, did I uncover a label for what this relationship was. I was habitually choosing partners connected to my unconscious motivation to find a person familiar and reminiscent of my powerless, and traumatic childhood. I am a child of a very similar dysfunctional relationship, driven by my fears of not wanting to be alone, and the compulsion to “fix” at any cost. In hindsight, Bob met all of the criteria of a narcissist:
*Was easily offended or angered by criticism
*Only cared about his needs
*Only gave attention when it suited him
* Felt that he was always right
*Had a fragmented family life/history
*Is constantly seeking recognition and reaffirmation
Breaking the cycle was not easy, and took many years of Bob popping back up in my life when he needed something, somebody to stroke his ego, or help him financially/legally. He never truly apologized or saw any wrong in not being present for any of the major milestones in my life, and would quickly revert any discussion of my hurt feelings back to how he felt, and how he was mistreated. He never understood and may never understand that leaving me alone on holidays, while he invited his friends over, crushed me. He missed out on birthdays, graduations, surgeries, and other important life events because he had discarded me during those periods to find other victims of his game. At the end of our relationship, I felt hopeless, shattered, and my sense of self-worth was destroyed. I was also tremendously confused as to how a person could quickly change from being kind and romantic, to a hollow person that used meetings as a place to tell other addicts how wronged he had been by me, and how crazy I was.
It took a long time for me to understand that much like my parents, Bob was incapable of loving me, and I was incapable of accepting reality. I stopped trying to make Bob into someone he is not, and tried to find self-forgiveness. I recognized that I had been mistreated, I allowed myself to be mistreated and victimized, but that I also played a part in the cycle. I have started to look at my people-pleasing behaviors in all areas of my life, and have learned that being my authentic self, does not mean giving to the point of emptiness, and resentment. I have learned to establish boundaries with others, to focus on my own preferences and hobbies, and to trust the intuition and feelings that I grew up not having ownership of. I have learned that I am not responsible for other peoples’ actions, thoughts, and reactions, and I can care about someone, without owning their issues. In the end, I have learned that I am responsible for my own happiness and joy, and the process starts with loving myself.