Denial is a big part of Codependency – denial that anything is wrong, denial of your feelings, denial about your childhood, denial about your romantic partners…whichever way you slice it there is a lot of incongruity between a codependent’s perceived reality and reality itself.
Emotional manipulators are drawn to codependents and vice versa. They have a lot in common. You have two wounded children playing out their dysfunctional tapes over and over again. Both insecure, both desperate for love, both with a very low sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Both have an external locus of control, looking for love, happiness and acceptance outside of themselves. The differences lie in how they express those feelings and beliefs.
A codependent seeks approval by being, doing, and giving more than they receive. They derive their self-worth by caretaking and giving. They don’t feel comfortable in the spotlight and instead feel more comfortable focusing on others.
Narcissists, on the other hand, seek approval by creating a false image of themselves. They need the attention and affection (supply) of others to maintain their self-esteem. Once they’ve received the required supply the Mr.Hyde appears in contrast to the Dr. Jekyll they initially presented.
Because Codependents are used to being treated poorly and believe they have to work for love, they don’t run for the hills when the monster shows up. The Narcissist, well-schooled on his targets weaknesses, begins a course of psychological warfare all centered around controlling their victims to keep them compliant and to keep them from leaving.
How A Narcissist Creates Dependency
They Create Anxiety in Their Victims: A Narcissists moods can be very volatile. They can rage at the slightest provocation and take out their wrath on their nearest and dearest. As a result a codependent, who is already accustomed to ignoring their feelings, learns to tip toe around the precarious moods of their partner. They walk around on egg shells, never knowing when the next proverbial shoe will drop. If this anxiety continues for a prolonged period of time and goes untreated physical ailments have been know to occur.
They Wear Down Your Self-Esteem: Either overtly or covertly they take aim at those parts of you that you are most ashamed of. They criticize everything you do, how you look, how you behave, even your very existence. The assault can be so pervasive that you become like a shell of a human being, believing that you can’t do anything right and little by little the Narcissist takes over every aspect of your life. You get to a point where you leave everything to them, believing that they know better. You lose yourself in the relationship and let go of your autonomy.
They Condition Their Partners to Behave Using Negative Reinforcement: When a Narcissist’s partner stands up for themselves, acts independently or in a manner they disapprove of, a Narcissist will use negative reinforcement to keep them in line. It’s a form of operant conditioning coined and identified by F.B Skinner. It’s the removal of a stimulus the subject wants or requires. Like taking a cell phone away from a misbehaving teenager, a Narcissist will remove themselves by disappearing or giving you the silent treatment. We learn through both positive and negative reinforcement. Conditioning is just another tool a Narcissist uses to subjugate their victims.
Gas Lighting: Gas lighting is the most recent buzz word surrounding Narcissists. It’s a manipulation tactic used by Narcissist to get their victims to question their memory, perception and sanity. They plant seeds of doubt and confusion to further weaken your grasp on reality.
They Display a Complete Lack of Empathy: They fail to celebrate or acknowledge anything that is important to, or about their partners. They don’t buy gifts, or recognize their partner’s achievements. They may pick fights right before a birthday, or the holidays to give themselves justification for their behavior. They don’t want their partners to get too confident. A confident partner is a partner who might decide they’ve had enough of their abuse and leave. A Narcissist fears abandonment and will guard against that at all costs. Making their partners feel small and insignificant is a great way to do that.
They Isolate You From Everyone You Love and Trust: There is always a big fuss anytime you want to spend time with people you care about. They berate and rant about how awful your friends or family are and anytime you talk about them or want to see them a confrontation ensues. They do this because they have spent so much effort into making you doubt your reality and they don’t want that messed up by people that have the ability to make you see the truth. The problem is that you have likely already bought into the Narcissist’s game plan. Your friends and family will tell you to get the hell out of there, like any sane person would, but they don’t understand the dynamic you’re stuck in. When you continue to stay, after revealing horrific details of the abuse, they get frustrated with your behavior to the point where you don’t want to tell them anything anymore, because you can’t deal with their criticism and disappointment, you stop talking and continue to hide your feelings.
They Play Mind Games: A Narcissist is always playing a game of one-upmanship. If you think you’ve caught them in something they will lie and make up a story. If you accuse them of bad behavior they will profect that behavior back on you and accuse you of the same thing. They are always trying to outsmart their partners and stay one step ahead of them, everything is a game and keeping you in the dark in regards to their behavior, true feelings and motivations feeds their ego. It makes them feel superior and reinforces their belief that you are lacking intelligence and are in fact inferior.
They are Vengeful: Fear of punishment and retribution are powerful motivators. If you know that you will be yelled at, physically harmed, humiliated, insulted, have your children harmed, your property destroyed or have anything that holds meaning to you taken away, you can be trained to be obedient. In Narcissistic/Codependent relationships there is always a power differential and they use that power as a means of control. They will teach you that everything is their way or the highway and when you do not comply you will be punished, in one way or another, until you comprehend that everything is always all about them. This constant erosion of boundaries, expectations, and the irrelevance they put on your needs and want is another hit to an already fragile sense of self.
In Part II next week we will talk about breaking free of Codependency and getting out of this cycle of abuse
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