Mental Help Net
Relationship Problems
Basic InformationMore InformationLatest NewsQuestions and AnswersBlog EntriesVideosLinksBook Reviews
Therapist Search
Find a Therapist:
 (USA/CAN only)

Use our Advanced Search to locate a therapist outside of North America.

Related Topics

Family & Relationship Issues
Homosexuality & Bisexuality

Michele HappeMichele Happe Blog
A place for discussion of addictions, codependency and eating disorders

The Relationship between Narcissism and Codependency

Michele Happe, MA, LADC Updated: Aug 12th 2011

I have been seeing lots of posts on Facebook about people giving in to others who take advantage of them. Examples are loaning money that is not returned, doing favors for others that are not in the end, helpful, continuing toxic relationships because of guilt about being "cold hearted".

unsure womanThere is a dance in codependency that involves the intimate relationship between codependents and narcissistic types. To better understand codependency let me share my favorite codependent joke.

Two codependents have sex. In the afterglow one says to the other, "well it was good for you, how was it for me"?

Codependents lack a healthy relationship with self. They are prone to put others first before their own needs. This is unhealthy.

Narcissists also have an unhealthy relationship with self. They put themselves above all else. They use others toward their own ends and exploit relationships without feelings of guilt or remorse. They push blame off on others and are unable to see their own part in wrong doing.

It is easy to see how codependents and narcissists get hooked up. It is like two pieces of the puzzle coming together. One is the easy mark for the other. But there is a deeper connection.

It is found that there are familial links to this interaction. If you have one parent who is narcissistic you are likely to become either codependent or narcissistic yourself. If you have two narcissistic parents the same holds true.

Once a person begins to recover from codependency, they are able to begin setting boundaries and standing up to the narcissist. It is very difficult for all humans to conceive of someone who is totally bereft of the ability to empathize and learn from previous mistakes. The primary mistake the codependent makes is to give the benefit of the doubt to the narcissistic partner because it is so hard to fathom someone could be so selfish and unyielding. Thus the dynamic begins.

The good news for the codependent is that there is hope for recovery once they fully understand that the narcissist lacks that ability of compassion, which defines us as humans. Since codependents are quick to blame themselves for problems they are able to work well with a therapist to make changes. Not so for the narcissist. They are stuck in their own world of non blame and hence are pathological unable to change. How can one change if they are unable to see that there is anything wrong with them?

I highly recommend Codependents Anonymous for those who are attempting to free themselves for relationships that are toxic and abusive. It is a program full of specific guidelines for recovery from this type of harmful relationship. Go to for a plethora of information on the topic.

As far as help for the narcissist...hmmmm, well the best thing is to shake the dust off your feet and steer clear so they don't get a chance to use you. The only hope for the narcissist is that they develop addiction and can seek help for that where they might learn a different way to relate to the world. Alcoholics Anonymous is currently the best treatment modality for the narcissistic type...but chances for recovery are slim.

I welcome your comments…

Be well.


Michele Happe, MA, LADCI am a licensed addictions therapist that specializes in addiction and codependency. I use Buddhist principles to aid in recovery and to help promote happiness. I also write and teach about these issues. I have a private practice in Minden, NV and Reno, NV and work nationally on the phone(775)230-1507 and through skype (mhappenow). My webpage is Join me on Facebook for lots of mini teachings.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

i see myself in every comment - another co dependent - Jan 26th 2015

i met a guy at the gym 2 years ago. over months my attraction to him grew. i am gay btw. he was very nice at first. he is a crack addict and herion addict also, which i found out later. recently, i felt so alone in this non-relationship, that i am seeing a therapist. she has enlightened me greatly, but not as much as the websites on narcisissism. thank God for the internet. my boy is so abusive when he is high and using, which is most of the time, that its horrible. everything is my fault. i am stupid and i am an idiot. (although i have a masters degree in business and he is a high school drop out) he continutally gets fired from good jobs, has been to court for assault. nothing is his fault. he steals, shoplifts, abuses his mother verbally, takes peoples credit cards, gets thrown out of rehab facilities. it goes on and on. he is so handsome and charming when he wants to be, that no one would believe this is true, but he is the worst of the worst narcisissist and i believe probably bipolar. all of what they say online is true. the only relief is to run and dont turn back. i always believed in trying to help people and stick with them through hard times. now i realize there is no help for some people and you will destroy yourself trying to help them. well. i feel better sharing my story. thanks

New Eyes! - Embarrassed - Dec 28th 2014

I am the one who always gave the benefit of the doubt for 3 decades.  I am embarrassed to say that I am the person who continued believing in the person who continued to say he was sorry, abuse me and then do it again.  I am the one who is shocked by the fact that anyone could seriously not have any remorse or empathy.  But..I have been given new eyes.  I use to think that the bad times were NOT us and the good times were us.  I now see that the bad times WERE US and the good times were not real.  It was always about him.  Always.  The last thing I heard him say  standing in our own home together was YOU F' NG B--- Wh---.  I wish you would kill yourself!

That is the last time anyone will ever speak to me like that.  I do not deserve it.  I was a good wife.  He is now busily trying to hurt me financially, telling horrific rumors about me and saying I have mental health issues to keep anyone from believing he may be not nice.  He is quite a charmer.  But I know the truth and glad my eyes have been opened.  I do not need to go around defending myself.








The truth about narcissists! - Had Enough - Dec 19th 2014

Well I married a narcissist 6 years ago and the last 2 years have been the worst 2 years of my life. He stalks me all day, rings me at least 20 times. Checks up on me and continuously accuses me of having an affair. I have 3 kids under 5. I don't have time to have a shower let alone have an affair. I think he's more than a narcissist. I think he's crazy. His brain is so clouded. He Uses gas lighting techniques and is currently smearing my name through the mud. I used to feel ashamed. Now I hope he wraps himself around a tree and leaves me alone. narcissists should be 'put down as there is no cure for them or they should be shipped away to the island of Narcissists so they can make their own Club Med! Losers!!!

Like - terri - Dec 15th 2014

I wish you just had a like button!

Magnetic is good for healthy relationship. - Khánh - An Asian - Dec 4th 2014

I think, a spouse life with a little codependency and a little narcissism is good. It make we dependent on each other. 
Anyone agree with me?

How True - - Nov 22nd 2014

I had been in a relationship with a true narcissistic: no matter what he did, it was always someone else's fault. And to top it off, his mother condoned all of his behaviors. She was his number one enabler. This prompts the question: how can such an extremely co-dependent morher produce such a narcissistic child? 

My eyes are opened - Sarah - Oct 17th 2014

" The primary mistake the codependent makes is to give the benefit of the doubt to the narcissistic partner because it is so hard to fathom someone could be so selfish and unyielding.  "

Amen.  This was me for 4 very painful months.  Then I started reading about codependency and was horrified to realize that this was a learned behavior from watching how my mom catered to my dad.  I thought that was the definition of truly caring for someone: to be willing to give up your desires for theirs.  As I did more reading, I was horrified to learn that he was a narcissist.  But it explained how self-centered, boastful, cold and almost punitive he could be.

Once I knew what was going on, the healing began.  Now I am almost cured.

Thanks for this article - Jason - Oct 10th 2014

Wow, this really hit home. I was married to an undiagnosed until recently Narcissist for 11 1/2 years who was also diagnosed bi polar. One day she said she was moving out of state to be with a boyfriend from the past and marry him... leaving me everything and the 2 kids. I was shocked but came to learn of her Narcissitic Personality Disorder and things atrted making sense. Needless to say after that relationship didn;t work out within a month, she came running back to me only to leave again once she found another man. When that didn't work out, she came running back to me again, although this time I was well away of a pattern. And of course now she has found another person from her past, an ex husband that she is in a relationship with now. After reading this article, it made me realize that I have been Codependent and that's why she is drawn to keep coming back to me and why I always think it's my job or responsibility to "fix" her. I know now that I have to break this cycle and never again be an option for her even though we have children together. I always would think no one can be this selfish or use people like this... so thank you for this article, I need to work on me now and stop worrying about my ex.

The Relationship between Narcissimsm and Codependency - Mary Ann - Aug 20th 2014

Any number of these comments sound exactly like a list of Asperger's Syndrome characteristics...I found a lot of help on the meetup group for Friends and Family of People with Asperger's syndrome...80%of those marriages do not work out...and the partners who remain are lonely, isolated and miserable...

Thank for refreshingly unapologetic honesty !!:). Whew - Chris - Aug 19th 2014

Dear Dr. Michelle

Heartfelt thank yous from a codependent part of a couple puzzle. Your remarks were comforting, healing and refreshing!   Ahh like cool water after extreme thirst.  I reslize my opionion is bias however as you well know my other half would dismiss you imediately ofcourse.  

Thank you!!!

I think it's offensive too - Red - Jul 2nd 2014

In my opinion, the label "codependent" is nothing more than a word that empowers narcissists and enables them to blame the victim. The idea appears to be to pathologize anyone who has been abused by a narcissist and tell them that, in some way, they set themselves up for the abuse due to the fact that they have an innately faulty personality. In reality, most people who encounter a narcissist, end up abused by the narcissist, and behave in ways that psychologists would consider "codependent" are simply normal people who have been so severely verbally and emotionally abused that they believe the abuse really is all their fault--partly because the narcissist has told them that it is. The assumption that victims of narcissists are "codependent" is not only insulting, but also leaves no room for the possibility that the victim may simply have been naïve, poorly socialized, or too physically frail to deal with the narcissist. Moreover, if the narcissist was, say, a rapist as well, it is a further insult to the victim because it implies a mutual, consensual relationship where none exists. In other words, the assumption is that the victim makes herself (or himself) a willing possession of the abuser; in reality, however, it is quite simply that the abuser is possessive and has inflicted such incredible mental abuse on the victim that she is now uncertain of her own reality and is willing to buy into the narcissists' version. This, of course, includes the assumption that she is "codependent" and therefore fundamentally flawed and broken, and will have to attend 12 step meetings all her life because she is a defective person who needs to be fixed and improved.

confused - - Apr 12th 2014

Is it possible for someone to be both codependent and be a narcissist? Or is that just a codependent who has a huge ego and is completely selfish? But that is completely opposite of what a codependent is! . What if that person is also in recovery for alcohol addiction?

Help - Mom - Jul 27th 2013

I am an intelligent codependent involved in a relationship with a narcasistic male who is twice my age. I say that I am intelligent because i am aware of most of the issues I have but I can not control them...this is very scary for me and I can't help feeling this impending after 8 years of this, these last 2 the worst, how much more can I take...I know I am not healthy things are progressing in ways they never have before..I rock a lot I think things are changing more severely lately because my mind is trying to come up with ways to help me ..I have no one but him to talk to.. And he's always right..what is it going to take for me to leave...I have started over so many times now....I don't know if I can do it again even though I want to sooooo much

Nuts - Joe - Mar 31st 2013

Correct me if I'm wrong but I think you just said the best thing for an NPD is also being an addict! Wow

Starting to realize - Startingtorealize - Feb 27th 2013

My youngest son may be a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder....and of course, as a codependent I question what I did wrong to cause that.  The truth is, in hindsight, that he's exhibited signs since he was a child, I simply was not able to see it.

He lies about EVERYTHING, even when the truth would serve just as well.  He leads people to believe, he has more, has done more, and is capable of more than he's ever actually done.  But the truth is he cannot make himself do the mundane every day thing of going to work and earning a paycheck.  I've talked to one of his former bosses who said he never drew a full week's pay the whole time he was there.  Honestly, I've heard more excuses about why he didn't get anyone could think anyone would believe a person could work job after job putting in more hours than anyone and not get paid is beyond me.  But the bulk of the time, he's not even pretending to work.  I've spent more money to buy tools, clothes, shoes, everything else so that he could start a job that never actually existed than you'd ever believe.

He's stolen everything he could possibly get his hands on including things he knew were extremely important to me (like a diamond tennis bracelet given to me by my boyfriend who died a few years ago), he's conned me out of money, written checks on my accounts, and caused me to sleep with my purse or wallet.  

He's also lived with me for the past 3 years off an on when he's not off conning some female into believing he's a business owner with lots of money (usually he's spending MY money or money he got from something he stole from me).  He's never paid any bills or given me anything to help with bills.  He recently left for about 6 weeks off with another female and never even so much as even asked how his son was doing one time.  And yet the world is all about him - he's upset because people have jumped to conclusions about him, without knowing anything about him.  He gets angry because he's heard people imply that he\\\'s \\

are his symptoms narcissism - ava - Feb 9th 2013

I met my partner 15 years ago. When we met I was a problem drinker and he was on various drugs.  I thought all his explosive anger and blaming me constantly were symptoms of his troubled past, but it never got better. I had my own issues of constant negative abuse from my family and siblings.  At age 50 I have decided to not contact anyone from my past anymore.  Including my siblings, as I am sick of the hateful disrespect that is heaped on me, its as if I am their chosen scapegoat... 

Trouble is, now I have no family and no friends, well, only fair-weather friends, that disappear when I need someone to talk too....

My partners symptoms...

  • explosive rage over simple things
  • constantly blaming me for everything
  • having to show that I annoy him...
  • verbal abuse, swearing, yelling, blaming, hate 
  • violent revenge fantasies
  • cannot be disagreed with or blamed or argued with, as this sends him into another fit of rage
  • endless boring monologues about whatever he is obsessed with,, skateboard design...etc...hours, weeks, months and then he moves onto something else...
  • is very bright and funny and has a lovely side...unfortunately the other side is dark, vengeful and hateful...
  • sexually sadistic...I have not had sex with him for years...he is very rough and thinks its his right to grope me whenever he feels like it
  • he never wanted kids
  • if regularly going to a store, generally creates a drama with an employee and then refuses to go there again...
  • creates drama...someone stole my wallet, this isn't funny...this means...that I have to look for his wallet or whatever it is...and if I don't a tantrum erupts...because he is so stressed...
  • extremely lazy and would prefer a maze of lies and stress rather than just do something I ask him to do...
  • even if I agree with him, the first word in his reply to me is NO...
  • I rarely speak anymore as he is so domineering and abusive, I just withdraw into myself and try to enjoy things...
  • whinges all the time...blames others everytime...
  • talks all the time...
  • won't give me any space mentally, just talks ALL THE TIME...and saps my energy...
  • is very tight with money, so I end up paying for the majority of things
  • intimidates me with screaming anger and threats of physical violence...
  • threats of suicide...
  • when I find a solution to one of his problems, he just moves onto something else that is frustrating him
  • the list is endless...

How do I survive when I have no help and live in a town that doesn't have help for people unless they can afford it...

Thanks....    : )





Married to a BPD - Ron Harris - Dec 30th 2012

In 1989 i married my wife i thought at the time she was teh most wonderful woman. And yet there was something about my wife that was not right.She claimed her ex husband  was abusive.Over time we got into discussions about her ex more and more often she woudl tell me how she would make him do this and that how she would make him be pay his maintenance etc And i joined in feelign good that i was supporting her and helping her through the shit that went with the problems of a difficult relation ship. as time wore on the venom got worse adn i started to think when will this be turned on me. One night I said to her after two hours of listening to her go on about her ex and unpaid maintenance and hwo she woudl make the court make him pay i Said i had had enough of talking about her ex and then bang i got a tirade of abuse about not supporting her.Our relation ship changed that night I was unaware of hoe she was slowly and carefully taking contorl of my life. there was the demand that she should have access to all my bank accounts, the opened mail directed to me and the questions about  money i had spent. And also the withdrawal of support for my work choices and distancing me from my family.My friend form before i was married had long been chased off any furniture i had with me when we married had been given away.I became depressed with out my wifes supprt and unble to function at work.After 4 jobs all of which i felt so depressed doing even though they excited me.The constant weekend barrages about why i was workign so hard and how she did not want me away form her caused me to feel trapped. One day after a long bout of depression she threw me out acussing me of having affairs.None of which was true bu ti had no resources before throwing me out she had emptied my bank accounts. So i begged to be taken back. She gave me a list of impossible conditions ot meet and told me if i ever left her she would kill herself and the boys so i could never see them again. any way after a long 23 years of hel li left i could take no more. Now i have no contact with my kids that makes me sad.btu at least they are adult and safe.Thelast converstation with my middle son was about the settlement and how he coudl not have a relationship with me if i persued the divorce settlement.

I have decided i cannot have any contact with my kids for my sake Again i feel so sad about that .

I am no longer depressed and feelign happier each day as time goes on. Each time i look at the marriage i see many problems and healthy things about the relationship andf feel sad that it was that way btu i am now moving on making plans that i could not when married

Codependent or narcissist? - - Oct 12th 2012

My husband and I have been separated for over two years. He basically abandoned our 3 children and myself, and since he did this, has been in contact sporadically, whenever he feels like it, comes to visit when he feels like it, sends money when he feels like it, the amount he feels like sending... Everything is on his terms. He told me if I needed more money, I should work more. Even though I am alone in charge of the care of our three children, with no family members or close friends living here. So I did, since that was my only solution. I now juggle taking care of my children, a part time job outside the home, and i am in the process of resuming my profession as a self-employed translator, working from home. Many times I have to work through the night to get the job done, but I do it happily, just so I don't have to live in fear of whether he will send a decent amount of money for us to live on the next month. However, I am beginning to be exhausted, physically and emotionally.

After hearing from several people that he is a narcissist, I told him that he was one. A few months later, he told me he had found out what is wrong with me; I have NPD. He had been reading a lot of articles, and suggested I do the same. I questioned myself (I always do), and began reading. I still find that he is the one with narcissistic tendencies, if not the full-blown disorder. But he is adamant: I have NPD and he is a codependent. That is why he "ran" away from me to begin with, and unless I can change, there is no future to our relationship.


So my question is: how can you determine who is which? Is it possible that I have so much self-doubt that he could manage to make me believe what I feel is completely inaccurate? Or am I, as a narcissist, completely incapable of accepting his "diagnosis"? (BTW, whenever I try to "analyze" our situation, he laughs and says that I'm trying out my 5 cent psychologogical analysis-however, when I point out that as far as I know, he doesn't have a degree in psychology and, to my mind, he is doing the same, he get upset, supports his argument by saying he has read a lot on the topic and is in no doubt about the fact that he holds the key to all our issues)

I even asked my therapist, and she said she would never had pegged NPD on me. She did not say that my husband has it either, since she has never met him (he refuses to go to therapy, thinking we can solve all our problems by ourselves, yet, he lives and works literally half-way around the world, and we see each other at best 6 weeks out of the year.

So, how do you determine who is who?

Better to love Statn than a Narcissist - Reghu - Oct 12th 2012


Loving, helping others is a good trait. But loving a Narcissist is too much!!!

Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Recover - Kelly - May 19th 2012

I am in a 12-Step program and have been abstinent/sober for about 1 1/2 years. I have had a "spiritual awakending," am sponsoring, and think 1 sponsee and 1 program-friend might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  They both seem to lack any empathy, and I have had to pull back from the friendship due to jealousy, competition, and rudeness on the friend's part.

As more of the people-pleasing, overly empathetic, co-dependent type of addict myself I wasn't quite sure how to handle them at first.  I now trust that, no matter what, putting my own recovery first and helping them to work the 12 Steps is the best thing I can do the help them. 

I wondered if someone with NPD could CHANGE (not just stop using their drug of choice), and I'm comforted to know that if there's ANYTHING that MIGHT help them change, it could be a working a 12-step program.   

Interesting!  Thank you for writing this, and bless you!

Getting free at last - Karen - Aug 18th 2011

i am the codependent and husb is the narcissist.  Divorce is in process and its the divorce from hell he has absolutely no concern for me or the children.  he is out to take me to the cleaners and leave the kids (whom i have won custody of) on the streets.  i used to always wonder where he got the behavior but now i know.  As divorce was filed he left his job and moved in with his parents and they have supported him while i struggle to pay the mortgage, utilities, atty fees and take care of the children with no help from him whatsoever.  He is trying to get me to pay spousal support to him in excess of what i make and pay watts chgs on the house and even is trying to chg me usage fees on the pots and pans in the house and for drying ourselves w/a towel.  Its crazy.  He sees the kids just twice a month and he wants me to pay him child sup for the few hrs a month that he has them as he has no overnights but i get no child sup. Getting away from someone w/this behavior is not easy but i will do it if it kills me i want this monster and his family out of my life.

thanks for the info - Lindz - Aug 16th 2011

I am the codependant and my husband is the narcissist and although I dont like to think myself as dependant the reading of this situation is me and my husband, I am thankfully filing for divorce and wondering here why has seems unbothered about the whole thing, I fell for a con man and thought he loved me and will be glad to be rid, although I know he could never have loved me, I loved him and it makes it no easier to get over .. please people out there who think they are with a narcissist look deeper and get freed

Offensive - Cathy - Aug 14th 2011

I find the term "co-dependent" is offensive.  This "Codependents lack a healthy relationship with self. They are prone to put others first before their own needs. This is unhealthy." to sends people with compassion and a love for God to the same path that the narcissist is following.  I consider it morally unhealthy to think of yourself first and, frankly, how many of those "needs" are simply desires/wants.  The good old "me" thing that is constantly pushed by the world of psychology yet enter the narcissist and, well, that is wrong.  Yes, it is wrong but that is who they are and their personality and to refer to a person who shows compassion, love and understanding to others a "co-dependent" is nothing but insulting.  Believe it or not, before psychology started labeling every behavior and creating a therapy or a drug regime, everyone got along just fine.  From what I see of the world of psychology, "me" is where it is at. 

loved this one - Maggie - Aug 13th 2011

I could not wait to read this article! Much of it was as I thought it to be. However, it still made for a deeper understanding! Fabulous article and it just makes so much sense.......It gave clarity on the parental role in these types of relationships as well. Which I liked since it seems thats exactly where the issues begin! I loved this article. Thank you:)

timely! - cori rosa - Aug 13th 2011

Thanks Michelle-- I will be reading and re-reading this!  Cori

Follow us on Twitter!

Find us on Facebook!

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.

Powered by CenterSite.Net