Christine and David have been together for three years, and to outsiders, their relationship appears to be lovely. David would do anything for Christine. If she has a problem, he does his best to solve it. If her feelings get hurt, he tries to soothe her. Sometimes he takes care of her needs to the exclusion of his own. In fact, he sometimes sacrifices his own well-being—physical and emotional—to make sure she’s okay and their relationship continues to flourish.
David is a people pleaser.
All this is well and good until it isn’t. David is a pleaser. His self-esteem is low due to years of childhood suffering from a mother who made him feel worthless. So he’s willing to do anything to feel loved. And Christine gravitated toward him for that very reason.
Christine feels entitled.
Christine is a narcissist. She grew up an only child, the daughter of elderly parents who were amazed to have a baby late in life. They spoiled her relentlessly and made her feel she was superior to the rest of the world. Christine felt that her needs were more important than anyone else’s. She was devoid of empathy and compassion.
Christine saw that David would do anything for her and that made him the codependent she needed. At first she lavished him with love and affection so she could give him what he needed to be in a relationship with her. But once he was hooked, she could assume the role of taker/controller while he was the pleaser/fixer.
Narcissists versus Codependents
Narcissists are usually understood to be people wrapped up in themselves and confident in their own entitlement. But deep down, they’re not as confident as they seem so they need others to validate them. And they need to feel in control, so they need to control others. In a sense, they’re codependent, too.
Codependents, though, do not have the same characteristics as narcissists. Codependents do not share narcissists’ lack of compassion and empathy and their sense of entitlement. Codependents willingly give up their own happiness to please the narcissist who no longer feels the need to charm them. While the codependent jumps through hoops to win back love and affection, the narcissist is happy to receive it without doing anything to earn it.
David feels trapped.
David, the codependent, sees his relationship needs repair, and it’s his job to fix it. He can only do this, however, while Christine is willing to bestow a little attention upon him to keep his adoration coming. By the time David figures out he’s Christine’s lapdog and will never get the full love and attention he deserves from this relationship, it’s too late. Christine is not going to change anything—she’s the self-satisfied narcissist who sees nothing wrong in the arrangement and has no compassion for David. She is not going to change her behavior.
For David to get what he wants and deserves—a loving relationship—he is going to have to leave Christine. And that’s the hard part. Because David has to learn to love himself enough to have the confidence that he can be in a healthy relationship. That he’ll be loved for who he is, not for what he can do for someone else. It takes courage to break free.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact