Ever feel like you’re constantly trying to please your partner but never quite measuring up? Do you find yourself always working to keep your partner happy while ignoring your own needs and desires just to maintain the peace? If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, there’s a big chance you’ve unknowingly taken on the role of a co-narcissist. This role often comes from a desire for stability, sacrifice, and sometimes fear. However, it can lead to losing your sense of self over time.
Are you a co narcissist in the relationship? Being aware of the patterns of narcissism and co-narcissism can help you improve your relationships with yourself and your partner. This article will provide you with signs and hidden patterns to look out for and explain how are these affecting your relationships, as you learn the steps you can take to move past them.
What Is Co-Narcissism?
Many people talk about narcissism and its self-centeredness, but not many discuss its counterpart: co-narcissism. So, what is co-narcissism, and how is it different from typical narcissistic behavior?
Co-narcissism is a behavioral pattern that emerges when you find yourself closely involved with a narcissist. It’s not about being obsessed with yourself, like a narcissist. Instead, it’s about reacting to and accommodating that narcissistic individual in your life.
Narcissism revolves around an inflated sense of one’s importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. A narcissist might deploy gaslighting tactics, a sinister form of emotional abuse that can make the victim question their reality, further deepening the co-narcissist’s dependency and self-doubt.
In contrast, co-narcissism is about living in the shadow of that spotlight. Your actions, thoughts, and feelings are predominantly influenced by the narcissist’s desires, moods, or whims.
Think of it this way: while a person with narcissistic personality tends to be self-centered, seeking admiration and validation constantly, as a co-narcissist, you might find yourself always trying to please, appease, or take care of the narcissist’s needs, often at the expense of your own. When you are a co-narcissist, you’re always adjusting your actions and suppressing your feelings just to avoid confrontations or to maintain harmony. You’re not doing this because it’s inherently who you are, but because it’s become a learned response to being around a narcissistic person.
Are You a Co Narcissist? 5 Signs To Watch Out For
How does a co-narcissist behave? Let’s dive into the hallmark behaviors that characterize this role:
1. You Tend To Have A People-Pleasing Personality
The Gottman Institute defines people-pleasing as “the act of chronically prioritizing others’ needs, wants, or feelings at the expense of, or to the detriment of, our own needs, wants, or feelings.” When you’re a co-narcissist, you always seem to be bending over backward to make others happy, often at your own expense.
People pleasing can hurt your relationship as you relentlessly strive to ensure others are satisfied, even if it means suppressing your desires. Sometimes, it can push you to neglect self-care, lack authenticity in your relationship, and constantly hide your true feelings.
2. You Suppress Your Self-Expression
As a co-narcissist, you may often find your voice silenced, your opinions unheard, or your feelings invalidated. Over time, you might have learned to keep your thoughts and emotions to yourself, fearing criticism or confrontation from the narcissist. This continuous suppression can lead you to lose touch with your own needs, wants, and identity.
3. You Take Responsibility for the Whole Relationship
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, it can feel like you’re always holding the weight of the world on your shoulders. Any mishap, even those beyond your control, feels like your fault. Over time, doubts, fears, and constant worry about something going wrong can lead to relationship anxiety.
Speaking about relationship anxiety in a guest contribution for InStyle, Dr. Dana McNeil says, “You might feel an ever-present dread that even if things seem like they are going well currently, the relationship could turn bad at any point without warning.” So, co-narcissism isn’t just about tackling tangible tasks—you also bear an emotional and mental burden.
4. You Have High Empathy Paired With Low Self-Esteem
Empathy is a cornerstone of marital life, forming the bedrock of lasting connection and emotional intimacy. However, for a co-narcissist, this innate empathy is juxtaposed with a crippling low self-esteem. While you, as a co-narcissist, are hyper-attuned to the emotions and requirements of your narcissistic partner, you may often neglect your own needs and emotions.
This imbalance—being highly empathetic but having low self-worth—can erode your sense of identity. That means, while you’re always there for others, you will constantly doubt your worth, feeling undeserving of love, respect, or even basic acknowledgment.
5. You Have A Constant Need for Validation
As a co-narcissist, you might find yourself perpetually seeking approval. You measure every action and every word against how the narcissist or others will receive them. Your accomplishments, no matter how significant, often feel overshadowed unless the narcissist in your life recognizes them.
Instead of seeking internal validation and recognizing your own achievements and self-worth, you become overly reliant on external sources, particularly the narcissist. This dynamic can be exhausting and can diminish your sense of self, leading to feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction.
Ways Being a Co-Narcissist Can Be Harmful To You (And Your Relationship)
Being a co-narcissist might seem like a mere adaptation to a challenging relationship. However, the implications of this role can run deep, potentially wreaking havoc on your relationship. Here’s why this position can be particularly harmful:
Loss of Self-Identity
As a co-narcissist, you often bend and reshape yourself to fit the mold the narcissist prefers. Over time, this constant adaptation can lead to a loss of your true self and co-dependency.
According to Dr. Dana McNeil, one of the signs of co-dependency in a relationship is that “You feel like you are being victimized by your partner’s behaviors and don’t believe you have the power to decide what happens to you in the relationship.” This feeling and erosion of identity mean you might feel disconnected, lost, and even resentful because you’ve prioritized the narcissist’s needs over your own for so long.
Constantly catering to a narcissist’s demands and moods can be mentally and emotionally draining. This perpetual state of high alert can lead to burnout, where even small issues might feel overwhelming. Over time, this exhaustion can cause detachment, apathy, or even health issues, deteriorating the relationship further.
Breeding Ground for Resentment
While you may initially suppress your needs and desires out of love or fear, this suppression can brew resentment. You might begin to harbor feelings of anger and frustration towards the narcissist for seemingly taking so much and giving so little in return.
A Gottman Institute article notes that built-up resentment eventually makes you feel uncared for, unimportant, and unwanted, making you perceive everything your partner does with a negative filter. Eventually, you might start displaying criticism and contempt, which are two of the four horsemen of Gottman that predict divorce.
Imbalance of Power
In a relationship dominated by a narcissist, there’s a pronounced power imbalance. As a co-narcissist, you often find yourself in a subservient role, continuously trying to please and appease. This dynamic can lead to feelings of vulnerability and inferiority and perpetuate cycles of emotional or even physical abuse.
Hindrance to Genuine Connection
True connection in a relationship is built on mutual respect, understanding, and vulnerability. As a co-narcissist, you might find that while you’re deeply attuned to the narcissist’s needs, your own go unacknowledged. This one-sided dynamic prevents the development of a deep, mutual bond, making the relationship feel superficial or transactional.
How Does One Move On From Being a Co-narcissist?
Let’s explore a roadmap to help you navigate beyond co-narcissistic behaviors:
The first step in any transformative journey is recognizing the patterns. Ask yourself critical questions: How often do you suppress your feelings?
How much of your self-worth relies on the narcissist’s validation? By being introspective and honest with yourself, you start the process of understanding and, subsequently, altering these behavioral patterns.
Set Clear Boundaries
Over the years, you’ve likely let the narcissist overstep your boundaries time and again. It’s essential now to reestablish and fortify them.
Setting boundaries in a relationship means defining what you will and will not accept to help you maintain your sense of self and personal space. When you set clear limits on what you will and won’t tolerate, you reclaim your space, respect, and dignity in the relationship.
Engage in Support Groups
Joining support groups can provide a platform for shared experiences, understanding, and encouragement. Engaging with others who’ve been through similar situations can offer both comfort and perspective. Such groups often provide resources and coping mechanisms that can aid in your healing journey.
Consider Professional Therapy
Consider engaging in therapy with professionals familiar with the nuances of co-narcissism and related dynamics. Therapists can provide tailored strategies, coping mechanisms, and insights to help you understand and deconstruct these behaviors. When answering the question about what to do if your spouse is a narcissist, Dr. Dana McNeil emphasizes that therapy can be of great help.
She cautions that narcissistic partners may not be willing to go to therapy because they believe they are perfect. However, if your spouse is willing to change their behavior, you should let them see a professional. A therapist will discern why they’re showing their narcissistic side and help them navigate the underlying issues, fostering a healthier relationship dynamic.
Seek Personal Guidance from a Licensed Therapist Today
Recognizing and addressing co-narcissistic behaviors is a journey that requires commitment, introspection, and, most importantly, professional guidance. While the information provided here offers crucial insight, there’s no substitute for professional guidance. It’s most advisable that you seek personal guidance from licensed therapists or counselors well-versed in the Gottman method or other therapeutic modalities.
At The Relationship Place, we provide specialized care under the expertise of professionals like Dr. Dana McNeil, a certified Gottman therapist. If you’re committed to transforming your relationship dynamics and understanding yourself better, consider taking the next step. Book an individual therapy getaway or contact a professional today to embark on a journey toward healing and growth.