One of the things that seriously troubled me when I first realized how seriously my life had been affected by my relationships was “Why do I continued to fall in love with people that treat me horribly?” The answer to that question was very difficult to swallow. What I learned was that I was co-dependent, and just as emotionally immature as the narcissist that was taking advantage of me. The narcissist and the co-dependent are like magnets for each other. Why? Because the co-dependent has been trained from very early childhood to take narcissistic abuse and “love” it, making the co-dependent a top notch source of narcissitic supply.
Below is a letter that I wrote to myself once I figured out the dynamic of the narcissist and the co-dependent shortly after separating form my ex-girlfriend:
“What does love mean in a relationship with a narcissist?” Here’s what I’ve determined:
When the narcissist says “I love you” to the co-dependent, what they are really saying is “I love the way you worship me”. If for some reason you stop worshiping a narcissist and stop giving them narcissistic supply, they will no longer be able to profess their love for you. They love you for what you can do for them. If you aren’t doing what you are supposed to be doing to provide them the narcissistic supply they need, they are unable to love you. This makes a lot of sense with my most recent failed relationship of 4 years, and all my relationships for that matter. Minor disagreements would be blown way out of proportion. Irrational anger at the most minor of slights came from “You fool, can’t you see you’re wrong? Now stop being a jerk and start worshiping me again!” During probably the worst arguments my ex girlfriend and I ever had about 4 months before I ended our relationship, she sent me an email that said “you need to contact me, apologize, and start repairing the damage, and there is now a ton of damage to repair!” What this meant was that she was angry that I was not doing my job of fulfilling her narcissistic supply, and that she didn’t know if she could trust that I would be able to adequately fulfill her ever increasing need for narcissistic supply in the future. She would also stay mad at me for days. We didn’t live together, and sometimes we wouldn’t see each other for a few days after an argument because of schedules, etc, and it would always amaze me that after 3 days or more she would still be just as angry at me as if the argument had just occurred 10 minutes ago. The reason she was still so angry was because I had not given her the narcissistic supply she required during that time. Once she felt that I was back to doing my job and providing her the narcissistic supply she needed, she was able to love me in her way again. She typically was completely unable to tell me she loved me until several days after the “resolution” of an argument. One time shortly after an argument I held her hand and told her “I love you”. She looked up and exclaimed “WHAT?” in an irritated fashion. Typically “resolution” meant I accepted the responsibility for the recent rupture. The same pattern fits with every other relationship I’ve had in my life, including my NM.
When the co-dependent says “I love you” to the narcissist, what they are really saying is “I love you for tolerating me” i.e, “I love that such an incredible individual like you would be willing to be in a relationship with someone as horrible as me”. Honestly, what emotionally healthy person with decent self esteem can love a person who shows zero respect for them, constantly belittles them, and acts completely selfish? The co-dependent doesn’t know what healthy love is, and to them love always means pain. They feel that they love the narcissist because the narcissist puts up with them, even though they see themselves as not deserving of love.
With this type of exchange of love between the co-dependent and the narcissist, the narcissist mirrors the co-dependent by making the narcissists love conditional on the performance of the co-dependent (i.e. I will love you as long as you provide me narcissistic supply) and by making sure that the co-dependent knows that all the failures in the relationship are the fault of the co-dependent, mirroring the co-dependents internal belief that they are never good enough . The co-dependent mirrors the narcissist by telling the narcissist that they are wonderful and that the co-dependent doesn’t deserve love from someone as great as the narcissist, helping to provide the narcissist with their needed narcissistic supply.
The truth is, deep down inside, the narcissist and the co-dependent are the same person: Someone filled with intense core shame that is the product of an upbringing that did not provide the respect, nurturing and understanding that should have been provided. The difference is, the narcissist externalizes this core shame through an inflated sense of self in an “I’m better than you” mindset. The co-dependent internalizes this core shame by constantly feeling that they are never good enough and not deserving of love unless they perform up to standards.
The narcissist and the co-dependent actually deserve each other, although there is very little chance that they could have a successful relationship. The narcissist and the co-dependent will continue their dysfunctional dance until either the narcissist determines that the co-dependent is no longer able to meet the narcissist’s ever increasing need for narcissistic supply and decides to look for narcissistic supply elsewhere, or the narcissist exhibits a behavior so egregious that the co-dependent is no longer able to rationalize it.