The overall tendencies for women and men in couple relationships toward some degree of codependency and narcissism respectively, may best be understood looking through the lens of socially approved gender roles. As mentioned in Part 1, narcissism is both a destabilizing mindset, and an addictive relating pattern. In the meantime, a codependent’s overzealous attempts to please and appease the narcissist are also destabilizing and addictive.
Perhaps the key difference overall lies in what they each hope to accomplish in the relationship. Whereas the codependent at least wants to bring stability, to make the narcissist feeling loved and secure, and wants this desperately, in contrast, the narcissist compulsively seeks and feels entitled to hoard the attention, comforting as proof of their superiority and power.
In truth, women and men are socialized to define “love” as if they live on different planets!
Women are conditioned to define love in ways that more closely resemble what human beings yearn for, by nature, on our planet Earth — not Venus. Love on this planet, and the universe as we know it is, no doubt, the greatest power, some say it’s who we are! It’s only through the power of love, in action, that we can create meaningful lives together. More than an emotion, love is expressed through consistent acts of kindness, mutual caring, empathic connection, compassion, emotional intimacy and closeness through shared communication, and the like. Codependents understand the power of love, they just have to realize they are not a mythical goddess, such as Venus, and don’t have to be.
The real thing, being fully human and authentic is infinitely more powerful than a mere illusion. Human love relationships, however, takes two open-to-love, and fully-participate persons.
Sadly, we raise our boys to deny their ability to empathize with their own and other’s feelings as “proof” that they are strong, superior to women, will be approved as “real” men some day, and so on. In other words, men on earth are conditioned to define love in ways that idealize relations on Mr. Spock’s fictional planet — Vulcan — which views “love stuff” and emotions as weaknesses, never exhibited by superior-intellect beings!
From boyhood, men learn that they must deny their own human response, that it’s unmanly to express nonsexual love and affection, tenderness or other emotions of vulnerability, and that they must block and regard weak emotions with disdain, so that they do not contaminate their masculinity, and prove they are “real” men on the basis that they do not feel “pain,” not their own or their partners.
And thus it’s not unusual for men to define “love” in their couple relationship as feelings of pleasure and closeness that are physically expressed through sex (and providing for your family). Physical acts prove men are “real” men, and emotions are a nuisance, a weakness, and proof of the inferiority of women and children.
Never mind that Vulcan is not earth, and it’s only a fictional planet, men continue to be bombarded with messages, perhaps even more so in the last two decades, that they must regard and treat their partner’s emotions and feelings, with the same disregard and callousness that they have proven “works” on them.
At the same time, both men and women are socialized to think it’s a woman’s job to make a man feel like a man, men learn to dodge their partner’s attempts for emotional closeness, which they’ve been condition to regard with disdain, as “emotional craziness,” a childish weakness that society expects them to “fix” once again, as proof they are “real” men.
It’s no wonder so many women feel confused, learn to increasingly doubt or second guess themselves; it’s also no wonder many men risk their sexual (and mental) health by turning to pornography. In their mind, it’s a woman’s job to make a man feel masculine, and apart from being “providers,” the only thing men are socially permitted to “give” women, that is, without feeling emasculated, is: sex).
Some men perform the role knowingly and “overtly” with pride, while others do so unknowingly, or “covertly.” In any case, both patterns are destabilizing and addictive, and set women and men up to fail in establishing a healthy, vibrant couple relationship.
The mindset of the codependent?
Codependency is a learned behavior in which a person enters a relationship with another person and seeks to make the others feelings and happiness the sole focus, one that takes away all pain and brings only comfort and ensures the other is pleased, happy and free from pain. Unwittingly, codependency invites others to emotionally depend on them, to use them like a crutch.
Women are socialized to carry the load for the success of their relationship, period. In a nutshell, this is codependency. Consciously or not, women relate to their partner as they would to their child, taking primary responsibility, to take action that keep the relationship in tact, to make the other feel cared for and secure, to ensure the other’s emotional well being and happiness, and so on.
While this may be healthy in a parent-child relationship, it never works in a couple relationship. From the get go, this mindset causes an imbalance, one that supplies narcissism.
Though commonly thought of as passive, codependent persons are addicted to the “drug” of rescuing or ensuring no one gets upset, angry, disappointed, and the like.
The narcissist is highly dependent on the codependent, and uses them like a drug … to supply their “neediness” for quick-fix feel goods, in particular, their preoccupation with feeling entitled to be the codependent’s sole focus, thus, to be treated as superior, and infallible when it comes to their choices and actions.
While it is healthy to help loved ones in a time of crisis, codependents see themselves as self-sacrificing heroes and martyrs who overall feel more comfortable giving than receiving.
From their mindset, they must always prove they are selfless and not selfish, accommodating and not controlling, kind, nice, never angry or bitchy.
Caring for an unreasonable, demanding, problem-prone partner makes them feel important, needed, valued. It is often the case that they had to take care of a needy parent, as a child.
For the codependent, the illusions form a “neediness” to prove that it is humanly possible to be and provide everything to fill the emotional void of the narcissist. They approach the relationship, at least initially, as tenderly as a mother does with a child, tending to any needs with a sense of urgency that makes the codependent feel quite valued and alive, loving the power to bolster their partner’s ego to make them feel like the center of their world, protecting them from any feelings of disappointment, watchful for any potential outbursts to avoid an dangers anger, hatred, rage, etc.
She especially learns to never ask her partner to do “unmanly” things such as show affection, express or listen to her feelings about their relationship, participate in a romantic activity, in other words, anything that would “emasculate” or make him feel “unmanly.” Regardless, a “good” woman never questions him or gets upset, angry, etc.
A codependent is less controlled by the narcissist than by her own mindset, which requires her to always put others first and herself always last — and never require or ask for this in return. She may even boast, in subtle or direct ways, expressing pleasure in the power — and inner feelings of pleasure this gives her to think she’s proving she deserves to live and feel worthy — on the basis of her giving, and refusing to receive in kind, much less ask. Deep inside, the codependent maintains an illusion that somehow …:
… One day, once she has proven her loyalty, and how hard she works to prop up the narcissist’s fragile ego, and that she gives little or no thought to her wants and needs, that the narcissist will some day, magically, realize and fully appreciate all her sacrifice and how hard she works to prop up the narcissist’s fragile ego, and finally, to treat her as someone whose feelings and being is valued and worthwhile.
The problem is that these expectations are totally unrealistic! The game is rigged. He’s socialized to keep her spinning her wheels, believing the only way to keep her from taking control is to keep doubting herself, in emotional pain, feeling confused, and so on.
Love for the codependent means that you sacrifice your self and prove you are selfless, that this is her ultimate calling and purpose. It’s up to her to prove this “love ideal” works, and she must not fail.
Once she proves her beauty and kindness can tame and transform the beast, just like the fairy tale, one day, the narcissist will turn into the dashing and caring prince, affectionate and romantic, tender and loving, and at last, she will then finally feel her true value and really alive.
Until then, even though her gut tells her she’s spinning her wheels, and despite all the punitive actions he takes against her, all she “can do” is wait for him to “see” her efforts, never quit on him, and just keep dreaming of the day when he will surely realize and appreciate all she had to endure to prove her love, loyalty and trustworthiness, all the trials and tribulations, all the effort to take away his pain and “insecurities,” how hard she tried to never hurt him and only bring kindness to his life, how hard she tried to accommodate him and put his happiness and needs above her own, how much she lost and gave up — i.e., friends, family members, the wellbeing of children, her health and sanity — to keep their relationship going and keep him happy, knowing how much he “needed” and wouldn’t survive without her (though he only says so when she’s at the end of her rope, if ever).
The codependent is consumed with the desires, needs and happiness of others, with special emphasis on avoiding upsets and criticism in general, but especially their partner. Their mindset keeps them hooked on a specific set of behaviors, rooted in a certain set of beliefs, that feeds a “neediness” to give and nourish, rescue and save.
Nothing gives them more pleasure than their ability (power) to please others, to how genuinely giving, kind and comforting they can be. Knowing that others trust and depend on them to take care of things, as responsible caregivers, who serve and give around the clock, even without being asked is what gives them a source of worthiness and aliveness.
On the surface, this may sound good, however, it’s less self-less than it appears. They “need” to be self-less, however it is out of fear, that this is the only source of feeling alive.
The codependent knows they are good at making others feel good or cared for, and this gives them pleasure. What appears self-less to others, however, is a source of power to them. This is why it is so difficult to let go of and change. This “giving” is a source of power. In fact, they tend to hoard the “power” to give, build and strengthen relationships.
Conceivably, the power to give is much more powerful than the power to dominate, limit and take.
Interestingly, in our society, few regard “giving” as a power, despite the reality of giving to others as a tool for personal and relational transformation, as well as one of the greatest sources of pleasure for human beings, at least for those seeking to connect to inner human sources of awareness and wisdom, sometimes known as “self-actualization,” and so on.
Balance is also their greatest need, in order to heal, as their behavior pattern keeps giving and receiving off balance in the relationship. Though they may complain, they tend to actively fight against receiving from others; and instead hoard the giving. Their own strengths turn into liabilities because of the one-sided giving, which feeds the narcissist’s “need” for one-sided taking.
What makes them seem self-less is the mindset they developed from early experiences that tells them that, in order to feel deserving of other’s love, they must not upset them to gain their approval, etc., and that means they must learn to disconnect and disown what they need and want inside. Because they have little or no permission (ultimately, from themselves) to connect to their own wants, needs, etc., fulfilling what others want becomes a way of relating to self and others, one which gives them the most pleasure and makes them feel valuable, worthy and alive.
While the dance for each couple may be as unique as a thumbprint, codependency and narcissism correspond overall to how women and men are socially expected to behave in relation to one another — ultimately — to gain social approval overall, but also to prove their worth as persons, deserving of love.
Women and men are socialized in roles, codependency and narcissism, respectively, which are unhealthy and toxic for both. The codependent partner is socialized to take on all the responsibility for providing comfort and pleasure in the relationship, for ensuring the relationship remains in tact. And in practice, holding this belief means that she treats the narcissist as not capable of doing what she does.
The narcissist is glad to oblige, mainly because he sees “her work” as beneath his status, and is socialized, in turn, to feel entitled and to train their spouse to behave in pleasant, nice, selfless ways, and to never complain regardless how he treats her, indeed, to cover for him by making excuses for the his “inability” to express feelings, to understand her needs and wants, and so on.
Both women and men are socialized to think it’s a woman’s job to make a man feel like a man, and that women somehow have magical powers to either make a man feel like a man, or emasculate them.
It’s the codependent’s job to make their couple relationship work, but how can they fulfill their expectation for emotional intimacy, and shared closeness, on their own?
It’s the narcissist’s job to prove his superiority by “fixing” the codependent so that she never demands “unmanly” love and closeness, but how he consider himself strong when he does not even have the backbone to feel vulnerable, to listen to feedback and respond to requests from his partner?
For centuries, we have been immersed in bathwater beliefs about our human nature that serve to keep a ruling few in power. It would be unhelpful to respond with a bitter or cynical attitude.
Studies show, tyranny is no substitute for leadership. It negatively affects the health of the bossy and bossed alike. Those who seek to dominate, control or humiliate others are themselves living in fear. A narcissistic leader, male or female, cannot be a good leader.
Those leaders in with narcissistic self-interest are not good leaders. They have low self-worth, and the same fears as all other human beings, fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment. The desperate methods they use to cope with their fears cause them more suffering, even as they cause suffering for others.
The mind that is in constant “fight or flee” mode, whether the oppressor or the oppressed, turns into a prison of doors locked by fear.
We need life enriching stories that hold us responsible for the words we speak, and the actions we take, that put us, and get behind the drivers seat instead to change our self to live the fulfilling life we’re wired to live.