Friday, 11 September 2009

The Creation of the Codependent Child of a Narcissist.

In a previous post I mentioned that children of Narcissists have a slave like following of the N parent. Dr Alan Rappaport has summarised this relationship in the following article.

Co-Narcissism: How We Accommodate to Narcissistic
Alan Rappoport, Ph.D.
This article introduces the term “conarcissism”
to refer to the way that people
accommodate to narcissistic parents. I use
the term narcissism here to refer to people
with very low self-esteem who attempt to
control others’ views of them for defensive
purposes. They are interpersonally rigid,
easily offended, self-absorbed, blaming, and
find it difficult to empathize with others. Conarcissistic
people, as a result of their
attempts to get along with their narcissistic
parents, work hard to please others, defer to
other’s opinions, worry about how others
think and feel about them, are often
depressed or anxious, find it hard to know
their own views and experience, and take the
blame for interpersonal problems. They fear
being considered selfish if they act
assertively. A high proportion of
psychotherapy patients are co-narcissistic.
The article discusses the co-narcissistic
syndrome and its treatment, and gives case
examples of patients who suffer from this
Narcissism, a psychological state rooted in
extremely low self-esteem, is a common
syndrome among the parents of
psychotherapy patients. Narcissistic people
are very fearful of not being well regarded
by others, and they therefore attempt to
control others’ behavior and viewpoints in
order to protect their self-esteem. The
underlying dynamic of narcissism is a deep,
usually unconscious, sense of oneself as
This article in press, The Therapist.
dangerously inadequate and vulnerable to
blame and rejection. The common use of the
term refers to some of the ways people
defend themselves against this narcissistic
dynamic: a concern with one’s own physical
and social image, a preoccupation with
one’s own thoughts and feelings, and a sense
of grandiosity. There are, however, many
other behaviors that can stem from
narcissistic concerns, such as immersion in
one’s own affairs to the exclusion of others,
an inability to empathize with other’s
experience, interpersonal rigidity, an
insistence that one’s opinions and values are
“right,” and a tendency to be easily offended
and take things personally.
A high proportion of people in
psychotherapy have adapted to life with
narcissistic people and, as a result, have not
been able to develop healthy means of selfexpression
and self-directedness. I have
coined the term “co-narcissism” for this
adaptation, which has the same relation to
narcissism as “co-alcoholic” has to
alcoholism and “co-dependent” has to
dependency. Co-alcoholics unconsciously
collaborate with alcoholics, making excuses
for them and not confronting them about
their problem in an assertive way. The same
is true of the co-dependent person, who
makes excuses for the other’s dependency
and fills in for him or her as necessary. The
wife of an abusive husband who takes the
blame for her partner’s behavior is another
example of taking responsibility for
someone else’s problems. Both narcissism
and co-narcissism are adaptations that
children have made to cope with narcissistic
parenting figures. To the best of my
knowledge, every narcissistic and conarcissistic
person that I have encountered
Co-Narcissism: How We Adapt to Narcissistic Parents Alan Rappoport, Ph.D.
has had narcissistic parents, and the parents
of their parents are reported to have been
even more highly narcissistic.
To the extent that parents are narcissistic,
they are controlling, blaming, self-absorbed,
intolerant of others’ views, unaware of their
children’s needs and of the effects of their
behavior on their children, and require that
the children see them as the parents wish to
be seen. They may also demand certain
behavior from their children because they
see the children as extensions of themselves,
and need the children to represent them in
the world in ways that meet the parents’
emotional needs. (For example, a
narcissistic father who was a lawyer
demanded that his son, who had always been
treated as the “favorite” in the family, enter
the legal profession as well. When the son
chose another career, the father rejected and
disparaged him.) These traits will lead the
parent to be very intrusive in some ways,
and entirely neglectful in others. The
children are punished if they do not respond
adequately to the parents’ needs. This
punishment may take a variety of forms,
including physical abuse, angry outbursts,
blame, attempts to instill guilt, emotional
withdrawal, and criticism. Whatever form it
takes, the purpose of the punishment is to
enforce compliance with the parents’
narcissistic needs.
Children of narcissists tend to feel overly
responsible for other people. They tend to
assume that others’ needs are similar to
those of their parents, and feel compelled to
meet those needs by responding in the
required manner. They tend to be unaware
of their own feelings, needs, and experience,
and fade into the background in
Co-narcissistic people are typically insecure
because they have not been valued for
themselves, and have been valued by their
parents only to the extent that they meet
their parents’ needs. They develop their selfconcepts
based on their parents’ treatment of
them and therefore often have highly
inaccurate ideas about who they are. For
example, they may fear that they are
inherently insensitive, selfish, defective,
fearful, unloving, overly demanding, hard to
satisfy, inhibited, and/or worthless.
People who behave co-narcissistically share
a number of the following traits: they tend to
have low self-esteem, work hard to please
others, defer to others’ opinions, focus on
others’ world views and are unaware of their
own orientations, are often depressed or
anxious, find it hard to know how they think
and feel about a subject, doubt the validity
of their own views and opinions (especially
when these conflict with others’ views), and
take the blame for interpersonal problems.
Often, the same person displays both
narcissistic and co-narcissistic behaviors,
depending on circumstances. A person who
was raised by a narcissistic or a conarcissistic
parent tends to assume that, in
any interpersonal interaction, one person is
narcissistic and the other co-narcissistic, and
often can play either part. Commonly, one
parent was primarily narcissistic and the
other parent primarily co-narcissistic, and so
both orientations have been modeled for the
child. Both conditions are rooted in low selfesteem.
Both are ways of defending oneself
from fears resulting from internalized
criticisms and of coping with people who
evoke these criticisms. Those who are
primarily co-narcissistic may behave
narcissistically when their self-esteem is
threatened, or when their partners take the
co-narcissistic role; people who primarily
behave narcissistically may act conarcissistically
when they fear being held
responsible and punished for another’s
Narcissistic people blame others for their
own problems. They tend not to seek
psychotherapy because they fear that the
therapist will see them as deficient and
therefore are highly defensive in relation to
therapists. They do not feel free or safe
Co-Narcissism: How We Adapt to Narcissistic Parents Alan Rappoport, Ph.D.
enough to examine their own behavior, and
typically avoid the psychotherapy situation.
Co-narcissists, however, are ready to accept
blame and responsibility for problems, and
are much more likely than narcissists to seek
help because they often consider themselves
to be the ones who need fixing.
The image I often keep in mind, and share
with my patients regarding narcissism, is
that the narcissist needs to be in the
spotlight, and the co-narcissist serves as the
audience. The narcissist is on stage,
performing, and needing attention,
appreciation, support, praise, reassurance,
and encouragement, and the co-narcissist’s
role is to provide these things. Co-narcissists
are approved of and rewarded when they
perform well in their role, but, otherwise,
they are corrected and punished.
One of the critical aspects of the
interpersonal situation when one person is
either narcissistic or co-narcissistic is that it
is not, in an important sense, a relationship.
I define a relationship as an interpersonal
interaction in which each person is able to
consider and act on his or her own needs,
experience, and point of view, as well as
being able to consider and respond to the
experience of the other person. Both people
are important to each person. In a
narcissistic encounter, there is,
psychologically, only one person present.
The co-narcissist disappears for both people,
and only the narcissistic person’s experience
is important. Children raised by narcissistic
parents come to believe that all other people
are narcissistic to some extent. As a result,
they orient themselves around the other
person in their relationships, lose a clear
sense of themselves, and cannot express
themselves easily nor participate fully in
their lives.
All these adaptations are relatively
unconscious, so most co-narcissistic people
are not aware of the reasons for their
behavior. They may think of themselves as
inhibited and anxious by nature, lacking
what it takes to be assertive in life. Their
tendency to be unexpressive of their own
thoughts and feelings and to support and
encourage others’ needs creates something
of an imbalance in their relationships, and
other people may take more of the
interpersonal space for themselves as a
result, thereby giving the impression that
they are, in fact, narcissists, as the conarcissist
fears they are.
Co-narcissistic people often fear they will be
thought of as selfish if they act more
assertively. Usually, they learned to think
this way because one or both parents
characterized them as selfish if they did not
accommodate to the parent’s needs. I take
patients’ concerns that they are selfish as an
indication of narcissism in the parents,
because the motivation of selfishness
predominates in the minds of narcissistic
people. It is a major component of their
defensive style, and it is therefore a
motivation they readily attribute to (or
project onto) others.
There are three common types of responses
by children to the interpersonal problems
presented to them by their parents:
identification, compliance, and rebellion
(see Gootnick, 1997, for a more thorough
discussion of these phenomena).
Identification is the imitation of one or both
parents, which may be required by parents in
order for them to maintain a sense of
connection with the child. In regard to
narcissistic parents, the child must exhibit
the same qualities, values, feelings, and
behavior which the parent employs to
defend his or her self-esteem. For example,
a parent who is a bully may not only bully
his child, but may require that the child
become a bully as well. A parent whose selfesteem
depends on his or her academic
achievement may require that the child also
be academically oriented, and value (or
devalue) the child in relation to his or her
accomplishments in this area. Identification
is a response to the parent seeing the child as
a representative of himself or herself, and is
the price of connectedness with the parent. It
Co-Narcissism: How We Adapt to Narcissistic Parents Alan Rappoport, Ph.D.
results in the child becoming narcissistic
Compliance refers to the co-narcissistic
adaptation described earlier, wherein the
child becomes the approving audience
sought by the parent. The child is complying
with the parent’s needs by being the
counterpart the parent seeks. All three forms
of adaptation (identification, compliance,
and rebellion) can be seen as compliance in
a larger sense, since, in every case, the child
complies in some way with the needs of the
parent, and is defined by the parent. What
defines compliance in this sense is that the
child becomes the counterpart the parent
needs from moment to moment to help the
parent manage threats to his or her selfesteem.
Rebellion refers to the state of fighting to not
accept the dictates of the parent by behaving
in opposition to them. An example of this
behavior is that of an intelligent child who
does poorly in school in response to his
parent’s need that he be a high achiever. The
critical issue here is that the child is
unconsciously attempting to not submit to
the parent’s definition of him despite his
inner compulsion to comply with the
parent’s needs. He therefore acts in a selfdefeating
manner in order to try to maintain
a sense of independence. (If the pressure for
compliance had not been internalized, the
child would be free to be successful despite
the parent’s tendency to co-opt his
Co-narcissistic people automatically and
unconsciously assume that everyone is
narcissistic. They have the same fear about
the therapist, but are able to enter treatment
because they also believe that the therapist
may be different. The most significant
aspect of co-narcissistic patients’ work in
therapy consists of determining to what
degree the therapist is narcissistic. We might
even say that the therapy consists of helping
the patient develop confidence that the
therapist is not narcissistic . It is powerfully
healing for the patient to experience a
relationship that is not based on narcissism.
Co-narcissistic people are therefore greatly
helped by the therapist’s embodiment of
Carl Rogers’ principles of accurate empathy,
interpersonal warmth and positive regard,
and personal genuineness. These behaviors
by the therapist provide a direct
contradiction to the experiences that have
caused their problems. Patients will seek to
determine how safe they are not to
accommodate their behavior to the
therapist’s imagined needs, but to be able to
experience and express themselves freely.
The patient will carefully observe the
therapist’s behavior and make judgments
about how much the therapist is able to
consider the needs of the patient and how
open he or she is to the patient’s experience.
The patient will also want to see that the
therapist is not co-narcissistic, so that the
patient can use the therapist as a model who
shows by example that she or he believes it
is safe to be assertive and not to orient
oneself around another’s needs. The patient
will therefore observe the therapist for signs
of how assertive he or she is, and also pay
attention to examples the therapist may
provide from his or her own life to assess
how free of co-narcissism the therapist may
In addition to the beneficial effect of the
relationship between therapist and patient, a
major part of the therapy process involves
understanding how events and experiences
in patients’ early lives resulted in their
current fears, inhibitions, and orientation
towards others. I find it very helpful in my
work as a therapist to explain narcissism and
co-narcissism to my patients. Having an
intellectual understanding of the nature of
the problem goes a great distance towards
helping them make sense of their lives and
why their relationships take on the
characteristics that they do. It also gives us a
framework within which we can discuss the
issues of concern to them, and helps them
understand what to work on to free
themselves from these problems.

My kids both take on the role of the codependent or conarcissist on behalf of their mother. They act on behalf of their mother in order to bully me and their grandmother by the use of witholding behaviour in the same way their mother does to other people and she will do to them if they dont comply with her wishes.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this article! It helped me a lot.

Anonymous said...

Yes thank you it helped me to identify a lot of things that have happened