Codependency, Don’t Dance!
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Codependent / Narcissistic relationships
The “codependency dance” requires two people: the pleaser/fixer and the taker/controller. This inherently dysfunctional dance requires two opposite but distinctly balanced partners: a codependent and a narcissist or addict. Codependents, who are giving, sacrificing, and consumed with the needs and desires of others, do not know how to emotionally disconnect or avoid romantic relationships with individuals who are narcissistic – individuals who are selfish, self-centered, controlling, and harmful to them. Codependents habitually find themselves attracted to a romantic partner or “dance partner” who is the perfectly opposite match of their relationship pattern or “dance style.”
As natural followers of their relationship “dance,” codependents demonstrate a style that can be characterized as passive and effusively accommodating. When they are paired up with a narcissistic partner who, on the surface, is deeply appealing, domineering and confident, the dance sizzles with excitement – at least, in the beginning. After many “songs,” the enthralling and exciting dance experiences will predictably transform into drama, conflict, and feelings of neglect and being trapped. Whether the two are mesmerized or infuriated with each other, the compulsion to dance keeps these two opposite but compatible partners on the dance floor; neither wants to sit the dance out.
When a codependent and narcissist come together in a relationship, their “dance” unfolds flawlessly: the narcissistic partner maintains the lead and the codependent follows. Their roles seem natural to them, as they have been practicing them their whole lives. Because the codependent gives up their power, the dance is perfectly coordinated. No one gets their toes stepped on.
Typically, codependents give of themselves much more than their partners. As a “generous” but bitter partner, they seem to be stuck on the dance floor, always waiting for the “next song,” at which time their partner will finally understand their needs. They confuse caretaking and sacrifice with love and responsibility. Although they are proud of their unwavering dedication to the person they love, which is directed by their unconditional acceptance and love, unselfishness, empathy and endless compassion, they end up feeling unappreciated and used. Codependents yearn to be loved, but because of their choice of dance partner, they are often angry that they are not.
Codependents are essentially stuck in a pattern of giving and sacrificing, without the possibility of ever receiving the same from their partner. When they dance, they fulfill their roles by allowing themselves to be led in any direction that their narcissistic partner may lead. Codependents pretend to enjoy the dance, but really feel anger, bitterness, sadness and loneliness for not taking an active role in the dance experience. They are often doubtful that they are good enough to find a dance partner who will love them for who they are, as opposed to what they can do for them. Their low self-esteem and pessimism manifests itself into a form of learned helplessness that ultimately keeps them on the dance floor with their narcissistic partner.
Naturally, the narcissist dancer is attracted to a partner who feels perfect to them: someone who lets them lead the dance while making them feel powerful, competent and appreciated. In other words, the narcissist feels most comfortable with a dancing companion who matches up with his self-absorbed dance style. Narcissist dancers maintain the direction of the dance because they always find partners who lack self-worth and have low self-esteem. With such a well-matched companion, they are able to control both the dancer and the dance.
Although all codependent dancers desire harmony and balance, they consistently sabotage themselves by choosing someone who creates chaos and resentment in their life. When given a chance to stop dancing with their narcissistic partner and comfortably sit out until someone healthy comes along, they typically choose to continue their dysfunctional dance. The codependent dares not leave their narcissistic dance partner for they lack the self-respect to sit the dance out. Being alone is the equivalent of feeling lonely, and loneliness is too painful a feeling to bear.
Without self-esteem or feelings of personal power, the codependent is incapable of choosing mutually giving and unconditionally loving partners. Their choice of a narcissistic dance partner is connected to their unconscious motivation to find a person who is familiar – someone who reminds them of their powerless childhood relationships. Many codependents were children of parents who also flawlessly danced the dysfunctional codependent/narcissistic dance. Their fear of being alone, their compulsion to control and fix at any cost, and their comfort in their role as the martyr who is endlessly loving, devoted, and patient, is often connected to what they learned early on in their childhood.
Although codependents dream of dancing with an unconditionally loving and affirming partner, they submit to their dysfunctional destiny. Until they decide to heal the psychological wounds that ultimately compel them to dance with narcissists, they are destined to repeat their dysfunctional dance style.
Through psychotherapy and, perhaps, a 12-step recovery program, the codependent can begin to recognize that their dream to dance the grand dance of love, reciprocity and mutuality is indeed possible. Through therapy and a change of lifestyle, they build self-esteem, personal power, and the motivation to finally find dance partners who are willing and capable of sharing the lead, communicating their movements, and pursuing a shared rhythm.
Ross Rosenberg’s Book, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us
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