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How Narcissists Form Abusive, Co-Dependent Relationships

How to spot three types of co-dependent narcissistic cycles.

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“What you allow is what will continue.”—Source Unknown

The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as: “Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.”

Some narcissists enjoy attracting co-dependent relationships. They target prospects who may be innocent and unsuspecting, are going through difficult times, are struggling with self-esteem, or have other vulnerabilities, and come to their “rescue” like a knight in shining armor (or an enticing temptress). The moment the targeted victim accepts the “rescue,” a dependent/co-dependent relationship is formed, with a disparity in power between the “rescuer” and the “rescuee."

Soon, the narcissist may reveal his or her true colors by placing ever-increasing demands and judgments on the victim, while claiming “I’ve done everything for you, and you’re so ungrateful.” He or she keeps the victim in line with routine abuses verbally, emotionally, and in some cases physically/sexually. The narcissist may hold the victim hostage mentally (gaslighting), materially, and/or financially, constantly shaming the victim for her or his inadequacies, threatening to leave the relationship if the victim does not fall in line, and demand being catered to his every whim.

This type of narcissistic relationship is the very definition of psychological abuse. Various studies have linked narcissism to infidelity, domestic violence, and sexual addiction.

Below are three types of co-dependent narcissistic cycles with references to my books: How to Successfully Handle Narcissists and How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters:

The Co-Dependent Enabling Narcissistic Cycle: Initial charm, increasing criticism and abuse, contrition and apology, restitution and bribes to “win” the victim back, repeat pattern.

The Co-Dependent Coercive Narcissistic Cycle: Initial charm, increasing criticism and abuse, coercion (threaten to withhold emotional, psychological, sexual, material, or financial support), gain compliance through duress, brief period of calm, repeat pattern.

The Co-Dependent Guilt-Beating Narcissistic Cycle: Initial charm, increasing criticism and abuse, profess disappointment and blaming the victim (“I’ve done so much for you, and this is what I get in return!”), gaining compliance through eliciting partner’s guilt, brief period of conciliation, repeat pattern.

What all three co-dependent narcissistic cycles have in common is that, in each case, the victim is enabling her or his partner’s narcissism (narcissistic supply), while the narcissist is enabling the victim’s codependency/victimhood.

Can a narcissist change for the better? Perhaps. But only if he or she is highly aware and willing to go through the courageous process of self-discovery.

For narcissists no longer willing to play the charade at the cost of genuine relationships and credibility, there are ways to liberate from falsehood and progressively move toward one’s Higher Self. For those who live or work with narcissists, perceptive awareness and assertive communication are musts for establishing healthy and mutually respectful relationships. See references below.

© 2018 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.

*In cases of abuse, contact local crisis hotlines.


Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014)

Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters. PNCC. (2017)

Ni, Preston. A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. PNCC. (2015)

Ni, Preston. Understanding Narcissism’s Destructive Impact on Relationships — An Indispensable Reader. PNCC. (2018)

Apt, C., Hurlbert, D.F. Sexual Narcissism: Addiction or Anachronism? The Family Journal 3. (1995)

Hurlbert, D.F., Apt, C. Sexual Narcissism and the Abusive Male. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 17. (1991)

Hurlbert, D.F., Apt, C., Gasar, S., Wilson, N.E., Murphy, Y. Sexual Narcissism: A Validation Study. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. (1994)

Johnson, S. Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)

Johnson, Stephen. Character Styles. W. W. Norton & Company. (1994)

Keiller, S., Twenge, J. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, DSM-IV. Sex Roles. (2010)

McNulty, J. K., & Widman, L.. Sexual Narcissism and Infidelity in Early Marriage. Archives of Sexual Behavior. (2014)

Ryan, K.M., Weikel, K., Sprechini, G. Gender Differences in Narcissism and Courtship Violence in Dating Couples. Sex Roles (2008)