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Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the Codependents Who Love Them

Zooey-deschanel-manic-pixie-dream-girl

A good example of the codependent entitlement or covert narcissism I described in the last post comes in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy that many introverted, artistically inclined men have. These codependent men are withdrawn, shy, introverted, and afraid to call attention to themselves. But along comes this fantasy girl who acts insane, outgoing, exhibitionistic, kooky, and draws him out of his shell. The whole appeal of the girl is that the codependent protagonist believes she fits his fantasy image of what an ideal girlfriend looks like, even if he’s projected many of these qualities onto her with his own fevered imagination. Her main appeal to him is how she reflects and brings out his greatness. She also is inexplicably drawn to him despite little effort and zero game on his part. She’s both a mirror for his false, idealized self as well as an extension of him. She exists to draw out and reflect his greatness, without any deep, abiding needs of her own other than to take him on an emotional rollercoaster ride and reveal his own desired greatness back at him. In this way she acts as a mirror to him, reflecting his idealized self-image. She acts flamboyant, eccentric, and outgoing for him in a way he feels he can’t directly, and in this way acts as an extension of him. She has no other purpose but to “rescue” the protagonist and bolster his spirits, and he (sometimes) gets to rescue her in return.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl term was coined by critic Nathan Rabin after watching Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.

In an article where about the 16 types of Manic Pixie Dream Girls, Rabin describes:

the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She’s on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.

As this article from Bitch Magazine says:

The…Manic Pixie Dream Girl must never grow up, because that way, men never have to grow up, either. Peter Pan might lose most of his hair while his beard goes gray, but at heart, he’s still a little boy, and his companion in life reflects that: She’s not Wendy, but Tinkerbell. The “dream” supplied by…Manic Pixies past and present is one of a Never-Never Land where, although we cannot stop time, we can do without sobriety and reasoned maturity, and where a childlike fascination with the whimsical and fanciful is the way out of, never into, every nightmare of crisis and grief.

My theory is that the guys who write Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the guys who love watching and fantasizing about them are codependents. Meanwhile, the Manic Pixie Dream Girls themselves are Cluster Bs, usually either borderlines, narcissists, and histrionics, explaining their flair for the dramatic and the feeling of intense connection they generate with others. Cluster Bs, when you first meet them, are incredible charming and exciting, and the reason they create these intense first impressions is because they are overcompensating as much as they can up front, often because they know they’re crazy and hard to tolerate and are worried about the other person discovering what they’re really like and abandoning them. They also create great first impressions and a sense of intense connection because they work to figure out what you want and then try to appear as that thing to cater to your ego and fantasies in order to suck you in deeper and extract narcissistic supply for you. They have no problem being admired for something they’re only pretending to be. It still counts as narcissistic supply. Studies even back up the idea that narcissists make more intense, positive first impressions than others. (PDF of the original study; Psychology Today article summarizing the study)

I think what happens with Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies is that they only capture the idealization stage of the codependent/Cluster B pairing, the honeymoon phase, and as a result they feel intoxicating to the young, codependent men watching them. The movies end before the inevitable devaluation phase of every relationship with an emotional vampire. For example, to everyone reading who has had a relationship with a Cluster B, don’t you remember how intoxicating and euphoric those early days of the relationship were? With MPDG movies, you don’t stick around long enough to see the red flags that get huger and huger, the tantrums, the meltdowns, the crazymaking behavior, the cheating, the escalating disrespect, the erosion of the partner’s self-esteem, and the eventual discarding.

The self-obsessed male protagonists in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl dynamic perfectly illustrate the dynamic I was describing in yesterday’s post about Codependent Entitlement. Just like the dynamic I described in that post about the ways in which codependents can be manipulative and narcissistic in relationships, the codependent protagonists in these movies can’t see the MPDG in any way except for the ways in which she’s an extension of the him or a mirror for his false, idealized self, and the dream girl he sees her as who exists to complete him never actually exists in reality but is rather just a fantasy the protagonist want to exist so badly that he (and the screenwriter and the male audience members) projects that fantasy onto a person who he never actually got to know and who he never sees for who she really is.

This video discusses these topics, as well as more self-aware examples of the dynamic that subvert the trope. It’s does a good job of dissecting the covert narcissism of the codependent men:

Two movies the video discusses, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer, are great because they explore the long-term dynamics of entering into such unions and what happens when the idealization stage wears off. My favorite quote from Eternal Sunshine is when she says: “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.”

For comparison to the ways in which the narcissist idealizes and objectifies others, treats them as mirrors and extensions, projects his idealized fantasies onto them, and never sees them as flawed individuals in their own right with their own inner lives and needs, read this Mad Men-related post about Don Draper. Then compare to the dynamic described in the post you’re currently reading, along with yesterday’s post, and you’ll hopefully see similarities and understand how a sense of covert narcissism exists in many codependents.

I’d like to add, this post is not intended in any way to excuse the behaviors or cluster Bs, or to somehow “blame the victim” by creating some sort of moral equivalency between codependents and cluster Bs. I think cluster Bs are without a doubt worse than codependents. I do think though that codependents do have to learn to recognize the quiet grandiosity that lurks within them too if they want to break the dysfunctional cycles they get caught in, because that quiet grandiosity is exactly what creates much of their chemistry and toxic dynamic with cluster Bs.

UPDATE: Yohami left a comment that was pretty good, that he eventually made into a blog post which you can read here. I thought it was good enough to add to the original post.

UPDATE 2: A lot of first-time readers have read this post, and have emailed to tell me they feel they fall into the codependent category and want to know what to do to change. I would recommend a few things. For men, I’m currently big on recommending the book The Great Female Con, an ebook which you can download and buy here for $20. It’s well worth it, and despite the title it’s not as harsh as it seems. It will change the way you view everything. I’d also recommend this post about boundaries by Mark Manson. Finally, I’d recommend reading the past 2 years or so of this blog.

23 Responses to “Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the Codependents Who Love Them”


  1. Got it, now it makes sense. The narcissist is the narcissistic supply of the codependent – the other only exists as a “thing” that fuels your own self acceptance. That’s how it’s somewhat easy to go from codependent to narcissist and back. Same drug different charade.


  2. Got it, now it makes sense. The narcissist is the narcissistic supply of the codependent – the other only exists as a “thing” that fuels your own self acceptance

    YES


  3. The codependent attempts to “pay” for the drug and might even be fair in the trade, might be attempting collaborative game, not without throwing tamtrums on their own from time to time.

    The narcissist instead “lures” offers superficial goods, caters to the codependent weaknesses and prey and extracts as many resources as they can before discarding them, playing competitive game since the start, and every move is calculated to win over the codependent, while every move of the codependent is calculated to control, tame and keep the narcissist or, “work things out”.

    The narcissist finds someone to adore them and the codependent finds something to adore and both fill their self acceptance until the transaction gets exhausted. In the exchange, the goods go to the narcissist and the craps to the codependent. If the codependent has a martir / victim complex and the narcissist has a sadist angle, this can go on for quite a while.

    The codependent ends up asking how it was possible that all the goods where there and they werent able to take them, and regretting all they paid for nothing. The narcissist ends up annoyed at the codependent’s attempt at a “fair exchange”, but with a feeling of superiority over the codependent’s weakness and blindnes.

    After many rounds, codependents might understand the competitive games and start playing them themselves – switch to narcissim.


  4. Yohami, that’s so good I think I may just make it into a post on its own.


  5. Thanks bro, Im really just condensing your last stuff in a way I can digest it.


  6. This is such interesting topic! Personally most rewarding view on the concept of MPDBitch (for a girl at least) comes from Neil LaBute’s film called The Shape of Things, with Rachel Weisz playing the bold free spirited art student so freakishly transforming her quiet introvert average frustrated chump boyfriend as to make the whole concept a glorious exercise in absurdity of such narcissistic “rescue” fantasy. You just have to see it, T!


  7. I’ve seen it Ana. You’re right, it’s great! I forgot about it. When I first saw it I didnt understand much of these dynamics but I should rewatch it. I think I’d get a lot more out of it now.


  8. By the way, I converted your acronym “AFC” into the full term “average frustrated chump.” I don’t want readers who don’t know that type of terminology confused, so I encourage people to not use it too much.


  9. One thing that I can relate to in the post from experience, and maybe don’t follow completely is

    the guys who write Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the guys who love watching and fantasizing about them are codependents.

    As a self-diagnosed codependant and quite borderline in my teen and early adult years (as in not having a fixed sense of self, but looking for narcissists, olympians, rock stars and other high achievers and exotic men to win over and wrap my identity around) I had a number of relationships in which I was some degree of manic and pixy and certainly the dream girl. My point is that EVERYBODY is falling for them. If you are not dumb, and can’t stand dumb people, and live in Europe, you have to play her. The role itself is a kind of an IQ, cultural literacy and social non-conformity test, and it’s also very feminine in energy. I can tell you that most toxic of narcissists fall really hard for them, as they are drawn to that light bubbly seeming female character with no heavy drama to attend to, and is makes everyone envious to show around as a desirable matching accessory fueled by lots of sex, drugs, party, travel, prestige and philosophical debates… They even demand it.

    On the other hand, maybe due to splitting, I was always rather repulsed by introverted geeky guys and their compulsive niceness so obviously rooted in shame, desperately begging to be liked. You feel bad for not liking them for the things they do for you in order to be liked, but are reluctant to express it cause you don’t want to be a bitch towards someone who puts so much effort into doing the right thing (in their mind). I guess they just want to succeed, and “get the girl”, and really, since they are mostly in their heads and ashamed of their feelings to the point of total repression, the pixie thing is the only girl idiom made for the job.


  10. One thing that I can relate to in the post from experience, and maybe don’t follow completely is

    Ana – stick around and it will become more clear to you.

    A major change I have made in this blog is to try to get away from long posts. The downside of that is that whereas before I would try to anticipate and clear up every possible source of confusion, or to give as well-rounded and complete a picture as possible, now each blog post ends up becoming a partial picture that raises as many questions as it answers. But there will be more posts unraveling this topic further, and I think your confusion will be alleviated some.


  11. covert narcissism is a great phrase, I love learning about narcissists, there’s always some new angle or context that I was unaware of previously. Thanks for the info!


  12. “I was always rather repulsed by introverted geeky guys and their compulsive niceness so obviously rooted in shame, desperately begging to be liked.”

    That’s because you’re a woman and need a MAN. And as a borderline you need a stronger hand than yours to put you into place and give you stability.

    The narcissist type is not really interested on MAN, but in supply. They will take it in any form and the more committed the better. If they can find a MAN and turn him into a narcissistic supplier, that will work, if not they will take whatever they can, including geeky guys that put them on a pedestal, then use and discard them.


  13. “On the other hand, maybe due to splitting, I was always rather repulsed by introverted geeky guys and their compulsive niceness so obviously rooted in shame, desperately begging to be liked.”

    I…don’t know. That sounds a lot like projection to me – someone who is rooted in shame and desperately begging to be liked seems like they themselves would overly project that same set of motivations onto other people as well.

    “YOHAMI – That’s because you’re a woman and need a MAN. And as a borderline you need a stronger hand than yours to put you into place and give you stability.”

    Maybe I’m not getting something, but I don’t know how anyone could read that in any way other than that the codependent needs a strong person to be codependent on – and who’s better direction to follow without question than a confident narcissist?


  14. who’s better direction to follow without question than a confident narcissist?

    Uh…WHAT?!


  15. I guess from the picture you used in your previous post that you watch Girls on HBO? One thing that’s really great about that series is that it looks at the Manic Pixie Dream Girl from the MPDG’s side of the story, particularly in Jessa’s relationship with the rich banker guy.


  16. “Paul Rivers on March 9, 2013 at 10:51 PM said:
    “On the other hand, maybe due to splitting, I was always rather repulsed by introverted geeky guys and their compulsive niceness so obviously rooted in shame, desperately begging to be liked.”

    I…don’t know. That sounds a lot like projection to me – someone who is rooted in shame and desperately begging to be liked seems like they themselves would overly project that same set of motivations onto other people as well.”

    You got it, projection might be one of the defense mechanisms that result from splitting (or black and white thinking), and the quote particularly describes me on my worst teen desperation days, and yes, just because you project something onto the world, it doesn’t mean you are always wrong, you just tend to be in the same type of story a lot.

    But the feeling of repulsion at the sight of weakness of bad boundary function in itself and association with shame… When someone is leaving themselves repeatedly open to exploitation, and selling nagging, smothering and worry as gifts, it also makes them hard to trust and build intimacy with, and thus makes anger a valid response. Who likes associating with people who let others walk over them? Users, whom they let play out the fuckfest with their minds. I tend to pick up denied anger and rage for them, freak out trying to teach them how to guard themselves and offer value in return for value, and it exhausts me in the long run. I want to trust people close to me are able to do the right thing under pressure, and in many ways, you cannot count on the nice guy (or girl) to step up, protect himself, his family and friends, cause all he cares about is his external self image of being super nice savior, giving gifts for nothing, tiptoeing around conflicts instead of stating their minds, never confronting to anything. I think it all comes down to hiding true feelings and motivations, and that is an operating definition of shame, “to cover oneself”.

    So I don’t think I’m projecting my shame on them. I think I might be feeling their shame they deny exists by acting so giving and enabling and better than everybody else.


  17. “”who’s better direction to follow without question than a confident narcissist?”

    I think the tongue-in-cheekness that I had in mind got lost when I wrote it. I meant it sarcastically – probably should have realized that wouldn’t come across on the internet.

    Take this phrasing -
    That’s because you’re a woman and need a MAN. And as a borderline you need a stronger hand than yours to put you into place and give you stability.

    Sounds a lot to me like codependent / narcissist…doesn’t it? Images of grandiosity on the part of the guy, the guy is always right and looked up to by the girl, etc etc…


  18. Paul, I totally get where you were going now. I missed the sarcasm first time around and took it at totally face value.


  19. Paul, yep.


  20. Wow, this hurt so much to read, it pretty much described me to a tee! I want to thank you T.A. for this blog in general. It’s helping me push out of this codependent craziness that I been in for so long.


  21. Glad you found it helpful Dante.


  22. What about Marla in Fight Club? Isn’t she a good example as well?


  23. Interesting. I think these two types will also be strongly drawn to each other because they have compatible genes. The genes of the MPDM is what is needed to balance out the shyness and reservedness etc. in the shy introverted artist type. Kind of like the extremely skiny guys who goes for massively overweight women.

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