We’ve already discussed how shame-filled people are prone to view themselves in extremes, as either superhuman or subhuman. I called this the superhuman/subhuman dichotomy. You can see this dichotomy in the way shame-based people tend to become either narcissists (superhuman) or codependents (subhuman).
Although narcissists and codependents may seem like opposites on a superficial level, when viewing them from the outside, because they are both filled with toxic shame, they are far more similar than people suspect, in ways that aren’t always obvious. As I’ve said in previous posts, there is a little bit of codependence in every narcissist and a little bit of narcissism in every codependent. This is why they can seem switch back and forth from superhuman to subhuman so easily, because at any given time both the subhuman and the superhuman are coexisting in them, with little room for any moderation.
For example, although narcissists act like they think they’re better than everyone and have superior, arrogant attitudes, the fact remains that they crave admiration the way a heroin addict craves heroin. So even though the narcissist acts superior to everyone around them, they secretly crave and need the attention and approval of these so-called inferiors, and if deprived of it will begin to act pathetic and even plead and subjugate themselves if desperate enough.
Also, codependents may be considered to be self-effacing person with self-subjugating tendencies. However, there is definitely a quiet grandiosity among codependents, and subtle ways in which they think they’re superior to others. For example, when the narcissist tells the codependent a sob story about how everyone else has mistreated her before she met the codependent, the codependent believes he will be the one who will finally treat the narcissist right and “save” her. He has no trouble believing that he will prove himself to be the best partner the narcissist ever had, no matter what the background or attributes of her ex-es. It doesn’t occur to him that these guys could have been savvier and more mature than him and still failed. He automatically assumes he’s superior to all these past guys. Also, when the codependent starts seeing the red flags of the narcissist, he thinks he can deal with them and turn her around. Codependent men are often jokingly called “Captain Save-A-Ho’s,” but even though this term is derogatory, it still shows a grandiose tendency because it’s evidence that someone views themselves as a type of superhero, even if it’s as a superhero for the cause of simping.
Because it’s so covert and counterintuitive, many people don’t realize the quiet desperation of narcissists and the quiet grandiosity of codependents, but you need to understand this phenomenon if you ever want to understand the psychodynamics of shame. This quiet grandiosity in codependents explains why many codependents, when they decide they’re fed up being a codependent and want to change, they end up going to the opposite extreme and become very narcissistic. It’s because that grandiosity is often in them already, just in a covert, subtle form. I described this dynamic in my post about codependent “average frustrated chumps” who easily turn into narcissistic pickup artists.
I want to focus on codependent entitlement for this piece. The subject of narcissistic self-debasement I’ll save for another day.
There was an old journal article from 1999 by Sally A. Farmer called “Entitlement in Codependency” that touches on this:
The notion of entitlement is just as important in understanding codependency as it is in describing exhibitionistic forms of narcissism. However, it is frequently hidden, and when expressed more directly it takes subtle forms. Codependent entitlement involves expecting others to change those aspects of themselves that make codependent individuals uncomfortable. Codependent individuals have trouble taking responsibility for making the changes they need to make in themselves in order to increase their own comfort level…
Tenzer believes that disorders of entitlement cut across diagnostic categories. She claims that the lack of overt entitlement observed in subservient individuals often masks self righteous rage and envy, Tenzer further states that patients with problems of entitlement tend to experience themselves as undernourished; their therapists, on the other hand, tend to experience them as insatiable.
Codependent entitlement arises from the notion that just as they are responsible for anticipating the needs of others, others are responsible for anticipating their needs as well. This gives rise to anger and “righteous indignation” when the people in their lives do not come through as they wish. Codependents frequently do not know what they want from others, and they often confuse “needs” with “wants.” Thus they have difficulty asking directly, and through the process of projective identification may actually invite others to deny them. A theme evident here is not really seeing others as people in their own right, with their particular set of strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Instead, they see them as extensions of themselves. Unfortunately, some adherents of the codependency movement reinforce this concept. In “sickness” they see others in a unidimensional way, i.e., as parental figures who must be placated, taken care of, and pleased. In “recovery” they frequently see them as villains who must be guarded against or escaped from. There is a lack of genuine compassion for the other person evident, only compassion for the self.
Just like narcissists can only see codependents as extensions of themselves, codependents do the same with narcissists. They often have an idealized image of what the narcissist actually is, and fall in love with that, rather than falling in love for who the narcissist actually is. This entitlement and grandiosity in the codependent is often what causes them to idealize the narcissist into something she isn’t, and oftentimes the codependent falls for the narcissist because he views the narcissist as the type of glamorous, attractive, or powerful person he views his ideal version of himself being with, and he wants to bask in her reflected glory and shine too. For example, maybe the codependent isn’t openly grandiose and cocky enough to strut and preen like a narcissist, but by dating the narcissist, he can let the narcissist strut and preen for the both of them, while he gets the ego boost of the positive attention having such a partner gives him. In this way, he has made the narcissist an extension of himself. I described in the past how the narcissist idealizes others and makes them extensions of himself, but as you can see, the codependent does the same in more covert ways.
Tomorrow I’ll show a pop culture example of the codependent entitlement/covert narcissism.