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Raw Concepts: Codependent Entitlement (or Covert Narcissism)


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.

14 Responses to “Raw Concepts: Codependent Entitlement (or Covert Narcissism)”

  1. “There is a lack of genuine compassion for the other person evident, only compassion for the self.”

    how do you square this with the concept of toxic shame? As I understand it living with toxic shame precludes one from having genuine compassion for the self as well.

  2. I think the problem here is the choice of words. There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy even though they often get used interchangeably. Sympathy is when you feel bad for someone while empathy is where you actually feel someone’s pain and understand on some emotional level why they feel how they do and appreciate the circumstances that may have led to their circumstances. For example I may feel sympathy for a homeless person, as in I feel bad they have no home and are freezing in the cold, but have no empathy in that I think he’s there because he’s defective, lazy, stupid, and by his own fault. In reverse I can have empathy for an abused person who was raised in the most heinous circumstances. Yet I have no sympathy for him when he commits crimes and hurts people as an adult, even though I am empathetic to what led to him becoming so hateful. Empathy requires you to be able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel and why they feel that way. It requires going deeper. For sympathy you can just be concerned with someone’s superficial circumstances and externals.

    For example many abolitionists had sympathy for slaves, but had no empathy for them as human beings in their own right. They equated them to pets, or inferior creatures, and felt bad for them the way one feels bad for a whipped animal, rather than as fellow equal human beings.

    I think shame based people are capable of sympathy, especially for themselves, but not empathy, either for themselves or others. I think when the author of the journal paper discusses the “compassion” codependents feel for themselves, she is talking sympathy and not empathy. I can feel sorry for myself, and be excessively concerned about myself, and self-obsessed with my thoughts, feelings, actions, and grievances, but lack true empathy for myself, meaning I can’t admit, understand and forgive my own flaws and mistakes.

  3. “there is a little bit of codependence in every narcissist and a little bit of narcissism in every codependent”

    …and a little bit of both in everybody else, as we learned when our psych major friends in college picked up the DSM-IV for the first time and promptly diagnosed themselves and everybody they knew with a personality disorder.

    This stuff would be more helpful if you provided concrete real-life examples of the behaviors you have in mind, instead of just marching names of abstractions up and down the catwalk for us.

  4. I was wondering why your name and email seemed so familiar, than I remembered you were the guy who wrote this comment:

    If you disagree with my blog so much, think I’m a “con artist, running a cruel scam,” and what I write is unclear to you, maybe I’m just not for you.

  5. I have trouble holding on to concepts when it is long. Though I enjoy the extra examples and repeats.

    That said ,I think, there are cluster bs in everybody to a degree. The gray area. I’ve been having an on going relationship (on off) and conversation with a woman recently. Just sex really. Trying to work out where she is on that scale. I gave up when she said “I don’t like intellectual conversation.” i thought she was trying to shame me about various stuff etc till she said that. At that point I realised she just wanted to duck till someone better came along. Extremely unlikely as I am drop gorgeous with cash. Of course I be kidding myself. However, that’s irrelevant in this. She just isn’t interested and I guess if I want the extras nor am I. Therefore I’ve trumped whatever narcissism/cluster b by out thinking myself and her. It’s plain stupidity and let’s just duck.

    This is damn hard on a smart phone.J.K.

  6. Great article! Thanks dude!

  7. T you really have me thinking and exploring. Found more at the Middle Kingdom on group behaviour on the net
    The references at the bottom hopefully lead to more. Thanks again.

  8. This is a good article on a subtopic of (covert) Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which I have actually been meaning to address for a while. You’ve done a good job of explaining it.

  9. I have been reading your posts for a while, I have read the analysis of cluster Bs, the shame, their behavior and so on, and now this. I have a question in my mind. I would be honored if I got to know your opinion.

    I can relate to many of the emotions of a narcissist, or a codependent (as you say, they are similar). I can really relate to feelings I had in specific occasions. I can also relate to some of the feelings of an obsessive compulsive individual, although you did not speak about this. What I mean is that I can track times when I thought “what losers they are, I can do this because I am special” (narcissist), “why am I not like him?” (narcissist), “if I do A, B will happen, it isn’t good, so, no, I cannot do A, but I have to do A, but then B will happen…” (obsessive thoughts). They seem like silly anecdotes, but in my mind the psychology that I can interiorize, it is because of something that happened to me.

    I became aware of the narcissist-codependent and the obsessive in me, after a great deal of introspection and some therapy after a major crisis, that led me to put in doubt many of my behaviors and made me ask to myself “why did I do that?”. However, are there people who just do not have sick personalities in them? I mean, is sickness some common behavior-schema that is always present in everybody, but gets too big in somebody, or is it an abnormal schema that only some people have? Is there someone completely clean of a particular “sickness”?

  10. Fiat Lux,

    As someone who is related to a psychology professor and asked them about everything I’ve been going through and learning here: everyone has these psychological traits. Everyone has a bit of narcissism, OCD, depression, etc.. It’s only when these issues escalate to a point where you can’t meet your needs, and you’re severely handicapped by them, that we truly need “therapy”. At this point you’d probably be checked into a mental institution either by yourself or by a loved one.

    Now what this professor told me, and they teach their first year students is, you can’t be the therapist and the patient at the same time. Therapists need therapists. One of the dangers of “self-treating” is you begin to internalize you’re broken that requires fixing. It’s ironic because the blog says “you’re fine, you’re not broken, you’re good AND all you need to do is improve”, but learning this stuff causes you to become aware of your “problems” which leads you think you’re now broken. Ignorance is a bliss. Learning this stuff is only useful for treating others, not really for yourself, which is why therapists need to go to therapists.

    On another note, therapists/analysts have one of the highest rates of suicide, this is because they internalize that they’re broken/depressed/ocd/whatever..

    This is what I’ve been told, as a warning against studying so much psychology, you become over-analytical, you self-identify, and you internalize. It’s almost like “The Case Against Studying Psychology”

    Looking back, I took way more motivated action approaching women, before I read about all the psychology and pick up stuff..

    Would like to hear T’s response.

  11. PS> Being born into a proper family where you have no childhood issues is extremely rare. We’re all messed up, it’s just the degree that requires attention. As I said, only if you fall into the severe category (you cannot function and meet your needs), do you actually require therapy.

  12. “A number of surveys, conducted by Guy and others, reveal some worri-some statistics about therapists’ lives and well-being. At least three out of four therapists have experienced major distress within the past three years, the principal cause being relationship problems. More than 60 percent may have suffered a clinically significant depression at some point in their lives, and nearly half admitted that in the weeks following a personal crisis they’re unable to deliver quality care. As for psychiatrists, a 1997 study by Michael Klag, M.D., found that the divorce rate for psychiatrists who graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine between 1948 and 1964 was 51 percent—higher than that of the general population of that era, and substantially higher than the rate in any other branch of medicine.”

    “One out of every four psychologists has suicidal feelings at times, according to one survey, and as many as one in 16 may have attempted suicide. The only published data—now nearly 25 years old—on actual suicides among psychologists showed a rate of suicide for female psychologists that’s three times that of the general population, although the rate among male psychologists was not higher than expected by chance.”

    and it goes on and on with all their addictions and the like

  13. Qlue,
    you have been helpful and serious, thank you.
    I have been suspecting that all of the psychology I was reading was not helping me very my much, and in some ways it was even damaging, and now you have confirmed it. I am adding two paragraphs related to my experience, maybe they will be helpful to somebody.
    There was one aspect of learning stuff which I still believe was positive for me. You see, I have been in a disastrous dysfunctional toxic relationship. After the breakup I felt better when I could think about that girl “so she was like that because she is a narcissist”. You know, I had unresolved questions that lay inside me and psychology provided some of the answers. I am now seeing more clearly what price these benefits came with (i.e. internalizing things like “I did that because I am a codependent, which is even worse than a narcissist, because it is a sucker, in addition to being a narcissist”, that really do not make me feel well).
    In a more general way, I would now say that relaying on reading psychology to solve one’s own problems lies in the more general realm of “relaying on sth other to solve one’s own problems”. Not terrible, but there is a price to pay.

  14. I couldn’t agree more.
    I have a totally codependent grandmother, her husband was clearly a narcissist and their daughter (my mother) is narcissistic, too. You can hardly get anything more out of such combo.
    What surprises me is how my codependent grandmother who is supposed to be the opposite of a narcissist, feels so entitled to everything. She does excessively try to take care of everyone else’s business but… you cannot trust her to tell you the truth, you can’t rely on her, at her worst moments she calls you most insulting names, she never asks for stuff, just commands you, she is never wrong, she is clever, always a victim, constantly violates your boundaries, interrupts and manipulates. It’s more insane to live with her than with a true narcissist – you don’t know what to expect… One minute she’s on your side, the other minute all might be used against you.

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