This is Part One of the “How You Heal From Narcissistic Abuse and the Codependent Response You Created in Response To It” Series
This is a multi-part “technical” overview of the approach I have used for over a decade to successfully exit the effects of narcissistic abuse and neglect (aka codependency). It will be in-depth. It may be triggering. Take your time with it. I will be covering the experience of the codependent, the narcissist, attachment, healing, and more.
It all starts with understanding the anatomy of the Consumer-Supply Relationship or Narcissistic Abuse Cycle that is the origin of codependency.
The Consumer-Supply Relationship or Narcissistic Abuse Cycle:
Narcissistic Abuse is a 3-phase cycle of being: love-bombed into attachment to the narcissistic/abusive person for their gain, devalued into a sense of deep unworthiness, and then discarded and left for rot like a piece of garbage.
The love-bombing phase feels euphoric for the target (aka the codependent or supply), triggering their unmet attachment needs and their incomplete identity. They finally feel seen, heard, valued, and frequently experience a deep sense of connection to the source of the love-bombing. They feel “whole” and feel like they have a “sense of themselves”. No longer are they empty, lonely, and lost in a sea of invisibility, shame, and isolation.
This ignites in the target/codependent a natural growth and maturity in their identity. They begin to feel more confident, more expressive and start to share more of themselves with the narcissistic abuse (aka consumer). This begins to irritate the narcissistic individual. It is becoming harder and harder for the narcissistic abuser to get their supply. They may also become bored with their current supply (the codependent).
The narcissistic person begins to withdraw from their supply. This can appear like avoidant attachment in the relationship with the narcissistic person demanding space, going silent, becoming emotionally cold and distant, and not engaging. The important distinction between a non-narcissistic person and someone with avoidant attachment is what happens next: The devalue stage.
The withdrawal of the narcissistic person’s love-bombing triggers deep fears in the codependent. They become anxious in their attachment and begin to chase. What is happening behind the scenes is the codependent is beginning to experience a chemical and attachment withdrawal. During the love-bombing phase, the codependent was awash in dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline, and cortisol. Basically, they’re high on fear-love.
They don’t realize this because it is “normal” to them. It is what they’d expect love to feel like. In a way, they are not wrong. The codependent has deeply unmet attachment needs and an incomplete identity, much like a child does.
The euphoria (sans the fear elements of adrenaline and cortisol) is similar to the chemical experience babies and toddlers have with their parents. They are bonding to them and beginning to “differentiate” themselves through that bond. This allows the child to “discover” who they are in contrast and alignment to the parent’s reflection and feedback.
This is when the codependent starts to disclose their feelings and desires they have for the narcissistic person. They express dreams, ideas, and even start asking for support, to be heard, to be acknowledged and seen. They may even say no or decline things that the narcissistic person suggests, which feels empowering to them because they believe they’re with someone that respects them.
This triggers the devaluing stage of the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle, resulting in the narcissistic person attacking, belittling, gaslighting, and overtly abusing the codependent. “Why are you so needy?” They attack needs, wants, feelings. “Why are you so sensitive? Why can’t you just get used to it”. “I wish you’d just learn to be happy with what you get.”
The codependent feels deeply confused by their reaction. They thought their partner loved and adored and enjoyed them. It is so opposite to the love-bombing phase that they struggle to reconcile the distance between these two experiences. Instead, of acknowledging the confusion as a signal of something legitimately wrong, they often will assume they were the cause of the narcissistic person’s tantrums and lashing out. Their desires must have upset, hurt or even harmed them. Maybe their feelings were too much of a burden for them at that time.
The codependent resolves to become a “better person”. What this really means is they’re going to become more “ideal”. This reaction comes from what is called “FAWNING”. It is one of for responses the brain has to a threatening situation. Fawning is basically when a person attempts to make themselves useful or valuable to a threat. If they’re useful, the threat won’t kill or discard them.
This fawning is fueled by a fantasy that the codependent creates about the narcissistic person. They may view the narcissistic person as flawed, injured, and needing their love to heal. They may expressly emphasize and ruminate over all the “good times” and “love” they had during the love-bombing phase. This chemically bonds them to the fantasy, driving them back to the narcissistic person over and over and over. This is where trauma bonding is happening (more on this later).
The narcissist will tire of the codependent’s attempts to get their love and attention. This leads to the most deeply feared and dreaded event…the discard.
I chose that word deliberately. It so entirely sums up the emotional and mental and often physical experience the codependent endures. They feel like a worthless piece of garbage. They can’t fathom how a person that had been so loving, so caring, so deeply in-tune with them would so casually, coldly, and even joyfully throw them away.
This leaves the codependent gutted, hollowed out, and splade emotionally. Their center of self and the very gravity that gave them direction and clarity is wiped out. A sense of deep emotional isolation and emptiness re-emerges in their awareness. Questions about their worth crowd their mind, screaming loudly and writhing with images of devastation, being replaced, and the narcissist being happy with another person – a person that does it better than they did. A person that has more patience, is more needless, is more “perfect”.
“I don’t know who I am without them…”, “What am I worth now?”, “How could I have prevented this???” they ritually ask themselves over and over.
The desire to die comes alive within them. Why stay if I have no worth?
This is the devastation of externalized value and unmatured attachment and identity.
It wasn’t the codependent’s fault. They were doing what nature would have them do: bond with another human being so they could resume their growth and individuation.
The codependent didn’t need a romantic partner. They needed a parental guide that provided them love, shelter, accountability, reflection, and exploration.
But alas, the codependent fantasy that another person will make one whole and completely blinded them to the overt manipulations of the narcissistic person through their love-bombing, devaluing, and discarding words and actions.
This is the crossroads for the codependent. It is their “rock bottom”. It is the place where the codependent can begin the necessary journey of taking themselves back from the narcissist, discovering their brilliant voice, and anchoring their loyalty to their value, voice and vision.
Keep Your Eye Out For Part Two: The Need That Drives Both The Narcissist and The Codependent Toward Each Other