Since I read and bookmarked the post titled “The Care and Feeding of Your Depressive“, I have had this almost physical perception of it poisoning my computer. So I will write about this subject in hopes of getting over the trauma it causes me to witness public displays of such intense narcissism.
People who are discharged from mental care facilities have a higher chance of a steady improvement if they come home to an empty house than those who come back to a family. This happens because relationships that were built around a mental illness (alcoholism, drug addiction, any chronic illness) need this illness to be in place in order for the relationship to continue existing. This mutual need of an unhealthy condition is called co-dependency:
Co-dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or drug dependence. Originally, co-dependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person. Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals.
A co-dependent partner plays the role of a perennial savior of the afflicted individual:
Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. . . The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the co-dependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.”
As you can see, both participants derive benefits from the situation of co-dependency. Here is what the relationship between a co-dependent and a narcissist looks like:
Among the reciprocally locking interactions of the pair, are the way “the narcissist has an overpowering need to feel important and special, and the co-dependent has a strong need to help others feel that way. … The narcissist overdoes self-caring and demands it from others, while the co-dependent underdoes or may even do almost no self-caring.”
Now, let’s look at the article I linked to at the beginning of this post which, I believe, offers a perfect illustration of this type of relationship. The post is titled “The Care and Feeding of Your Depressive.” Of course, the title aims to be facetious but, as usual, this kind of humor is very easy to read through. The author believes that her depression entitles her to being cared for and fed by her partner. This feeding occurs when the partner provides the narcissist with a certain kind of emotions. These emotions constitute the food which nourishes the dysfunction of both partners.
This is how a narcissist draws the co-dependent into the trap:
1. The co-dependent is charged with reassuring and comforting the narcissist while being simultaneously told that all efforts in this direction are futile and set to fail from the get-go:
You can tell me that I’m beautiful, that you love me, that everything’s going to be okay, and the voice in the back of my head is always going to be telling me that it’s not true. Sometimes I can make it shut up and believe you. Sometimes I can’t. But a lot of the time, that voice is also telling me that you fell in love with someone who was better, who wasn’t as depressed, who functioned properly, who was cheerful and fun to be around. That voice is the voice that tells me that you would be better off with someone else who was right in the head.
The message of “you have to keep trying while knowing that you are doomed to keep failing” fosters feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem in the co-dependent. The co-dependent’s sense of guilt forces him to enter into an argument with the disembodied “voice”, trying to prove that the “voice” is mistaken. Since the narcissist has already relinquished all responsibility for the “voice”, the co-dependent is doomed never to win the argument.
2. A sense of helplessness is fostered in the co-dependent through an enumeration of symptoms that have no remedy:
I feel terrible on a ton of levels. There’s the wet blanket of the depression. There’s the heart-racing panic of an anxiety attack. For me, migraines come right along with anxiety attacks. Lots of people just experience general body aches and soreness from depression, actual physical symptoms that are no less real because they come from a mental source. I am tired all the time. A lot of the times, I really don’t want to eat much.
3. And then the narcissist makes the co-dependent feel guilty for not taking these symptoms completely in his stride:
And I know that makes you worried. But then that leads to. . .The Merry-Go-Round of Guilt.
I hate this. I already feel guilty for not being everything I think I should be for you.
4. As a result of these strategies, we have a classic co-dependent reaction:
Then you want to help so badly, all the time, and it is so clear that you feel guilt for not being able to help, for not feeling like you are enough.
Wanting “to help so badly, all the time” is the classic definition of a co-dependent. And so is feeling guilty for not being able to help.
5. In order to reinforce the unhealthy relationship structure, the narcissist punishes the co-dependent for any departure from the role of a completely submissive and unquestioning care-taker:
The depression makes me overly sensitive, and so I take every sigh, every tiny look of exasperation straight to heart. . . I don’t want to say I have uncontrollable anger, because my anger is very definitely controlled–otherwise, countless dishes and household appliances would have been smashed by now, and there would be any number of people nursing wounds inflicted by my tongue. But it is always there lately. The urge to throw something, to put hit something, to rip something to shreds is bubbling below the surface, and there’s little that would fill me with as much satisfaction as being set loose in a ceramic factory slated for destruction.
The message is clear: if you don’t behave exactly as I wish, I will throw objects at you and insult you verbally. And you will have to accept that and shut up because otherwise I will make you feel even more guilty.
Now, here is what I want to say to co-dependent people who happen to be reading this:
1. You cannot help anybody suffering from any illness unless you are their doctor.
2. If you want to get out of a relationship, you have the right to do that. Irrespective of how sick or healthy your partner is.
3. No medical condition is an excuse for fits of rage, manipulative behavior, or guilt-tripping.
4. You deserve to live in an environment of joy and happiness. If the environment you share with your partner is not one of joy and happiness, you have the right to leave.
And the most important thing:
5. While an adult always chooses whether to stay in an unhealthy relationship or not, a child gets no choice. If for whatever reason your partner generates an environment of sadness, anxiety, uncertainty, aggression, fear, insecurity, it is your responsibility to make sure that the child is removed from that situation. Feel free to be as co-dependent as you want, but remember that a child is not to blame for any of this. Children have a right to be in a safe, happy environment where nobody is about to flow off the handle and nobody terrifies them by staring at the wall or lying prostrate all day long.
6. You deserve to be happy. If you don’t feel intensely happy at least 80% of the time, then you have the right to do whatever you need to do to change this state of affairs.