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Written By: Darlene Lancer:

Writers often distinguish narcissists and codependents as opposites, but surprisingly, though their outward behavior may differ, they share many psychological traits. In fact, narcissists exhibit core codependent symptoms of shame, denial, control, dependency (unconscious), and dysfunctional communication and boundaries, all leading to intimacy problems. One study showed a significant correlation between narcissism and codependency.  

Darlene-Lancer1Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency.  Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.


Codependency is a disorder of a “lost self.” Codependents have lost their connection to their innate self. Instead, their thinking and behavior revolve around a person, substance, or process. Narcissists also suffer from a lack of connection to their true self. In its place, they’re identified with their ideal self. This makes them dependent on others for validation. Ironically, despite declared high self-regard, narcissists crave recognition from others and have an insatiable need to be admired–to get their “narcissistic supply.”


Shame is at the core of codependency and addiction, stemming from growing up in a dysfunctional family. Narcissists’ exaggerated self-flattery is usually mistaken for self-love, but it’s merely to assuage unconscious, internalized shame, common among codependents.

Children develop different ways of coping with the anxiety, insecurity, shame, and hostility that they experience growing up in dysfunctional families. Stereotypical codependents seek others’ love, affection, and approval, while narcissists seek recognition, mastery, and domination over others. (For more about these patterns and how shame and codependency co-emerge in childhood, see Conquering Shame and Codependency.)


is a core symptom of codependency. Codependents are generally in denial of their codependency and often their feelings and many needs. Similarly, narcissists deny feelings, particularly those that express vulnerability. They disown and often project onto others feelings that they consider “weak,” such as longing, sadness, loneliness, powerlessness, guilt, inadequacy, and fear. Anger makes them feel powerful. Rage, arrogance, envy, and contempt are defenses to underlying shame.

Codependents especially deny emotional needs. They may act self-sufficient and readily put others needs first. Narcissists also deny emotional needs. They won’t admit that they’re being demanding and needy, because having needs makes them feel dependent and weak.

Many narcissists hide behind a facade of self-sufficiency and aloofness when it comes to needs for emotional closeness, support, grieving, nurturing, and intimacy. Their quest of power protects them from experiencing the humiliation of feeling weak or needing anyone—ultimately, to avoid rejection and feeling shame. Only the threat of abandonment reveals how dependent they truly are.

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