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The Codependent/Narcissist Dance: The Perfect Partnership

The inherently dysfunctional “codependency dance” requires two opposite but balanced partners: a pleasing, giving codependent and the needy, controlling narcissist. Like a champion dance partnership, the dancing roles of both are perfectly matched. The leader or taker needs the follower or giver in order that the dance appears effortless and flawless.

Typically, codependents give of themselves much more than their partners give in return. As generous but bitter dance partners, they find themselves perpetually stuck on the dance floor, always waiting for the next song, at which time they naively hope that their partner will finally understand their needs. Sadly, they never do.

Codependents by nature are giving, sacrificing and consumed with others’ needs and desires. As natural followers in the dance, they are passive and accommodating to their partner. Although narcissists are typically selfish, self-centered and controlling, when paired with a codependent, they are enabled to become champion dancers. As natural leaders and choreographers of the dance, their ambitions are focused only on fulfilling their needs and desires while ignoring the same for their partner.

Codependents experience their narcissistic dance partner as deeply appealing, especially because of their boldness, charm, confidence and domineering personality. Narcissists are delighted with their partner choice as they exude patience, deference and a yearning to help them find greatness and recognition. With this matchup, the dance sizzles with excitement — at least in the beginning.

Narcissistic dancers control or lead the dance routine because they are naturally and predictably attracted to partners who lack self-worth, confidence and self-esteem. With such a well-matched companion, they are able to control both the dancer and the dance. Similar to their codependent partner, this dancer also is deeply attracted to a lover who feels familiar to them: someone who lets them lead the dance while, at the same time, allowing them to feel in command, competent and appreciated. The narcissist dancer is most comfortable when they are either encouraged or allowed to dance boldly and decisively while garnering attention and praise from others.

Having little to no previous experience with mutually and reciprocally affirming dancers, codependents anxiously reject invitations by healthier individuals. Without self-esteem or feelings of personal power, they are actually afraid of dancing with a mutually giving and unconditionally loving partner. Dancing with such a person would feel confusing, uncomfortable and awkward.

When a codependent and narcissist meet each other, the dance unfolds flawlessly. The narcissist effortlessly maintains the lead while the codependent automatically and willingly follows. Their roles seem natural to them because they have been practicing them their whole lives. The dance is perfectly coordinated: the pleasing partner naturally and reflexively gives up his or her power and the needy partner thrives on power and control. No toes are stepped on.

The magnetic-like attraction that brings and keeps codependent and narcissist dancers together paves the way for a dancing experience that is explosively pleasurable while feeling strangely familiar. To illustrate, the selfish and controlling narcissist effortlessly leads the dance while the codependent intuitively and reflexively predicts and follow his moves.

The accommodating dancer confuses caretaking and sacrifice with loyalty and love. And why should they think otherwise? This has been their lifelong experience in relationships. Although proud and even boastful of their unwavering loyalty and dedication, they end up feeling unappreciated and used. This codependent dancer yearns to be loved and cherished, but because of her dance partner, her dreams will never come to fruition. With the heartbreak of unfulfilled dreams, codependents silently and bitterly swallow their unhappiness, while dancing furiously toward the finals of the dance competition.

The codependent is convinced that she will never find a dance partner who will love her for who she is as opposed to what she can do for them. Over time, codependents are stuck in a pattern of giving and sacrificing, without the possibility of ever receiving the same from their partner. They, however, pretend to enjoy the dance while harboring deeper feelings of anger, resentment and sadness. Over time, their low self-esteem and pessimism deepens, which later morphs into feelings of hopelessness. But they continue to dance, not for the joy of it, but because dancing with a narcissist is familiar and natural for them.

The Codependent/Narcissist Dance: The Perfect Partnership

Ross Rosenberg, MEd, LCPC, CACD, CSAT

Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CACD, CSAT is the author of the Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us.

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APA Reference
Rosenberg, R. (2018). The Codependent/Narcissist Dance: The Perfect Partnership. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 13 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.