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The Codependent/Narcissist Dance: The Perfect Partnership

Since familiarity breeds security, the meaning of love for the codependent dancer is distorted into exciting but dysfunctional dips, twists and turns. The blue ribbons and trophies may accumulate, but love, respect and thoughtfulness often do not follow. Such familiarity creates the paradox of the dance: remaining secure with what you know, but what doesn’t feel good, versus risking the unknown so that a relationship with a loving and respectful partner can be an actuality.

After many songs, the codependent’s enchanting dream-like dance experience predictably transforms into drama, conflict and feelings of being trapped. Even with the selfish, controlling and antagonistic nature of her dance partner, she dares not stop the dance routine. Despite feeling deeply unhappy, she remains committed to her partner while helping him achieve his glorious dancing ambitions. For most codependent dancers, remaining with the narcissistic partner is preferable to being on the sidelines where they predictably feel worthless and lonely.

Codependent dancers were taught the codependent/narcissist dance routine early in life. Hence, their dancing choices are connected to their unconscious motivation to find a person who is familiar — someone who reminds them of their parents, who abandoned, neglected or abused them when they were a child. Their fear of being alone, their compulsion to control and fix at any cost, and their comfort in their role as the martyr who is endlessly loving, devoted and patient, is an extension of their yearning to be loved, respected and cared for as a child.

Codependents cannot bear a prolonged period off the dance floor because of the wave of self-doubt and loneliness that predictably follows. Being alone is the equivalent of feeling lonely, and loneliness is an excruciating, if not impossible, feeling to bear. Like withdrawal from a drug addiction, they are unwilling to cope with the resulting deep and throbbing pain of loneliness and feelings of worthlessness, which is indicative of the childhood trauma they endured.

Although codependents dream of dancing with an unconditionally loving and affirming partner, they submit to their dysfunctional destiny. Until they decide to heal the psychological wounds that ultimately compel them to dance with their narcissistic dance partners, they will be destined to maintain the unsatisfying and potentially dangerous steady beat and rhythm of their dysfunctional dance.

Through psychotherapy and, perhaps, a 12-step recovery program, codependents can begin to recognize that their dream to dance the grand dance of love, reciprocity and mutuality is indeed possible. Codependents can heal the childhood trauma responsible for their codependency. The journey of healing and transformation will bring them feelings of personal power and efficacy that will foster a desire to finally dance with someone who is willing and capable of sharing the lead, communicating their movements and pursuing a mutual, loving, rhythmic dance.

Man pleading with woman photo available from Shutterstock

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 August 11, 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.