The Dyadic Pairing Of the Pathological Narcissist and their Co-narcissist Victim
How can two children living in the same household with the same parents have such different childhood experiences? Experiences that leads to one child becoming a pathological narcissist in adulthood, and the other to become a pathological co-narcissist?
Ultimately, the answer to this conundrum lies in how each child manages their “shame”.
In my own situation, one child (Gerard, my brother, the narcissist) managed his shame by developing an antagonistic interpersonal style, with his constant need to manipulate, dominate and control everyone (a dependence pattern); while the other child (myself, Gerard’s younger sister, the co-narcissistic caretaker) managed my shame by adopting a co-operative helpful interpersonal style, with a constant need to please and take care of everyone (a nurturance pattern).
Clearly, both children are traumatised by their shameful events, and each develops their own pathology and schemas to survive.
When there is a match between the goals of the two individuals (one wants to receive something, and the other wants to give something), they will be interpersonally complementary, and both will feel somewhat fulfilled through the other (dyadic pairing).
This is the narcissistic and co-narcissistic “convoluted dance” in action. Just like the Tango, one partner leads and controls the movement of the dance, while the other partner submits.
The narcissistic/co-narcissistic dance locks both partners into a pattern of one-up-manship, and one-down-manship, and the dance continues if both are willing to be dance partners.
This dance is universal between all narcissists and their co-narcissistic victims, but it generally proceeds through four phases. In the beginning, the dance is exciting, and the relationship seems to work well for both while in the rush of the first stanza (the Idealisation Phase).
In this phase, the narcissist becomes totally motivated towards “reward”. Their ‘Seeking System’ gets switched “on” in the brain’s reward centre (the dopamine-producing areas where motivation and desire arise). The dopamine high increases the narcissist’s reward seeking behaviours as they set out to hook their new source of narcissistic supply (victim).
While in pursuit of the chase, they also become intentionally focused on grooming their new target (victim), this is an important part of the conditioning for keeping the victim hooked to them, no matter what happens.
In this phase the narcissist is at their most attractive, attentive, seductive, and may even display compassion at times. The grooming manipulates the victim to bond with the narcissist and the illusion that is being presented to them. That is, the illusion that they are in a loving, healthy relationship with someone that cares for them in the same way that they care for the narcissist.
After the intensity of the first phase, it is almost impossible for the victim to imagine that the relationship is not genuine, never mind being a mere fantasy.
The narcissist’s fantasies become the expressions that fuel their Seeking System, and secretes dopamine and other chemicals that are highly addictive. At the same time, the seduction and love bombing works on the co-narcissistic victim, and they too are flooded with chemicals (i.e. dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine, etc.) creating a deep connection with their narcissist. Many victims become spellbound, the intensity of the relationship leads the victim to believe that they have found their ‘soul-mate’. But the honeymoon phase does not usually last long. With time, the co-narcissist may feel that the relationship is not being reciprocated, they may also feel like they are being pushed around and being taken advantage of. Because the co-narcissist (victim) is far more flexible than the pathological narcissist, they are the one that is likely to look for a mutual equality in the relationship, and start making demands that can lead to deepening the relationship even more.
However, the narcissistic perpetrator is far too brittle to bend to the needs and wants of the co-narcissist partner, their desire is to be the centre of the co-narcissists world (to be taken care of).
Consequently, when things seem to be getting worse instead of better, the co-narcissist begins to pull away, and not be quite so accommodating to the pathological narcissist.
The narcissist immediately experiences this ‘moving-away’ as rejection or abandonment, and they react by devaluing the co-narcissist victim. Without the excitement of the dopamine rush, the narcissist gets bored and slips into their baseline status where they are no longer stimulated.
With their ‘Reward Centre’ now switched “off”, boredom sets in, and any semblance of a bond is severed. The narcissist becomes callous and cold, and they strike out in anger at their victim. The relationship enters the second stanza (Devaluing Phase), and a lack of mutuality is being experienced by both in the relationship. There is trouble in Paradise, and the co-narcissist has falling from grace for having rejected and abandoned the narcissist during the dance.
If things do not change back to where they were (with the co-narcissist being accommodating and nurturing), then the disgruntled narcissist is likely to become very punishing, or they may decide to start looking for a new source of narcissistic supply.
The relationship is now doomed, and the narcissist moves into the third stanza (Discarding Phase), which generally leads to the co-narcissist being discarded in favour of the new source of supply. The dramatic Tango comes to its end, whether the narcissist leaves the relationship or not. The victim, although still bonded to the narcissist, will experience the painful feelings of being discarded and abandoned. They will then be subjected to the psychological warfare that goes with narcissistic abuse (i.e. gaslighting, projections, stonewalling, triangulation, intimidation, invalidation, scapegoating, etc.).
But there is a fourth stanza that is not always mentioned, it is called “The Hoover Manoeuvre” that most co-narcissists will face from time to time. The term “Hoover Manoeuvre” is a metaphor taken from the famous brand of vacuum cleaner known for its powerful suction, and is used to explain how the abusive pathological narcissist asserts their right to suck the victim back into the relationship for further oxygen whenever they feel inclined. Characteristically, it follows the discard phase (where they physically, mentally, or emotionally, discarded you).
When you enter into a relationship with the narcissist, what you don’t know is that you have unwittingly entered into a psychological contract that you are theirs for all time.
This sucking of the co-narcissist victim back to them time and time again confirms the cognitive dissonance that keeps the victim tied to them. The tactics may be either benign or malignant in nature, depending on how the co-narcissistic victim enters the narcissist’s sphere of influence.