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Narcissism and codependency are behaviors that are characterized by the patient having an unrealistic view of himself or herself and other people. Both narcissism and codependency usually stem from dysfunctional childhood experiences. Narcissists generally form due to either excessive pampering, or neglect and abuse during childhood. Codependency is learned from other family members with the same type of behavior. It is handed down through generations by parents who unknowingly teach their children this dysfunctional behavior.
A personality disorder, narcissism is defined as abnormal self-love with an exaggerated sense of superiority. Narcissists often seek attention and admiration from others, and they believe that they are better than others and are therefore entitled to special treatment. They are willing to take advantage of those whom they consider beneath them to achieve their goals.
Narcissists display arrogant behavior and an inability to identify with the feelings of people around them. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is diagnosed through a series of physical and psychological tests. Doctors run often physical tests to rule out physiological causes to the behavior. Subsequent therapy and questionnaires are completed to confirm the NPD diagnosis.
Codependency is a learned behavior in which a person enters a relationship with another person and becomes emotionally dependent on him or her. Codependent people maintain an exaggerated sense of responsibility toward the other people in their relationships. They tend to do more than their share in their relationships and are hurt when they do not get recognition for it. They often are sensitive to criticism, are inflexible to change and have problems with intimacy. Codependency is not considered a mental disorder and can be diagnosed by a certified professional.
Narcissism and codependency seem on the surface to be completely opposite of each other. Narcissists focus on themselves; codependents focus on others. There are some similarities between the two which affects the sufferers' ability to relate to others. People who have these behavior disorders are easily hurt when they do not get the recognition that they feel they deserve, and they are hypersensitive to criticism or insults. Both disorders cause a person to have an unrealistic self-image, with one causing exaggerated self-esteem and the other causing low self-esteem.
Treatment for narcissism and codependency includes psychotherapy to help change the behavior. Narcissists are encouraged to develop more realistic self-esteem and expectations for other people. Codependents benefit from group therapy to help them rediscover their identity and stop self-defeating behavior. In both cases, drug therapy with anti-depressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) might be indicated to help reduce or eliminate destructive behaviors.