Psychiatric Perspective

In many ways, codependence is the mirror image of a chemical dependent's self-centeredness and grandiosity. Another term for such self-centered-ness is narcissism. Codependence is the complement of narcissism, just as a glove complements the hand it is shaped to fit.

In the Greek's myth that gives us the prototype for self-centeredness, Narcissus had relationships only with people who shared his values and interests. He was unable to feel a sense of human connection with people who were separate from him, just as chemical dependents may break off relationships with people who do not support their denial.

The myth of Narcissus also gives us the prototype for other-centeredness in Echo—who is the perfect reflection of Narcissus. The two fit together and seemed to complete each other. Their relationship had intense chemistry.

In the eternal struggle within each individual between the need to be nurtured and the need to nurture others, Narcissus and Echo (and chemical dependents and codependents) strike a balance between two extreme positions. Rather than balancing the two needs within each of themselves, they allot the need to be validated and appreciated to Narcissus and the need to nurture and be in a relationship to Echo. Neither is capable of a truly mutual relationship—but, together, they create an intense experience of connectedness.

In healthy families, children remain comfortable with the competing, normal childhood needs to be unconditionally loved and validated as worthwhile (i.e., to be the center) and the opposite need to be completely dependent upon all powerful and good parents (i.e., to have others be the center). When parents are unable to tolerate not being the center of relationships, even with their children (which often happens with a chemically dependent parent), children often renounce their own need to be focused on. They become the opposite of narcissistic; they become codependent.

(SEE ALSO: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA); Al-Anon; Alateen; Families and Drug Use)


Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (1939; 1976). The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Author.

Bradshaw, J. J. (1988). Healing the shame that binds you. Deerfield Beach, Fl: Health Communications. CERMAK, T. L. (1986). Diagnosing and treating co-dependence. Minnesota: Johnson Institute. CERMAK, T. L., (1990-1991). Evaluating and treating adult children of alcoholics. Minnesota: Johnson Institute.

Johnson, V. (1973). I'll quit tomorrow. New York: Harper & Row.

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