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Toxic, parasitic co-dependent relationships

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

My divorce, after an agonising two years, was recently finalised. Entering the "dating game" again has made me seriously evaluate and re-evaluate my relationships. After all, our relationships are the cornerstone of our lives and part of how we see ourselves, and the affirmation and validation we get is through both our own self awareness of where we fit in relation to another; but also in the reflection of ourselves that we see in someone else's eyes.

The people you meet...

In order for me to form healthier, stronger, happier, more balanced intimate relationships I recognized that I would have to look at where my previous relationships have failed or broken down. I would have to take responsibility for my role in that.... "mea culpa". I would need to look at my own expectations and assumptions when entering into relationships. I'd have to look at the repeated patterns of my relationships, and the people I was not just attracted to, but have been attracting. This has been a really eye-opening and very challenging process for me. It is really hard to look at myself and realize that I have played a very real role in entering into and sustaining the unhealthy, co-dependent, toxic, parasitic relationships that have in many ways, defined my life! Tonight I had to give a speech at Toastmasters, and I chose to speak on how we are no more than a self-fulfilling prophecy - we become what we tell ourselves most often. Whilst on the one hand this is empowering since we can choose to change the narrative, on the other it is terrifying since it means we have choice and that life doesn't simply happen to us, we aren't just dealt a hand of cards. We choose to accept the cards and play the game and take on the roles, feed into them.... whether consciously or sub consciously. Our repeated patterns and habits become entrenched as personality traits. It was only by recognizing my own complicity in a co-dependent, parasitic or toxic relationship I can change the course of my future relationships and life going forward. I am an empath, this is why I have been drawn into the helping profession, it is why I have done so much philanthropic work, it is why I am drawn to help disempowered or "stuck" people and help them find their voice, their answer, their way forward. This seems extremely altruistic, and indeed I always saw my compassion, caring and empathy, my desire to make the world a better place, as commendable, valuable, essential and vital. It has always been how I get my recognition, my affirmation, my validation. It is how I know that I am a "good" person, someone worthy of love and respect. I have now had to look at the shadow side of my altruism, in order to see why I am attracted to and attract the relationships I do. The relationships which have taken me to the brink of extinction, rather than distinction! My name is Dido.... I am an Empath, and I have a long history of being drawn into relationships where I have been preyed upon by sexual predators, trapped into co-dependent relationships, seduced by narcissists, and been utterly depleted by the demands of "perpetual victims". I have had a pathological need to be needed and my pathological giving/ caring combined with my willingness to sacrifice myself (my ego, my needs, my identity) in serving others has led me down a nihilistic road. I have had to rise, as a phoenix from the ashes of a marriage, to first mend my broken wings and trust my own strength to fly again solo, slowly flapping upward. Only then can I soar on my own terms and choose which convection current to use to uplift myself as glide effortlessly. I have this bird's eye view of my life and found the courage to find insight and perspective, it is only now that I can consider finding and entering into healthier, more balanced relationships.


(The following information on Empaths and Narcissists is adapted from the online You Tube videos of Abdul Saad <> with thanks!)

Empaths have a Pathological need to give <> They have the false core belief that 'if I am good to you, love you and give you what you need, you will love me, be good to me and give me what I need without my having to ask you for it, or even having to make my needs known to you'. An empath’s pathological denial of their own needs and willingness to self-sacrifice sets them up to be a martyr and sets them up to be the ultimate prey for the narcissist. That said the "niceness" of an empath (the attempts to be agreeable, to mediate and be a peace-keeper at all cost) is actually only skin deep because underneath it grows a resentment because their own needs remain un-acknowledged and un-met! Ironically Empaths won’t acknowledge or request their own needs are met and in fact go to great lengths to BLOCK all attempts to have their needs met because deep down they believe that would make them needy, selfish, defective human beings. This explains why empaths stay with narcissists in a parasitic co-dependent relationship. The Narcissist has no problem expressing their needs and this triggers the empaths pathological need to give (and the expectation of reciprocity is never met or only met very haphazardly/ intermittently). Finally the empath can no longer deny their own needs and becomes explosive and wanting “pay back”. They try to force the narcissist to comply with or meet their needs! Get locked into a lose-lose co-dependent relationship with the narcissist. The narcissist is incapable of reciprocity, cannot feel your pain, Only way to heal is to move from niceness and wanting to rescue others to boldness and authenticity. Abdul Saad identifies three types of Empaths or rather levels of empathic functioning which occur on a continuum. <> 1) the Authentic Altruist - high level of self-awareness, aware of internal motivations and choose when to give/ help, know their limitations. These are realistic - they know when to help someone (can recognise if someone else is appreciative and receptive) or when not to do so is more prudent. The Authentic Altruist does not go beyond her own limitations, (e.g. experience, expertise and won't develop compassion fatigue or burnout). The Authentic Altruist is not attached to the outcome of the giving. She understands the receiver (or the other person in the relationship) also has autonomy, choice and responsibility in the exchange. She is mature, grounded and gives divine grace. She is acutely aware of her 'shadow side'. This is the highest level of empathic functioning.

2) The intermediate level of empathic functioning is the Proud Helper… it is at this point that the empath starts potentially setting themselves up towards co-dependency. They have a genuine capacity to help but they also have a strong 'need' to help the other person. This need to be a guru or rescuer is egocentric. She engages in self-deception and believes she has a unique talent, aptitude and expertise which can help someone else. It is at this point that empaths also become resentful when their attempts to help are not appreciated or reciprocated, but they still have enough resources to suppress this - may lead to passive aggressive behaviour and resentment. They are still moderately self-aware.

3) is the Co-dependent helper with a pathological need to heal, save, or rescue another person. Here the empath has become addicted to rescue a person. They develop habitual patterns of behaviour and continually enter into abusive and co-dependent relationships (often with narcissists). Their resentment escalates and they lose themselves and perspective and exhibit patterns of behaviour such as becoming irrational, hysterical, threaten suicide, mu develop psychosomatic illnesses. They develop compassion fatigue and their view of world becomes jaded as they become more cynical and disillusioned. They start to see the world as a persecutory place and to start seeing themselves as helpless and a victim. Empaths often say they knew all along that something was very wrong in the relationship but they allowed themselves to believe a narcissist's flattery despite knowing things were “too good to be true” they allowed themselves to descend into co-dependency and a toxic parasitic relationship. ​<> With Empaths, there’s a hyper-activated attachment system (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin - "feel good hormones" are released very easily when they bond = creating a neurobiological biofeedback loop). Narcissists or victims trigger the empaths need to please and feed into both how they get affirmation from giving, as well as triggering their fear of abandonment or judgement if they don’t give of themselves. The Narcissist triggers feelings of guilt and the empath’s inner critic, so Empaths then have to overcompensate and prove their worth by giving more of themselves (and expecting nothing in return).

This video, "the Empath in trouble' vividly describes exactly my descent into hell at the end of my marriage. I became a person I no longer recognised, overwhelmed, embittered, cynical, angry, resentful, hostile…. I became angry with, and deeply suspicious of the world. Instead of being the peace keeper, the mediator, the cheerleader, I began creating deep rifts and became increasingly disagreeable and hugelyresentful. I was burnt out and assumed a distorted cynical view of the world. I was alienated, isolated, defensive and cynical!!!! I became numb and struggled to connect with others (something that had always previously been so vital to me). I became traumatized and I started feel persecuted and see myself as a victim with the world pitted against me. It was a self-protective device but it was also very polarized and black and white…. you were either with me or against me! As As Abdul Saad points out, sadly if the victim narrative is not affirmed by a person, then the person (even if it's a supporter) is cast aside. In my case I dismissed any friends that I had met through my ex husband, without exception. Even my own support group and close friends were easily dismissed or even deleted if they questioned my motives, behavior or perspective. If someone tried to play devil’s advocate, I then lost trust in them and felt judged by them. It's of course highly seductive (on an unconscious level) to become a victim because it absolves one of any responsibility. I assumed a simplistic and skewed view of the world. I developed severe Compassion Fatigue, Vicarious Traumatization and burnt out. For Empaths who, like me, have been hurt, and become wounded healers, you need to overcome the suffering and not become a victim or fall into unhealthy defensive ways of finding safety and protecting oneself.…. I learnt the hard way that the descent into self-pity and isolating oneself to “lick one's wounds” is actually disempowering, immature and selfish /self-centered. Misery loves company and I made poor choices in terms of where I got solace, misery feeds off negativity… once you look into the abyss that abyss also looks into you. It requires a lot of soul searching to gain self-awareness, I needed to take a decision, a choice and the responsibility to deal with things and see what exactly went wrong (and my role in it too) . I needed to grow up and almost be reborn…. less innocent and naive, more likely to trust my gut in future but not embittered, hyper vigilant or cynical about people and their motives. Not only did I need to know myself but I had to open my eyes to my nemesis, the narcissist. Narcissicts are created not born <> but are a very resistant personality type unlikely to reform or change. Most of us know about the obvious, Overt or Grandiose Narcissists <> The traits of the Grandiose Narcissist are the grandiosity , exhibitionism, a superiority complex, lack self awareness, exaggerated sense of self importance/brilliance/superiority, a hugely inflated ego. People who seek to dominate and exploit others, they are highly competitive, intensely aggressive, and very aware of hierarchies which they seek to dominate and will lie and cheat way to top. They are often highly energetic, often charming and and seductive, they know how to flatter people in order to get their way. Alternatively, they may devaluate, discard, dismiss/ banish someone when they no longer meet their need.. Their predominant emotions include: excitement, elation, fun, charisma, they are prone to boredom, anger/ rage, extroversion, high energy, assertive, quick to approach people, impulsive, take risks, and are low in conscientiousness. Abdul Saad puts Gradiose Narcissists into 3 subcategories <>

The Narcissistic men I tend to attract are more insidious. They're the Covert Narcissists <> These individuals are painfully shy, riddled with inferiorities/ insecurities, shame, vulnerability and doubt They are painfully self aware and vulnerable to envy/ jealousy. The stand-out feature of these people is how self referencing they are….. they are“me” deep in conversation…. it is all about them, their thoughts, their sensitivities, their feelings, their opinions….and it makes them painfully hypersensitive to criticism, hyper-vigilant to insults and feel slighted because they think everything relates back to them and is about them, even when it’s not. A great deal of focus on what they could have been or become or achieved and how their 'specialness' has not been fulfilled or acknowledged because they were dealt a particular hand of cards. Abdul Saad puts Covert Narcissists into 3 subcategories or levels of functioning: <> This sliding scale of dysfunction in covert narcissism ranges from introversion - painful self awareness, neuroticism, a hidden inferiority complex or sense of defectiveness to the release of anger i.e. displaced aggression and righteous indignation usually onto an empathic scapegoat or naive person. Covert introverts cannot seem to bridge the gap between their idealised grandiose self (that has been blocked because of unfairness, injustice, circumstances or people) and the reality of their lives which is often not very flattering (because their painful shyness and awkwardness prevents them from becoming “a winner”). The way they bridge this gap is by obsessively focusing on what is blocking their greatness to becoming actualized. They become resentful and angry at those factors and people that have/ are blocking their greatness. When one first meets them they seem to come across as humble, self-effacing, and meek….They are incredibly aware of social norms and they need to conform yet deeply resent the norms… They are masters of the backhanded compliment, passive aggressive/ covert aggression. They Brood, they resent and they ruminate. They despise dominance hierarchies because it reminds them where they stand and they will try to bring these hierarchies down. The main emotions prevalent in Covert Narcissists are: shame, anxiety, contempt spite, disgust, schadenfreude (joy at someone else’s misfortune). Their predominant traits or temperament: high on neuroticism, prone to obsessiveness, negative affect, depression, anxiety, high on approach avoidance (shy, softly spoken) many are risk averse, covertly disagreeable and low on dominance (passive resistance)…..

In order to heal and become a more functional Empath, Abdul Saad recommends the following steps to recovery <> 1) Calm your nervous system. Empaths are born with a very sensitive nervous system and are highly attuned to the energy around them and are easily energetically depleted by people around them - energy vampires, narcissist, predatory people, victims etc. Need to regulate or calm the NS. Dis-regulation of the stress-response. (alarm phase - fight-flight)mode adrenalin released)…. if stressor continues (e.g. chronic abusive relationships leads to resistance stage of stress and body goes into an anti-inflammatory response)….. finally get to Burnout or exhaustion. reclaim your energy and reclaim your power from energy vampires, narcissist, predatory people. Fill up own cup so you aren’t depleted. Remove energy vampires from your life! 2) Reduce your need to please <> Overcome your fear of being unloveable or inconsequential, fear of being without worth or significance, substance and consequence if you are not constantly giving. Tend to reach out in assertive way to find need (to fulfill need to please). Need to see it as your giving being a sign of your overt worth. Giving is a manifestation of my worth…. Need to feel good enough and worthy then CHOOSE (not need) to give of oneself. The other fear is the fear of being without protection, a deep-seated fear of being vulnerable. Empaths are anxious that they will be blamed or there will be retribution if they are not agreeable, and helpful.... they feat things will go terribly wrong it they challenge the status quo or rock the boat. Need to reclaim power, freedom/ independence and internal resources. Empaths need to arm the internal warrior, assertiveness and authority.... they need to learn to say "NO!" 3) Shrinking the internal critic <> The Empath's Judge/ internal critic is the repository of 'put downs', wounds, harsh judgements that we have accumulated/ internalised. The internal critic is very masterful at triggering self-defeating, hyper critical messages and old wounds. Stress increases our tendency to judge ourselves unfairly. The Narcissist has an uncanny ability to trigger an Empath's judge. A narcissist intuits the vulnerabilities of others and manipulates them for their own needs. During stress we no longer silence, dismiss or question our internal critic. We don't dismiss them but instead listen to it and can’t disconnect from the negative messages. When the internal critic attacks us (during stress) it disables our reasoning systems and we then panic become overwhelmed, cynical, victims or control freaks. To shrink the judge we need to develop coping resources to deal with stress and dismiss people who are triggering the internal critic. Need to strengthen our "internal observer". We need self-awareness to know what triggers our internal critics…. Internal judge is actually a 2 dimensional holographic image that projects onto our consciousness….. when we accept it as a reality, it gets a life of its own and attacks us and sabotages our egos…..

To protect ourselves we need to be able to detect and simply avoid narcissists, We need to develop our own sense of self worth, healthy independence and healthy self esteem. Narcissists are great at picking up vulnerability. As an empath you are intuitive about knowing what people need and giving it, be you need to be acutely aware of when you are being sucked into an energy sucking relationship (energy vampirism). Notice when your relationship is all give, just way too much hard work on your part, or excessively one-sided…. and when it is leaving you feeling unfulfilled, empty or depleted. Narcissists are very good at feeding into your need to give. They are very good at projecting their feelings onto you and if you internalize them you feel shame, feel not good enough, feel incompetent and helpless or hopeless. You need to get a return on your relationships with people you are worthy and deserve it. People need to invest as much as you are into a relationship for it to be healthy and balanced. The rules of reciprocity do not apply with a narcissist…. he cannot empathize and the normal rules of give and take do not apply. If you find yourself being self-effacing, negating your achievements, limiting your talents and and hiding your accomplishments it is because somewhere you realise that a narcissist feels envy and jealousy. You instead sacrifice your own ego for his ego and for the sake of peace. be very careful what you share with a Narcissist he will use what he knows about you, against you. Finally, wise-up! Get rid of all desires to either reform or get even with a narcissist…. you need to develop boundaries and leave the parasitic relationship ASAP! I am now at a place where I give out of choice, not need. I no longer need to be needed. I do not get validation and affirmation by pouring my energy, time and resources into a black hole of need. I do not want to be someone's extension of themselves. Nobody needs to complete me, and I am now unwilling to complete someone else..... I am worth so much more than being a PART of someone else..... I would then rather just be apart! I echo what a good friend of mine says "Very recently started rock climbing, and that has taken me to the edge…. has made me realize what life is about…. those breathtaking moments where life is cherished in the moment (as it hangs in the balance )…. Has also taught me what I want in a partnership…. to be able to climb to my greatest height and be supported all the way to the very edges of my ability and beyond, and when I am terrified and feel defeated, I am granted the grace and held in suspended animation by someone I can put all my faith in, so that I can lean back and evaluate my options and see what hand and foot holds are beyond the ones I thought were possible! This is a metaphor for my ultimate idea of a truly transcendent relationship… two people do NOT become one person (and two half people), instead they each become their own person, a better person! Each is supported on their own journey wherever that may lead and at the pace they are able to go, relying fully and without question on the person who supports them… it is the ultimate balanced two-way relationship.... based on faith and trust!"

I'm not looking for a hero

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