Attachment Trauma Causes Codependency

Attachment Trauma Causes Codependency
Attachment Trauma Causes Codependency
Written by Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Self-Love Recovery Institute — President/CEO
PsychotherapistEducatorAuthorExpert Witness

An Excerpt of the Unreleased 3rd Edition of
The Human Magnet Syndrome: The Odyssey from Soulmate to Cellmate

The pathological narcissist's core shame and debilitating attachment trauma require the restorative and almost medicinal value of the child's "giftedness." By siphoning feel-good "units" from the "gifted child," they can maintain a structurally weak sense of pseudo-self-esteem and a veneer-thin sense of self-importance. The stakes are high for the narcissist to always keep at least one "gifted" child in the family. Failure will cause the conscious re-emergence of their core shame, which causes an unfathomable existential crisis.

The narcissistic parent-gifted child relationship is psychologically and relationally inverted, as the child provides emotional comfort to the adult when it should be the other way around. Making narcissistic parents feel good about themselves provides a treasure trove of emotional validation, praise, and attention. It virtually guaranteed the child special status in the family if they maintain the "little prince" or "princess" position. Falling from grace is not an option; the child is reminded daily that failure at their "job" will have costly and painful consequences.

The child who succeeds at modifying their emotional reactions to neglect, deprivation or abuse is rewarded with the highly coveted position in the family as this parent's "favorite" child. This child becomes a long-fantasized "gift" bestowed on the parent that soothes their mostly unconscious feelings of inadequacy and core shame. The "gifted child" is rewarded by being lavished with conditional love, respect, and care, while others in the family fall prey to the narcissistic parent's damaging whims and reactions.

Managing, controlling, and being responsible for a narcissistic parent's emotional ups, downs, and all other potentially unpredictable fluctuations is no simple task for the favorite, pleasing, or trophy child - the future codependent. However, such survival pressure is responsible for the highly accurate, learned, emotional antennae or radar the child uses to scan the physical and emotional environment for potential landmines constantly.

By repackaging their desires/needs, feelings, and free but dangerous expression of themselves, they morph into a shadow and silent version of their selves. Unfortunately, such a dysfunctional metamorphosis spares them the worse fate, which most other not-so-malleable and likable family members cannot escape. 

The constant state of flight or fight and the necessity to adapt to the landmine-riddled family environment requires the suppression of the child's instinctual and reflexive emotional reactions such as frustration, anger, and disappointment, while reacting in a way that makes the parent feel good about themselves. The forced adaptation to the insanity into which they were born inescapably requires developing and mastering coping strategies. Therefore, the future codependent becomes adept at psychological gymnastics to avoid even worse attachment trauma. Over time, the forced pleasing and accommodating role they perfected at a very early age allowed them to become their narcissistic parent's "stage adaptation" of their self-consumed life.

Attachment trauma is not just what happened to the child, but their experience. For example, the vicarious trauma of observing the chronic and horrendous abuse in the child's family while being spared the same can be more psychologically damaging than if they found themselves in the crosshairs of their narcissistic parent. Such traumatic observation constantly reminds them of the cost of faltering at maintaining their "favorite" role in the family.


Ross Rosenberg M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, is Self-Love Recovery Institute’s CEO and primary contributor. His internationally recognized expertise includes pathological narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and attachment trauma. Ross’s “Codependency Cure™ Treatment Program” provides innovative and results-oriented treatment.

Ross’s expert educational and inspirational seminars have earned him international acclaim, including his 23 million YouTube video views and 240K subscribers. In addition to being featured on national TV and radio, his “Human Magnet Syndrome” books sold over 150K copies and are published in 12 languages. Ross provides expert testimony/witness services.

More about Ross and his educational and inspirational work can be found at www.SelfLoveRecovery.com.

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