Publications, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA, 2002 (14th
For the co-dependent amongst us, this may start off as an
uncomfortable read. However, as Ms. Payson makes clear, a
co-dependent is not some inferior species but merely a
participant in a relationship who plays a particular role. As
co-dependents know to their cost, this can be a role fraught
Ms. Payson uses the analogy of the film 'The Wizard of Oz'
effectively throughout the book. This is a story of growing up
and becoming independent, and of stripping away a myth on which
we may rely instead of relying on ourselves. She defines in her
introduction the character disorder called narcissistic
personality disorder (NPD). This has been recognised only
relatively recently, in DSM III (1968), as a psychiatric
The book is aimed at those people who find themselves in a
relationship with an NPD person. They find themselves in Oz,
where all roads lead .to the Wizard, or narcissist. He or she
needs to have constant attention focused on them to relieve
their own poor sense of self-esteem. They are incapable of
empathy and eventually drain the energy of their partner,
colleague or family. They often denigrate the other person and
this can lead to problems of self-esteem for the latter, too.
Anyone who is wondering if they are in such a relationship will
find confirmation within the first ten pages. It may be a
heart-sinking moment to read through a list of 14 questions and
find ourselves answering “yes” to most of them.
Payson has almost thirty years experience as a therapist. She
specialises in supporting co-dependents in narcissistic
relationships. In some cases, people may find themselves in this
position through no choice of their own. If our boss or mother
is an NPD person, it can be difficult to simply walk away.
However, for people in a couple relationship, he or she who is
supporting the narcissist needs to recognise that the
relationship is also serving a purpose in their own lives,
related to their own personal issues. “Generally,” she says,
“these are behaviors that are taking care of others to the point
that you and your needs are lost”. The term 'co-dependent' is
used to describe this role. However, almost anyone who is
interacting with an NPD person will be drawn into a care-taking
Payson aims to help the co-dependent to either deal with the NPD
person or to end the relationship, where possible. However, she
is very understanding of the co-dependent's dilemma.
“Seduced by the narcissist's camouflage of outer charm or
confidence, you are eventually drawn into the nightmare side of
this relationship. By the time you realize that something is
wrong, the cumulative effects can range from bruised self-esteem
to severe depression.”
The book gives many examples of narcissistic behaviour.
An NPD dad will change the family's plans at the last minute to
suit himself. An NPD mum may sulk at her child's wedding because
she is not the centre of attention. And yet, these same
individuals will have an outer air of confidence, very
much in charge. This disguises their unhealthy need for
attention, admiration, status, money or some other of their
numerous forms of control. They are skilled at
manipulating others to satisfy these needs, but incapable of
empathising with them. For instance, money can be an issue for
them, because they see it as an extension of themselves. It's
like cutting off an arm or leg to give some to someone else.
Thus, NPD people are not able to respond in a genuinely caring
way to their families, partners or colleagues.
Chapter 2 goes into detail about narcissistic characteristics,
explaining their possible origins. People with NPD are very
critical and have unrealistic expectations of themselves and
others. Both criticism and disappointment lead to explosions of
anger which make life for those around them quite unpleasant.
Quite apart from the damage to one's self-esteem when being
constantly barraged with criticism from the NPD person in one’s
life, is the potential for physical danger. The co-dependent
also faces the problem that people outside the relationship may
not believe that there is a problem, as they only see and are
charmed by the public face of the NPD person.
narcissist is not able to feel a full sense of him/herself, and
“primarily experiences other people as extensions of himself”.
In chapter 3, Ms. Payson goes into detail about the nine
manipulative behaviours that are used to break down the
personal boundaries of the co-dependent. These range from
admiration through intimidation and constant criticism to making
the person an emotional hostage. Interestingly, she has found
that an idealised childhood is a key indicator of how deep the
NPD problem is. The more they assert that they had perfect
childhood the more ingrained the narcissism is.
Chapters 4 to 7 deal with how narcissism presents itself in
family, couple and professional relationships, and talks of the
healing work that a person can do to recover from having an NPD
parent. Chapter 5 clarifies very usefully the concept of
“childhood wounding” and demonstrates the differences
between how a child who becomes a narcissist responds to
unhealthy family dynamics as compared to how the future neurotic
matter which type of relationship one has with an NPD person,
becoming aware that there is a fundamental problem with the
person engenders reactions passing through several typical
stages. A first stage is shock, hurt and confusion; a second
is accommodation, where one has learned how to avoid the many
land mines that are likely to cause a conflict with the
Ms. Payson sums up the bottom line of the options facing the
accept the relationship as it is and stay
in it because of investment one has made in it, children,
transform the relationship
The last option would be the most positive outcome, of course,
but it requires a high level of commitment and honesty from
both partners to work. However, it is not in the NPD
person’s apparent interest to transform the relationship – from
which he/she gains many benefits.
The last chapter both encourages co-dependents to deal with
their difficult situation and acknowledges how hard that may be.
Ms. Payson says, “Until you recognize that your avoidance of the
problems in this relationship only leads to more losses, you
will likely stay in your comfort zone no matter how unsatisfied
Where professional help is needed, Ms. Payson is refreshingly
honest about psychotherapists. She warns of the importance of
finding a good one, and gives some tips on how to do so. She
doesn't pretend that everyone out there is up to standard. One
of the approaches she mentions favourably is the 'Imago
Relationship Therapy' method created by Harville Hendrix and
Helen LaKelly Hunt. I found it interesting that she advises
against individuals going into therapy in secret. Letting the
NPD partner know that there is a big enough problem to require
outside help is a “precious opportunity to include a warning to
the NPD partner...”
This is a clear, even enjoyable read. Ms Payson has a
no-nonsense, yet sympathetic, approach. She uses real cases
to illustrate her explanations. Her use of italics and
bullet points helps to highlight key ideas and present useful
information in a succinct manner. Each chapter has a summary
at the end. I particularly appreciated her use of the gender
pronouns – she alternates 'he/she' and 'him/her', thus keeping
her references inclusive.
Anyone who has struggled through a relationship with an NPD
individual will recognise a lot of their own painful and
frustrating experience in this book. It is very useful for
identifying the nature of one’s problem and helps to evaluate
concretely what to do about it.