Narcissists, with their ability to "get others to buy into their vision and help them make it a reality," are natural magnets for the "'co-dependent' ... [with] the tendency to put others' need before their own". Sam Vaknin considered that codependents, as "the Watsons of this world, 'provide the narcissist with an obsequious, unthreatening audience ... the perfect backdrop.'" Among the reciprocally locking interactions of the pair, are the way "the narcissist has an overpowering need to feel important and special, and the co-dependent has a strong need to help others feel that way. ... The narcissist overdoes self-caring and demands it from others, while the co-dependent underdoes or may even do almost no self-caring."
In psychoanalytic terms, the narcissist "who manifests such 'omnipotent' behaviour and who seems to be especially 'independent' exerts an especially fascinating effect on all ... dependent persons ... [who] struggle to participate in the 'omnipotent' narcissist's power":narcissist and codependent "participate together in a form of an ego-defense system called projective identification."
Alan Rappoport identifies codependents of narcissists as "co-narcissists."According to Richard Rappaport, "the codependent narcissist gives up his or her own needs to feed and fuel the needs of the other."Sam Vaknin—"a self-help author who openly discusses his experiences as a person with narcissistic personality disorder"—has identified a special sub-class of such codependents as "inverted narcissists."
Inverted or "covert" narcissists are people who are "intensely attuned to others' needs, but only in so far as it relates to [their] own need to perform the requisite sacrifice"—an "inverted narcissist, who ensures that with compulsive care-giving, supplies of gratitude, love and attention will always be readily available ... [pseudo-]saintly." considered that "the inverted narcissist is a person who grew up enthralled by the narcissistic parent ... the child becomes a masterful provider of Narcissistic Supply, a perfect match to the parent's personality."
In everyday life, the inverted narcissist "demands anonymity ... uncomfortable with any attention being paid to him ... [with] praise that cannot be deflected." Recovery means the ability to recognize the self-destructive elements in one's character structure, and to "develop strategies to minimize the harm to yourself."