Starving to Give is the most damaging flaw of a co-narcissist (Cinderella Part Deux) (healing after narcissistic abuse)

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Starving to Give is an attempt at belonging that doesn’t lead to the satisfaction of true connection.

Debbie Happy Cohen, Founder of Joy-Based Living programs and coaching community

Quick definition of co-narcissist: A co-narcissist is the person who is (or was) targeted by a pathological narcissist, and now has a unique set of superpowers, wounds and perspectives which are similar to someone challenged by the effects of cult abuse. Here’s the original Cinderella blog post which includes a more complete definition.

In the ambience and coercion of narcissistic abuse, the questions “WHO AM I?” and “WHO DO I WANT TO BE?” are punishable offenses as a person’s core identity is the target of the abuser. (Yeah, you might want to read that again, I had to.)

Co-narcissists are highly strong, resilient, self-reliant and GIVING… to a fault. But why? Because:

  • when one’s core identity has been threatened through fear
  • inside of an atmosphere where that person is coerced and conditioned to FACE THE OTHER AT ALL COSTS
  • and PREDICTABLY MEET THE OTHER’S NEEDS, FEELINGS, DESIRES at the expense of their own
  • when one is punished for being in the limelight and/or showing signs of individuation / power / self-competence


Not out of pride. Or martyrdom. Or genuine generosity (though it really does feel generous if overgiving has become part of one’s personality). One learns to overgive because:

  • overgiving has become associated with security and safety.
  • overgiving falsely assures you that you do have connection.
  • overgiving falsely assures you that you are strong and resilient.
  • overgiving gives you a sense of identity.

Overgiving, by its definition, is a compulsive behavior. It’s not conscious. And – sorry guys and gals – it’s not really authentic.

I used to smile all the time. Me and my best friend Mindy in 2nd grade were both smiley kids. Fast forward 30+ years and I’m on the phone with a grand master therapist across the country and within 2 minutes she asks me, “Have you always been a smiley person?” “Yes, of course,” I replied. “Do you think you were born that way?” she queried. “I think so,” I said with doubt creeping into my voice, my mind and my body.

O shit.

This was the beginning of my deepest and darkest night of my soul. I grieved for 6 months. 2 days after the call, I called her to ask her if I needed to go to the emergency room because I wasn’t sure if I was having a heart attack. She responded (my paraphrase):

What you’re feeling is grief. It’s physical. I wish I was with you because I would hug you physically. Can you call a friend who can give you a real hug? What you’re experiencing is boundary-less grief. Moms hold their babies when they cry because this gives the baby a boundary. Energetically, there’s a stopping point. But for you, the grief is going into outer space and whirling back at you and it’s overwhelming. As a child, you probably experienced something similar. That’s why you stuffed it and covered it up with a smile.

From that day forward, I no longer felt compelled to smile. My smile came out because it felt real. My daily energy increased significantly (how does one measure energy? – gallons – meters – miles – volume – distance – ah, I just looked it up – CALORIES or WATTAGE or HORSEPOWER, YEAH!). I stopped stuffing sadness and I learned to get my needs met.

For me, part of overgiving included smiling all the time to communicate, “I’m fine, I don’t have needs. I’m here for you. Let me help. Let me be there for you.” LORD HELP ME! WHAT A BUNCH OF BS!! How much support did I deny myself? How many opportunities did I miss, or sabotage, through that insane, warped, twisted way of being? That’s not the real me. That’s not innocent. That’s life on DEE-FENSE! (basketball crowd chant). It doesn’t grow dreams. It opposes the will to thrive and keeps one in survival mode.

Starving to Give is an attempt at belonging that doesn’t lead to the satisfaction of true connection.

You may be struggling with overgiving as a false identity if you find yourself having difficulty:

  • asking for support
  • noticing that support is available to you
  • receiving support
  • naming your needs
  • naming what you need in order to thrive
  • articulating what you feel
  • moving forward with strong and clear momentum
  • recognizing when a relationship is not reciprocal
  • leaving toxic relationships or conversations
  • breaking old bonds (in your mind even after you’ve left the relationship)

Over the last 3 years I’ve been actively practicing self-care in the forms of honor, commitment and loyalty toward myself and those who are in my tribe. The members of my tribe have been “working out” these muscles along side me. This has been extremely empowering for all of us. We are collaborating in more creative ways and coming up with unique solutions to our individual challenges which highlight how we strengthen honor, commitment and loyalty to ourselves and to each other.

This looks like: conscious giving, conscious receiving and cleaning up “power leaks” in our relationships. It means being able to articulate where we’re heading. It means turning toward one another for encouragement, validation, affirmation and support as needed. Not as a replacement for our own authentic inner voice, but as sacred spaces which help us clarify what’s naturally wanting to emerge. It means getting comfortable with words like POWER and MONEY.

Speaking of which, I am flexing my receiving muscles by asking you and inviting you to support my work here at Patreon. I love writing these posts for you and it would be a joy to receive your support as well. The links are below, and THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!

And by the way, if you resonate with this post, you’ll LOVE strengthening your honor-commitment-loyalty muscles with the JBL 12 Practices E-book and journal (includes videos).

Much love,

Happy D!

If you become a Patreon supporter today, you’ll receive free goodies through my special offer  which is only available through March 13! The free goodie spotlights the #1 Key Phrase for healing from narcissistic abuse and will reinforce it for you through meditation and inspiration!

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