The Human Magnet Syndrome: a refreshing study of narcissistic abuse and codependency

Dana Pham (pronouns: who/cares)
5 min readJun 18, 2019


Earlier this month, I posted Running on Empty: Overcoming my Childhood Emotional Neglect to this blog, which was more than just a book review of Running on Empty by Jonice Webb PhD. In the blog post, I wrote that I caught up with an old friend recently, and yarned to her about my emotional and mental health troubles in life. She aptly responded by handing me a copy of Running on Empty, and a copy of The Human Magnet Syndrome: The Codependent Narcissist Trap by Ross Rosenberg MEd. She advised me to read Running on Empty before reading The Human Magnet Syndrome, and so I did, to lay the intellectual foundations of the former for the latter. The blurb on the back reads as follows:

Since the dawn of civilization, men and women have been magnetically and irresistibly drawn together, not so much by what they see, feel and think, but more by invisible, unconscious romantic forces. This seductive, alluring and seemingly impossible to avoid love force is the Human Magnet Syndrome. It bonds oppositely-matched partners in a breakup resistant rollercoaster-like relationship.

Magnetic-like attraction, or “chemistry”, brings codependents and narcissists together in an enchanting fantasy that can never be sustained. Given time, a codependent’s soulmate dreams will predictably melt away leaving them with the cellmate reality.

This breakthrough book not only explains why codependents habitually fall prey to harmful and manipulative narcissists, but why they predictably sabotage their dreams for freedom, happiness and self-love. Rosenberg’s pioneering work on relationships, codependency and narcissism is a necessary road map for receiving healthy love — both from others and ourselves.

Having read the book, I strongly recommend that every human being on this planet reads it. I believe that regardless of life circumstances, deep down, everyone wants to love and be loved in a relationship. In order to achieve a mutually loving relationship (or friendship), one should avoid giving rise to the Human Magnet Syndrome (HMS), that is, if one is aware of how that phenomenon occurs. Unfortunately, not many people are consciously aware of HMS. Unsurprisingly, Dr Webb wrote the following advance praise, which elaborates the point:

Ross Rosenberg… has identified a previously unnamed factor that makes a significant portion of the population vulnerable to entering into potentially damaging relationships. Ross not only identifies and names the Human Magnet Syndrome, he also describes it in a personal, colorful, engaging way, sharing much of his own personal story to bring it to life… Ross not only redefines co-dependency, he also explains it in ways that are meaningful and useful to the readers… Ross does not blame narcissistic people, or paint the codependent person as a victim. Instead, he describes the complicated “dance” between them, and explains that each needs the other for completeness.

Ingeborg Bosch also provides the following advance praise:

Thanks to Ross Rosenberg… more and more people can discover how childhood attachment trauma is responsible for an adult’s alienation from self, others and the world… many people will find in his work a much longed-for understanding of their unanswered question: why do I keep holding on to this relationship that is hurting me so much?… Ross shows how to start healing from these old wounds, so we can create healthier bonds in which giving and taking are more in balance.

Ross proposes Self-Love Abundance as the ultimate codependency recovery goal, and the codependency he’s targeting is more accurately known as the Self-Love Deficit Disorder. Ross, a recovered codependent, had his life changed by one of his friends’ comment, “Every woman you fall in love with is actually the same person, but with a different face.” Does this sound like you? As they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result every time. Unless of course, the goal is to avoid pathological loneliness, with a mind clouded by rollercoaster amnesia.

An emotionally healthy couple can experience an irresistible HMS that is sustainable, reciprocal and stable. But for people whose parents were emotionally neglectful towards them, especially during the first six years of their life, they will likely to be Running on Empty, and be magnetically drawn to a strangely familiar narcissistic partner. Ask yourself, is your compatible opposite the soulmate of your dreams, or the cellmate of your nightmares initially dressed up as the perfect soulmate?

Early neurological development and the factors that promote and inhibit it are critically important in understanding codependency. By age 4, a child’s brain will have reached 80% of its adult weight (Prabhakar, 2006), and it’s during the child’s formative years that the most rapid physical, cognitive and emotional growth occurs. This is why the books Running on Empty and The Human Magnet Syndrome are important to read!

Ask yourself, was one of your parents narcissistic, and the other codependent? Was your codependent parent the nicest person you never really knew? That’s yes and yes from me; Sigmund Freud was right, we are creatures of our intergenerational past. People tend to duplicate their childhood parent-child experiences in their adult relationships. As codependent and narcissistic adults (in the extreme), we’re both unfortunate victims and willing participants to the HMS “dance”, where chemistry cloaks toxic limerence.

Codependents, who have codependency addiction, are selfless, putting the needs and desires of others above themselves. In other words, they are pathologically caring, responsible, and sacrificing people whose altruism and good deeds are rarely reciprocated. Some codependents become preoccupied with changing and/or controlling their narcissistic partner. According to Ross, a pathological narcissist has one of four personality disorders: narcissistic, borderline, antisocial, and/or active addiction. And the evil practice of pathological narcissism is gaslighting.

Ross’ HMS work culminated in the Relationship Compatibility Theory, graphically depicted in the Relationship Compatibility Continuum as per the image above in this blog post, with Relationship Compatibility Values that can be added/subtracted to indicate compatibility, or lack thereof. Each value is assigned a general personality description, but personality is complex, not simply a spectrum — the Continuum should be taken as a guide only. If someone comes across as a narcissist, think that perception through carefully, because maybe they’re just having an out-of-character moment of narcissism.

The neutral point is a virtually impossible aspiration to have in the real-world, as such, -1+1 is ideal, and -2+2 is healthy. People, being themselves, can move on the Continuum, and so they should. As Ross likes to joke: if two codependents have sex, in the afterglow one says to the other, “Well, I know it was good for you, how was it for me?” A situation to be avoided!

The final two chapters of the book briefly goes through the Self-Love Deficit Disorder and Self-Love Abundance Pyramids, the Ten Stage Self-Love Recovery Treatment Program, and Ross’ US Surgeon-General’s warning. Out of respect for the author, you’ll have to buy the book for the full details. But I promise you, it’s worth it. My only indirect criticism of Ross’ work is that self-care isn’t enough: we need community care to thrive.

The book gets a 4.5/5 rating from me — highly recommended for everyone to read, because according to Ross, “We must end the global blight of Self-Love Deficit Disorder, if not for ourselves, then for our children and their children’s children.”



Dana Pham (pronouns: who/cares)

Trans-inclusionary radical feminist (TIRF) | Liberal Arts phenomenologist from @notredameaus | Anglo-catholic | all opinions expressed here are my own