In some ways, I wish my divorce was happening today. All I would need to do is supply the word “narcissist” or “narcissist abuse” to my attorneys, my psychiatrist and pretty much anyone else I had to deal with and they would instantly gain insight into the insane world I was attempting to navigate in order to sever ties with my ex.
The use of the label, “narcissist,” in regard to my ex-husband would alert others to following:
-He will not behave according to the standard laws of human decency and interaction. He will lie, project and manipulate anyone who stands in the way of what he wants.
-He will be very charming in person. His intellect will shine through and he will display his expertise at making others feel good about themselves.
-He will make promises. They mean nothing.
-He will concoct elaborate stories that shift the onus of the financial and relationship situation onto me. They will seem plausible. Because he’s good. Very good.
-He will use others for his own gain and then discard them. This extends to his lawyer. Even before payment has been made.
-He was gaslighting me for many years. And it takes time for clarity to return.
But at the time of my divorce in early 2010, the term “narcissist” had not yet left the DSM and entered the common vernacular. There were no templates available for the lawyers and the judge to understand how to handle someone that will manipulate the rules of the game even as they pretend to play. There was precedence for the judge to believe that he would simply ignore her orders, continuing to march to the beat of his own drum. And there was no help for me to start to understand the covert abuse I endured; I still believed that abuse always came with obvious cruelty.
If my divorce happened today, I believe that it would be handled differently. The attorneys would be a bit more aggressive in their demands and less willing to delay based on his excuses. His lawyer would likely have demanded payment up front, not trusting that “the check is in the mail.” The judge may have changed the verbiage in the decree, making the consequences for noncompliance more severe. And I may have received more understanding for the Alice-In-Wonderland-effect of prolonged gaslighting.
Because the proliferation of a label helps to increase public consciousness and understanding of an issue. The more we talk about it, the more we see the common threads and realize we are not alone. The more stories we hear, the more insight we gain into our own experiences as the collective wisdom is cultivated and disseminated.
The popularity of a label can certainly benefit those who fall under its umbrella.
But there is another side to a label becoming in-vogue.
A darker side.
I first went gluten free in 2007 after suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms for several months after recovering from food poisoning. At that point, I had only a vague notion of what gluten was and I had never heard of celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
I only knew that I was hurting. (Along with other things, of which I’ll spare you the details).
Thinking that I may have IBS, I looked online to find the recommended diet and I stumbled across a chart which listed the symptoms of IBS (I had two) and the symptoms of gluten intolerance (I had them all). I immediately pared down my diet to fruits, vegetables and dairy.
And within three days, my bloating and pain were gone.
Each day after the first two weeks, I reintroduced a food. During week four, I got sick again. I looked at the label of the tea I consumed that morning. Third ingredient? Barley. I was further convinced when the ingestion of my multi-vitamin (gluten? really?) brought me back to misery.
In those days, gluten free was anything but trendy. It was unheard of. I had only a small selection of GF products available at the health food store or via mail order that were priced insanely high and tasted insanely bad. I had to forgo eating anything of substance in restaurants and prepare my own food at home using naturally gluten free ingredients.
And in some ways, I wish that my gluten sensitivity had manifested later in life. Because now I can obtain GF pizza, cupcakes and even grilled cheese all within a short drive of my home. It’s a world I dreamed of back in 2007.
But even though I enjoy my GF goodies, it’s not all good.
Because with the popularity of the label comes a cheapening. A watering down.
It’s assumed that I avoid gluten because it’s the “in thing.”
That I wanted to be part of the crowd.
When the reality is that I could not care less about the crowd. I’m doing what I need to for my own well-being.
The increase of the use of the term “narcissist” is much the same. It’s a helpful label for those who are attempting to disentangle their lives from a manipulative and deceptive person. It has brought needed awareness to the fact that some people won’t play by society’s rules. It’s a reminder that sometimes wolves walk around in sheep’s clothing and that not everybody who appears trustworthy is. And, most importantly in my view, it has brought awareness to the fact that abuse can occur quietly and softly behind the scenes.
But as the label is applied generously to everybody who acts selfishly, there is a cheapening of the term. A watering down.
It seems as though everyone’s ex is a narcissist.
At which point, the term becomes useless.
Labels are designed to be a shorthand for understanding. A starting point for awareness. Not an endpoint for assumptions. Or a focal point for your life.
If you identify your ex with the characteristics of a narcissist, then use that collective wisdom to help you understand his or her motivations and actions. Listen to the stories of others and find comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Allow the characteristics of a narcissist to help you separate what was done to you to what happened because of you. Let the label work for you.
Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your ex is a narcissist. (And, if they are, the fact that you are keeping your attention on them simply feeds their desires.)