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.)
7 thoughts on “The Proliferation of Narc Abuse”
Love this, and agree fully. I’ll take this one step farther though…
…people seem to be starting to use the term narcissist to deny any culpability on their own part for the breakdown of a relationship.
“Oh, what happened with your relationship, why did it break down?”
“It was because my husband/wife was a narcissist.”
In relationships, we start off as individuals. As the relationship develops, hopefully there is a shift from being a me to also being part of a we. When stressful situations happen, or when relationships arise, it’s completely normal (and bad for the relationship) to withdraw from the “we” side of things and focus more on the me again. That’s just human nature.
And it’s those same individualistic choices that seem to get the label narcissist these days.
Yes, someone can be quite selfish – but that doesn’t make them a narcissist. If you really want to be liberal with the label, I’m sure you can find reasons and scenarios where you can apply the label to absolutely anyone.
But whether someone was a narcissist or not, when a relationship breaks down both parties have played a role. When a relationship breaks down it’s important to step back, try to understand what went wrong and what you could have done different in order to learn from it and do better next time. To ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. And even if the other person is largely to blame (which is subjective), it’s important to face the mirror here.
When someone doesn’t, and just throws a label on something all they are doing is preventing themselves from moving forward in a healthy manner.
Just a word of caution as it is a common conception that it takes 2 to tango. I would agree, but only if one is talking about a ‘normal’ relationship. However, there is nothing ‘normal’ about a relationship with a Narcissist (you can substitute Psychopath, Sociopath, or any other Cluster B Personality Disorder you prefer). The only ‘normal thing is their MO when it comes to relationships, and the personal trauma and collateral damage they do to others.
If the primarily culpable partner was indeed a narcissist, it is completely (I would have used bold text on the word ‘completely’ if I had the option) that the relationship ended due to no reason, or even a petty one at that.
Those of us who have been through this, and subsequently studied (i.e. voraciously read), got ourselves into therapy, over-analyzed, etc. the series of events, and eventual discard/grand-finale, are not to blame. There was absolutely nothing we could have done better or differently, and even if we had, it wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome. Their targets/victims are never enough!
You wouldn’t want your ‘2 to tango’ statement to come across as any sort of ‘victim blaming’ which so frequently happens.
consider your word of caution taken. I am by no means suggesting that the victim is at fault, or blaming the victim. If that is how you read my comment, then either I wasn’t clear or you misinterpreted what I was attempting to say.
Lisa’s initial post talked about how the label of narcissist is fairly new, but has become more common recently. I agree with that, and think that because there is some understanding of what a narcissist is, it becomes very easy to look at any selfish behavior and incorrectly apply the label narcissist.
When we do that, we are taking the “easy way out”.
This is not to say that narcissism doesn’t exist, and that the realities aren’t very difficult and painful for people who are used and abused by narcissists.
There are many, many stories out there of people who wake up one day to the “tsunami divorce”. They think life it going well, and suddenly it’s over. There partner is done with the relationship with no warning, and no chance to work on things or improve whatever the problems may be.
This happens, a lot. And I actually have firsthand experience with being on the receiving end of that. It destroyed me, and turned my world upside down. As you said, I didn’t have a chance. And looking back there is probably nothing I could have done to change the outcome.
With the breakdown of my relationship, I put the blame 90+ percent on my wife. It was her choices and decisions that put us in the spot we were in. To this day, I don’t see anything that I really did wrong.
But was it narcissism? Maybe, maybe not. At the very least it was poor relationship and communication skills. My only “mistake” that I can think of was I accepted certain things about my relationship that I probably shouldn’t have. In hindsight there were some warning flags, but I thought I needed to accept my wife for “who she was”. In doing so, I thought I was being a good husband.
After reflecting on you your post, I must conclude that even with ALL of the information out there regarding Narcissism, I still wouldn’t have known to apply that term to my own seemingly sudden ‘discard’ or ‘grand finale’.
As you stated, because of the cheapening of the term, I just though the term narcissist was a synonym for one who is conceited or arrogant.
It is only because of the trauma inflicted on me, my need to understand, and the fact that my lawyer mentioned that my ex is a narcissist (and that after only having spoken to her for a few minutes about why I was inquiring about a divorce), that I began this journey to learn the truth.
Just to show you how clueless I was…
I recall my ex, asking me in front of my ‘friend’, (i.e mistress in disguise) if I knew that she was a narcissist. I looked at her, perplexed as to why he would say such a thing… I didn’t think she was arrogant or conceited? ( I guess you could say she was covert)
In retrospect, I can only surmise that in order for them to even been having that conversation she must have been formally diagnosed at one time! Afterall, what Narcissist would actually confess to being one??
Unfortunately, even today I would have been just clueless as to the severity of the label. It is not a term to be used flippantly or as a synonym. It is a dangerous disorder. And despite the statistics about the small percentage of those who would be diagnosed as Narcissist, I must disagree. (and where do those stats come from anyways, the sub-population of those who have been incarcerated?) In general, Narcissists do not seek counseling, so how on earth could there be even a close approximation as to what percentage of the population merit the diagnosis? I think there are far more of them out there than we realize!
I’m just glad that I now know what a Narcissist is and can at least warn others in case they have the same misconception as I once did.
I don’t think it would have made any difference in the outcome. I have observed that when the marriage relationship comes to the point of dissolution, one person once it over as quickly, and cheaply, as possible and the other wants to fight about every detail and run up an ungodly amount in attorney fees by not cooperating.