Narcissism has gone from the relative anonymity of Latin mythology or the contents of the DSM to mainstream headlines. Much of this increased awareness is helpful to those who have been affected by narcissistic abuse, but there are some downsides to be aware of.
The PROS of the increased awareness about narcissistic abuse:
Helps You Find Your Community
“I’m not alone,” is usually the first response when somebody first finds others have a story as twisted and crazy-making as their own.
I know I felt that way. I was certainly no stranger to divorce when my ex left, but the template followed by other parting spouses was meaningless when applied to my ex. He not only disregarded the rules, he kept making up new ones at every turn.
I felt so alone. So isolated in my experience.
Until I first stumbled upon a community taking about sociopathic behavior. And I read stories from others who had experience with people like my ex. I remember feeling giddy with the discovery, flying down the stairs and announcing to my friend, “I’m not the only one!”
There is enormous power in finding others that share your experience.
Assists With Scrubbing Off the Target
When I thought I was the only person that had been subjected to the upside-down world of covert abuse, I took the entire experience personally. I believed that I was the target of, and the purpose for, his twisted lies.
Once I learned more about narcissistic and other similar traits, I started to see the common patterns and understand that these behaviors occur no matter who is in their way. And once I understood the universal nature of the favored tools of manipulation and control, I started to feel less like a target and more like collateral damage.
And I was able to accept that just because it happened to me, it didn’t happen because of me.
Provides a Common Language
It’s interesting how the term “gaslighting” is rarely known until it is lived.
Once you find yourself in the world of recovery from narcissistic abuse, you’ll learn the language that describes your experience. Maybe for the first time, you’ll be able to put words to what you lived through.
And there is something so powerful about assigning a name to something – it begins to give you some dominion over your experience. And having some semblance of control after emotional abuse is a powerful and healing feeling.
Reassures You That You’re Not Crazy
So many people who have been affected by a narcissist refer to their story as, “Hollywood.” That’s because the character(s) and the plot twists are often so extreme that they should only exist in a movie.
And yet they’re real. Fiction crashing into real life. The resulting debris can make you feel as though you’re crazy, like you don’t have a grip on reality and you’re living in some hellish limbo between worlds. Finding out about the characteristics of narcissistic abuse can provide welcome reassurance that you’re not crazy and that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.
Gives a Framework For Understanding
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome after suffering from narcissistic abuse is how to handle the internal questions –
Why did they do this?
How could they have done this?
Who is this person?
Are they even capable of love?
Once assigned, the label of “narcissist” gives a framework for beginning to understand these seemingly unanswerable questions. As you study, you learn about the gaping holes within a narcissist and how they strive to fill them. You glean some insight into their lack of empathy and their attempts to manipulate and deceive those around them. You still can’t quite grasp it (nor do you really want to be able to understand that frame of mind), but you feel like you have at least some comprehension about how and why this happened.
Offers Tools and Ideas For Recovery
When you’re dealing with a narcissist, the normal rules of engagement do not apply. It can leave you feeling isolated and hopeless as you try to navigate back to yourself. The increased awareness of narcissistic abuse gives you signs and even guides that can help you find your way.
This is perhaps the greatest gift of the expanded insight into this phenomena – the creation of an informal database of ideas and strategies to help you recover from the covert abuse. Breadcrumbs left from those who have been there to help you find your way through the darkness.
The CONS of the increased awareness about narcissistic abuse:
Can Encourage a Narrow Focus
Imagine you’ve been hit by a car. You’ve survived, but you have some serious injuries that will require months, if not years, of rehabilitation and therapy. How much of your time are you going to spend researching the make and model of the car that hit you? And much of your energy are you going to dedicate to your own healing?
Once a label of “narcissist” has been assigned, it can be tempting to act like you’re writing a doctoral thesis on the disorder, researching and analyzing every last detail and interaction. Yet energy is finite. If you’re focusing it on the narcissist, how much are you leaving towards your own recovery?
Simplifies the Explanation
Sometimes it seems like “narcissist” has become synonymous with “asshole.” It’s both a watering-down of the term and a misunderstanding of the underlying pathology. Even when the label does appear to fit, it’s still a distillation of that person, an oversimplification.
Furthermore, it can be concerning when laypeople conclude a psychiatric diagnosis without formal training or clinical diagnostic instruments. It often ignores the role that addiction can play in the appearance of personality disorders and it may confuse other similar or overlapping conditions. The label of “narcissist,” when informally applied, is better used as a construct for understanding than a definitive diagnosis.
May Promote Victimhood
When something so life-altering happens, it’s easy for it to become your identity. To begin to see yourself – and project yourself – as the victim of a narcissist. And yes, you have borne the brunt of the narcissist’s attack. You have weathered the emotional abuse. Yet you are more than what was done to you.
One of the problems with labels – any labels – is that we try to use them to describe the entirety of a person or situation when really they are simply a type of shorthand. The quandary with the term “narcissist” is that the other side of the coin is “victim.” And that’s not what you are. You’re a survivor who is going to use what happened to become better and stronger and wiser and more compassionate.
The Community Can Become Enabling
Support communities for narcissistic abuse (or for anything really) can cross the line from helpful to enabling. This happens when the focus becomes on the stories, each person competing for the “Most Likely to Become a Soap Opera” award. It occurs when victims are overly coddled and encouragement to move forward is lacking. And it happens when the shared identity becomes more “victim” than “yeah, this happened but I am the driver of my life and I’m not going to let this detour keep me off course for long!”
The needs of narcissistic abuse survivors evolve over time. At first, the primary needs are the reassurance that you’re not alone and the almost compulsive drive to tell your story. As the shock begins to fade and the rawness of the wound begins to scab, there is a need for understanding and hope. Often around this time, encouragement (even in the form of some tough love), may be needed to move through the events of the past. A healthy community provides support for those at every stage and discourages people from staying in the early phase for too long.
Can Distract From Personal Responsibility
The abuse you endured is not your fault. You did not deserve what happened to you and you are not the cause of what happened to you. I am so sorry that you’ve been thrust into this nightmare against your will and that now you’re struggling to heal from the inflicted psychic wounds. It sucks. It’s not fair. And it’s something that you will never forget.
The narcissist’s issues are theirs to deal with (or not, as they tend to do). Their choices, and the associated consequences, are theirs to own.
And your choices are now yours to make.
You’ve survived an encounter with a narcissist.
And what are you going to do now?