Labels like codependent and narcissist can help us find our way through big, hard-to-understand experiences. But if we want to heal and make positive changes, eventually we have to drop them.
If you’ve been through a traumatic divorce or breakup, chances are pretty good that you view your ex as a narcissist. It may not be entirely accurate by the psychology professions’s DSM-5 standards, but it can be a handy way to put a label on what the hell just happened to you.
When I first learned about narcissism, it helped me make better sense of why and how my marriage ended. I got a little obsessed with it and spent time on websites like www.melanietoniaevans.com, which can be useful at first. But as time went on, I dropped it.
It wasn’t until my latest post on unhealthy relationship dynamics that I realized why I stopped using the narcissist label: writing off our divorce or breakup as another case of narcissism limits us and keeps us stuck. Here’s why.
3 Good Reasons to Drop the Narcissist Label
1. It demonizes the other person. If you walk by a dog and he growls and bares his teeth at you, how do you feel about that dog? Now imagine you look more closely and notice the dog has his leg stuck in a painful trap. Does it alter your opinion of the dog? Ultimately we’re all operating from our wounds and conditioning, and some of us have had more extreme experiences than others. It’s not our place to label another human and assume to know the reasons and intentions behind their behaviors. (For a deeper dive into this, check out The Myth of Narcissism, written by a self-identified altruistic narcissist.)
2. It blinds us to our own self-sabotaging patterns. A mentor once sat me down and broke the news that I am every bit as dangerous to myself as the so-called narcissist. Until we learn to recognize our own faults—and believe me, we all have them—we’ll find ourselves stuck in the same old relationship patterns year after year.
3. It alters our path to moving forward with life. I know because I did it. If you think what happened to you is because your ex is a narcissist, you’ll probably move forward by trying to avoid falling in love with another narcissist. Consequently, you’ll spend all your energy on analyzing and fearing others rather than examining and healing yourself, which is where the gold lies.
When we work on ourselves instead of focusing so much on others, the end game is that we become more whole and naturally attract healthier people into our lives. It doesn’t mean we’ll stop getting hurt, but we will stop getting duped. We’ll learn to lead with love instead of fear, operate with healthy boundaries, and have the courage to stay authentic through the hurt and painful changes that are inherent in life and love.
What labels have you used to make sense of your trauma? If you dropped those labels, what is it that you would have to look at with fresh eyes?