Whether it is in blog or Facebook comments about one’s ex, mother, boss or neighbor, there is often the casual drop: “He’s a narcissist.” It is often used with such a tone of fact and assuredness, as if the word could be easily replaced with “German” or “ambidextrous.”
A psychiatrist can make a diagnosis that is narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD. This is a serious mental health issue that causes the victim and those around them severe suffering. All of us have narcissistic tendencies, just like we have egos and get angry and feel jealous occasionally (or a lot).
Hell, I am an artist! I am hugely narcissistic (as my own ex is prone to remind me)!
I see around the internet and in in-person conversations frivolous use of the word. Unless your ex (or boss or mom) was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, tossing around the word is a) akin calling them a fucking asshole, or some other flagrantly derogatory term, b) demeaning those who really do suffer from a true personality disorder, thus heightening the stigma for those who need help.
It doesn’t help that headlines like the Huffington Post article, ’18 Ways to Spot a Narcissist’ paint this common personality trait as a quality worthy of being a social pariah. In fact, ‘a narcissist’ is just a really annoying, self-absorbed person. Except when they have a diagnosable personality disorder, which calls for empathy and treatment.
As one mom told me: “My ex did receive an NPD diagnosis during the course of our divorce – from two different psychiatrists. Seeing the term used so much for people who are experiencing what is conflict in coparenting minimizes the terror that is NPD at best. It is very difficult to coparent at times for everyone. That doesn’t mean they are a narcissist.”
This overuse of a the word is a symptom of our victim culture, one in which any conflict is equated with abuse. Yes, it is helpful to understand what makes our current or ex partners tick, in order to better understand ourselves, and to better communicate with one another. Tossing around arm-chair diagnoses perpetuates a culture of blame and victimhood.
Let’s elevate the conversation, take responsibility for the power of our own language, and be forgiving of others — and our own — character quirks and shortcomings.
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