Traffic Jam: Labeling

I was recently interviewed by Gail Fegurson Jones, a friend and professional ally who has created an amazing new podcast about codependency recovery. As I listened to the playback of our talk, I realized I’d referred to my ex as a narcissist. 

It’s a label I pasted on him years ago, based upon what I perceived as his inability, unwillingness or both to take accountability for his words and actions. I experienced these as a relentless onslaught of verbal and emotional abuse. Please note I wrote experienced as. This is an important distinction. 

When I learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I became entirely convinced that was what I was dealing with. I could check off almost all the boxes on the list of characteristics of at least a low-spectrum case of narcissism, and I could also check off most of the symptoms that “proved” the trauma I was experiencing was a result of narcissistic abuse. 

I spent the next several years studying this topic in great depth. I joke that I got the personal equivalent of my doctorate in narcissistic abuse, but there was nothing funny about the effects of this debilitating course of study.

I invested so much energy in learning everything I could about the subject, that I began to experience it with more and more people, including family members I was very close with, and even a childhood friend I considered a sister. It was our first dance of that nature in all the decades we’ve been connected. 

All of these people seemed to be projecting a lot of unjust anger on me and expressing it in very aggressive, hurtful and in the case of a couple of family members, shockingly painful ways. The psychology-based abuse recovery world will have you believe that was external – that all these words and actions were afflicted upon me. It would have you believe I was simply surrounded by narcissists. 

Most experts in that field make careers out of “othering” and villainizing, and feeding off the anger, pain and confusion the members of their online communities are experiencing. They’ll say things like “Narcissists are like rats; if you have one in your life, you probably have a pack.” 

There are many serious issues with this line of thinking. Firstly, it dehumanizes other people. Even if the person you are dealing with really does actually have NPD, it’s not something they chose. You can argue that manipulation and all the other traits of NPD are choices, but can these people control what is behind those choices? No. How do you control something you can’t even see?

Personality disorders are born from survival instincts. They are protection devices gone horribly wrong. What people with NPD, and those who have other disorders like Borderline, need most in the world is love; yet they can only act in ways that push love away. They model the dysfunction they grew up with, same as you might. 

We all do that, until we become conscious. And while this type of relationship can certainly get you there, you’re not there yet if you’re still throwing words like narcissism and abuse around regularly, and believing the stories you’ve woven around them. Believe me; I did it for years. 

That line of thinking also makes you see the world through narcissism-colored lenses, and takes you out of the equation of your experiences. And the biggest problem with that is, you are the equation. Everything that is showing up in your life is a reflection of something internal. There are no exceptions to this.

I know this is going to be a big stretch for those of you who are currently living experiences of abuse or other types of experiences where you feel victimized. Believe me, I’ve been there, in that spot where it seems so completely obvious that someone else is responsible for the pain and trauma you’re feeling and experiencing, and for the fact that you have become a shell of yourself. 

It never once occurred to me that this was because I already was a shell of myself, or was at least trapped in one, before I’d even met my ex! He came along to help me begin cracking out of it. If I’d had the practices and expanded vision I support clients with today, I would have had an entirely different experience than one where I felt victimized, diesmpowered, traumatized and hopeless.

If you believe a verbally abusive, emotionally abusive and/or narcissistically abusive relationship is purely external, I encourage you to look at what is being mirrored. If you insist you have never even said an unkind word to another person, let alone acted in an abusive manner, consider this: If you are in, or were in, a relationship you consider to be abusive, you most certainly did act abusively toward another human being. That person was yourself! 

People who love, respect and honor themselves do not remain in relationships they find abusive, painful and traumatic. They don’t get so emotionally hooked to their partner and addicted to the drama that they can’t leave, even once they can say out loud that they are being abused.

And when they do leave, they don’t go back. Again and again. 

The best advice I got while I was spinning out and trying to figure out whether or not my ex was a narcissist was this: “Stop trying to figure out what he is or isn’t, and put your focus on you and how you feel.” 

I didn’t know what that meant, exactly, let alone how to do it. That’s because my issue was not my ex; it was me. I had no idea who I even was outside my relationships. My entire identity was based on them. My ability to learn that, and also learn what love actually was, were two of the many gifts this man came into my life to deliver. 

It wasn’t the conditional type I thought I was in back then. There’s really no such thing as being in love. There is only being love, which is the truth of who you are. 

I just wrote several more pages, but I’m going to end the post here. I’ve planted a few seeds and have given them some post-Solstice sunshine. I’ll be back to water them soon.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the podcast, which can benefit anyone who has difficulty saying no, setting boundaries, overgiving, giving from a place of depletion and other challenges of people-pleasing and codependency. Gail did such an incredible job with this interview and I can’t wait for her next episode!

P.S. My site is under construction and apparently also getting Mercury retrograded,  so I can’t post pics at the moment. But stay tuned for the new site, and reach out if you’d like some support via Zoom, Facetime or phone.  

About Nancy Koenig

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