When Calling out Narcissism Becomes an Ableist Way of Discussing Toxicity
Nowadays it seems that a day can’t go by without acknowledging a new narcissistic person in your life. Your mum, your ex-partner, your doctor, and now, even your cat.
It may have started with a few self-diagnoses, which in turn lead to a big introspection and ended up making us believe we're equipped to point out everyone's flaws, and identify all the narcissistic traits around us.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to be "woke", wanting to cut toxicity out of your life or expand your light and love through the world. However, it is time to take a step back, clarify the term toxicity, and recognize the ableism in diagnosing every 'toxic' person or behavior as a narcissistic disorder.
These days, it's mandatory to be a bit selfish (in a positive way) and necessary to learn how to put limits between us and the people that surround us. And, although I find this fantastic and I wish I personally knew how to say "no" more often, this almost frenetic necessity to put boundaries around us, has started a process of high intolerance to what we personally believe are toxic behaviors. This is the root of the problem because it seems that having some sort of toxic behavior immediately transforms you into this horrific monster that will never transcend human life and ascend into the 5th Dimension. And let me tell you, I don’t know if we are transcending or not, but the bad news for us is: we are all "toxic" in some way.
What is it like to truly live as a diagnosed neurodivergent (i.e. having a diagnosed mental disorder)?
There are people with an actual diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder who live ordinary lives without abusing or manipulating anyone. They might go to therapy regularly and try to make this world a bit better. Their life, as the life of many other diagnosed people, is not easy. First, the society we live in isn’t designed or even suitable at all for the way their brain functions. Social norms, chit-chat, social gatherings, or even mundane actions like taking a shower or brush their teeth, can become a very hard thing to do for most neurodivergents. In addition to that, now imagine being disrespected or offended on a daily basis, for having a brain that works differently, when you already need to put an extra effort to exist and be a part of society.
Unfortunately, having a mental disorder diagnosed (i.e being neurodivergent), makes people, more often than we would like, become an outcast of society. Doctors won’t treat them the same because they will always tend to think first that it’s their Bipolar Disorder acting up (or any other mental disorder, really). They probably won’t be able to keep long-term friendships since untrained neurotypical people won't really understand why they won’t or can't go out anymore. I mean, most people still believe depression is cured by just doing things you love, right? And, of course, if a person is diagnosed by a professional with Borderline Personality Disorder, they will likely just be labeled as "toxic" and "narcissistic" and cut out of other people’s lives.
Most of us already know that we shouldn't refer to someone as "dumb" to call out their level of intelligence or lack thereof. So, why do we think it might be fine to refer to people as narcissists, psychopaths, and other extremely ableist ways of calling out what we personally identify as abusive behaviors?
There are several reasons for being abusive and manipulative...
Someone can be manipulative and abusive for many reasons: maybe they can’t break with the cycle of violence, or maybe that's the way they learned to socialize, among many others. What's evident is that showcasing certain toxic behaviors does not equal having any kind of mental disorder. Having a toxic personality trait, or reacting differently or immaturely in certain situations, doesn’t mean someone is a horrible person and should be imprisoned.
Of course, we can’t forget that there are many victims of abusers and manipulators, who are very much hurt by horrible people, who enjoy hurting others or have zero capacity for empathy. But that does not mean diagnosed narcissistic people are abusive. Nor that anyone who is abusive is narcissistic. Neurodivergents can be amazing people with valuable qualities. And your neurotypical neighbor or colleague could certainly be an abuser.
It's been normalized to just classify as a mental disorder any kind of behavior that diverges from what we are taught to be normal. This lesson is so engraved in our brains that we have even started to think that we are becoming crazy when our mental health is just fine. In any case, it's always better to seek help from a professional therapist, who will be able to do a proper diagnose.
It's time to step it up...
You're free to cut all kinds of relations with people who hurt you or don’t respect your limits. However, as a professional, I would highly recommend to stop using mental disorder diagnoses to describe people in any kind of way, good or bad.
Diagnoses are not "a trivial topic" and using them for fun or just to refer to people with certain toxic behaviors is at best, ableist. It is because, as neurotypicals, using those terms without acknowledging the reality behind them and solely relying on our own prejudices, helps perpetuate the stigma around mental health conditions. Only trained professionals have the capacity and ability to make an accurate diagnosis. And as you can imagine, most people using these terms inappropriately have acquired no training other than years of social imprinting.
Remember, it is very important to take care of ourselves and the people around us. Let's try to create a safe and warm space for us as well as those who are like us and unlike us.
Ableism: discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical mental and physical abilities are superior.
Narcissism: or narcissistic personality disorder, is defined as comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy (DSM-5, 2018).
Neurodivergent: A person whose neurological development and state are atypical, usually viewed as abnormal or extreme. A person who has a developmental disorder and/or a mental illness.
Note from the Author:
Please note that if you feel like you might be suffering from any kind of mental disorder or feel like you are being abused, you should seek professional help from a psychologist or a therapist.
This article was written by Irene Calduch
Irene Calduch Ortega works in the field of International Cooperation and Social Projects management. With a degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Development, International Cooperation, and Community Action, she believes the work done by NGOs is just a patch for the bigger structural problems of society. For that reason, she advocates for individual and collective change through critical thinking education that will hopefully lead us to unwrap our society's functioning and help us improve its current state.
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