We just love our labels, dont we? 

He’s a narcissist.
She’s codependent.
They’re stonewalling.

I think it’s because we’re seeking to understand ourselves and each other. We want to know why we do the things we do. We want to make sense of our experience.

Let’s say, for example, you have the following going on in a relationship. You know in your gut that something is wrong but when you ask the other person about it, they blow you off. They call you crazy. When that happens over and over, you start to second-guess yourself. Maybe you’re wrong. When that pattern continues, you start to not trust yourself. You turn away from your intuition and begin looking for guidance from the other person, not just in this relationship but in all relationships.

Then, you find out this behavior has a label…gaslighting. The benefit of having a label is that you begin to understand what’s happening to you. You start scrolling through #gaslighting and it makes you feel seen. The further you go down the rabbit hole, the more validating it is. You find out gaslighting is a tactic used by narcissists. You read that they also guilt trip and love bomb. You realize your loved one does those things, too. OMG! Your mom (spouse, sibling, child, friend) is a narcissist! Of course! It all makes sense now!!

Once you’ve categorized someone, the winds shift a little.

You move the focus away from yourself. When we pin that label on the other person, everything becomes their fault and therefore, their work to change.

Let’s back up a minute though.

We have some responsibility, too, don’t we?

We reacted to their behavior. In the example of chronic gaslighting, we’re the ones who eventually stopped trusting ourselves.

We’re also the only ones who can fix that.

I think that’s the limitation of labels, and made so much worse by social media. People are Tiktok-diagnosing themselves and everyone else in their life, but not always in an empowering way. I’m totally guilty of it. What’s not to love? It gets me off the hook. When I’ve decided this person or that person is a narcissist, I don’t have to take ownership of my own behavior. Waaaayyyy easier. Just not so healthy. And definitely not beneficial for my personal growth or my relationships in the long run.

I think when we figure out something important (like that we’ve been gaslit for a long time in a relationship), we have to resist the urge to give all our attention to blaming the person who did it. We need to gently come back to ourselves. Without judgement or shame, what responsibility do we have for how we responded? How did we turn away from ourselves? What do we need to do to start trusting ourselves again?

Of course, we also need to think about the destructive pattern. Can we be the person we aspire to be in this relationship? What boundary do we need to put in place? Is this someone we should be involved with at all? Those are important questions, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I love labels. I have learned more about myself from labels than I ever could have without them. I also know that they’ve only helped me when they pointed me toward where I want to go and illuminated the path for me.

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