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“These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” ~ Najwa Zebian
Trauma. Abuse. Gaslighting. Stonewalling. Baiting. Triggering. Love-bombing.
These are the biggest and most recent mental health and toxic relationship buzzwords.
I suppose I forgot toxicity.
We read about them, write about them, and argue about them, but what about when it’s real and we live through these situations…and it goes well beyond conflicting attachment styles?
What about the ones who shudder when they read that if their ex was a narcissist then they’re also a narcissist and have an intrusive flashback to the name-calling and character defamation and blatant disregard for their basic human rights? Even without reading the content, simply by seeing a title, and even knowing that it was meant with no harm.
What about the ones who took care to check off the boxes to make space for a person in their life before they met a narcissist and unknowingly gave them a seat at their table?
They exist. They matter, too.
As many toxic relationships as there are out there that are fueled by two people not wanting to face themselves, there is another side of the coin.
Sometimes it is black and white in these situations. Sometimes, one side sounds so outrageous and drenched in anxiety and self-doubt and tears, while the other side is delivered by someone cool, calm, and collected who’s saying, “I don’t know why they’re so upset. They really have a hard time regulating their emotions. I love them, but they need some help.”
This is what happens when these buzzwords, these labels, are used regularly and taken apart and diminished. It creates situations where even professionals don’t realize the danger that’s present because it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation.
Many times, the dangerous party is labeled with a phrase that has become diluted. And the other party is labeled as “just too sensitive,” in regards to someone who’s “just an asshole.” What follows when the “sensitive ones” seek help is being questioned for not filing police reports or documenting every single event, while in reality, it’s happening so rapidly every day in too many ways to recount and their brains are too confused to properly express themselves.
Because sometimes, simply telling your truth isn’t enough.
This is a nightmare no one should live—but also one that no one should feel ashamed for experiencing.
Yes, the essence of who we are is simply a memory. Our energy, gone. The amount of energy it takes to stand up to it, huge.
This is the ugly, sad, and not-so-glamorous other side to that whole narcissist, empath, toxic buzzword coin.
Here’s the reality: life-damaging narcissists do exist. It is estimated that up to 6.2 percent of the population is diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But that seemingly small percentage comes with some extra weight: the global population is nearly 8 billion. One percent totals 80 million people. Even if the statistics are accurate and we begin at the baseline and then dial it back, it’s not a little. It’s a lot.
And that leads to a lot of downsides. For one, severe and long-standing abuse that feels like it has no escape or end, which is exactly what is said to cause Complex PTSD.
Another one? No matter how sharp your memory used to be, it won’t be any longer. It’s a symptom, and often not permanent, but it’s at its worse when you’re in the thick of it. The moments you should be “documenting it,” you’re more likely to be sobbing for quite some time, possibly dissociating for some more time after that.
Also, a symptom? The stress disorders created from this often lead to being labeled as a “highly sensitive person,” yet that’s a symptom of the abuse and not always the truth of who the person was before it. It’s not an assumption to be made lightly about someone in this situation.
And sadly, a lot of times the narcissist knows to not leave bruises where everyone can see them…until they slip up and do. When the big slip up happens, it becomes painstakingly clear and sad that it had to reach unmistakable and severe physical abuse for it to be believed or taken seriously to get what they’ve asked for in cries of help.
It is possible and worth noting that the person who’s in relationship with a narcissist may be highly aware of the abuse but doesn’t know how to begin to find a way out. And even so, they may be mustering baby steps toward it.
And maybe they’ve been told a slew of convincing lies that were so custom-made for them that even an expert would have some trouble catching. They are blindsided and grieving, and the denial and bargaining stages are strong.
They are also losing a loved one, and experiencing their worst trauma at that person’s hands.
It’s also not just walking away from someone they loved deeply—it’s knowing they could benefit from intensive therapy that they don’t want but that jail could also be a consequence. It’s blocking someone and knowing that going no contact may not fix things. Because often, this situation is not that simple—it’s not your run-of-the-mill toxic love affair with a messy breakup.
If you find yourself as the person experiencing this, or you’re the one being entrusted with their story, you will likely feel helpless.
If you’re on the receiving end of someone telling this story, the only thing you can do for the “empath” is one thing: believe them. Let yourself feel helpless and believe them so that they may rise out of their helplessness.
Don’t hold judgement for what their toxicity might have been in the situation. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t hold judgement if they don’t take the escape plan you make for them. Don’t hold judgement for them not leaving sooner. Believe them and hold space.
But whoa, hold on, wait a minute, it’s not all bleak and grim! There’s another thing about this dynamic that we should shed some light on. A different side on a shiner coin.
More times than most, there is a level of empowerment, growth, understanding, and vibrancy that the abused experiences once they safely escape and rebuild their life. They will be forever changed, but better—often in a gentle, egoless, and abundant way.
They do not seek revenge for the moments they experienced. They know that their hearts will grow larger, wiser, and beat harder; that will be revenge enough, bittersweet at that.
They will not wear the label of highly sensitive empath or victim or survivor.
They will outstretch their wings to others, while having the new skill of protecting their energy and knowing that they are, simply, human. They are alive.
When we perpetuate the buzzworthy version of the Narcissist/Empath conversation, we’re potentially taking away at least 80 million voices of people who have actually encountered and been deeply affected by someone on the spectrum of this disorder. Voices of people who are struggling to use their voice as it is, people in places so shaky that being summed up in this way dulls the fight they have inside of them.
One percent. I am certain that those who fall into that 1 percent have impacted more than one person in their life. The numbers seem to be getting a little off the charts. Remember, I’m shooting way low here, below the estimated percentages.
What we have seen develop is a lot of valuable information being shared years ago, and a lot of folks who decided to run with it and label everyone they disagree with as a narcissist and all people they see as too sensitive as empaths.
Yes, God please, let’s stop labeling each other as narcissists and empaths. Let’s stop trying to prove an equal amount of guilt in a union’s toxicity and let us not discredit the fact that these actual situations happen much more than any of us are aware, as well.
Sometimes, it’s not 50/50.
Sometimes, someone really did the work they needed to have a healthy relationship and truly believed they were in one, and got entangled in something that doesn’t need to be dissected at their detriment.
Sometimes, it’s not also their fault. But that doesn’t mean they won’t scoop up every single lesson learned, either.
So here’s my advice for the “empaths“:
Through navigating this, in a whimsical twisty-turvy sort of way, that’s where you fall in love with yourself fully.
This is why giving up is never an option.
In the aftermath, you will learn that patience is a virtue. That time really does heal. That romantic love enhances—it does not complete.
That you are surrounded by more love than you could ever know, and not all of it is in human form.
Whether 1 percent or 6 percent of the population has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, our goal should be to shut down the Narcissist/Empath buzzword narrative and go back to being, and treating others, as human. We can learn our attachment styles and find healthy ways to hold our heads up and keep going. And, perhaps, instead of labeling one person as the “asshole narcissist” and the other as the “overly sensitive empath,” we can make more of an effort to rehabilitate those who are suffering and end these cycles once and for all.
And please, do not assume that the person in the nightmare is equally responsible for creating the nightmare. Don’t insult or minimize their experience by casually labeling them as an empath or highly sensitive person.
They know it’s not meant as a badge of honor.
But with or without your help, and with all of the strength they’ve created within, they will become so much more than one word as they learn to come home to themselves.
And that, my friends, is the most important part of the story.
“If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise.” ~ Rupi Kaur