Updated: Jan 19, 2021
I believe that labelling has been a dangerous trend in our society for quite some time, but especially lately there are some trendy new labels that I think are extremely harmful to all of us and they are flooding social media. In fact, if you opened up Facebook right now I bet it would only take you a few seconds to find an article about narcissists, and how people who fall into this category are the scourge of the earth.
Personally, when I read these kinds of articles I can’t help but somewhat shamefully identify with some of the traits that these so-called narcissists display. As an only child, I realized a long time ago that I can and sometimes do, have a tendency to be selfish. It’s just a natural part of growing up without siblings. You can play with all of the toys any time you want. You can watch whatever you want on T.V., provided your father isn’t already watching the news like mine always was. My point is that it is somewhat inevitable that I would have some narcissistic tendencies as an adult after growing up in a household where I didn’t often have to fight or compete to get my needs met.
I would also argue that even if you aren’t an only child you have also exhibited behaviour that would be deemed at the very least selfish at some point in your life; that you also have to ask yourself at least once or twice when you are reading those articles: “Am I a narcissist?” I’m sure at least one or two of the examples of narcissistic behaviour in at least one of those articles sounds altogether too much like something you did or said in your last breakup, or the last time you quit a job. I don't even have to meet you to be fairly certain of this, whether you want to admit it or not. You can say that I’m wrong, but you are most likely lying to yourself if you do.
Now, I’m not saying that anyone who is reading this is actually a narcissist, in fact, that’s my whole point: I don’t believe that anyone is actually a narcissist. At this point you probably want to angrily comment in disagreement, and tell me all about this idiot you go to college with or your latest ex-girlfriend, and about how much of a narcissist he/she is. I’m not denying that people don’t display a wide range of ‘toxic’ behaviours, including narcissism. I’m also not going to disagree with anyone who says that some people are more prone than others to exhibiting ‘toxic’ behaviours, and to make those behaviours into patterns that affect their lives and the lives of people around them. I’m just saying that no one, myself included, has the right to decide who someone else is solely based on the behaviour they display in a given situation or relationship. We as individuals definitely have a right to decide what kind of behaviours we want to deal with from the people in our lives. All the same, once we start pointing fingers and labelling other individuals as ‘toxic people’ we are really only getting ourselves into trouble in my opinion.
Firstly, whether you like it or not how you feel about someone’s behaviour is an opinion, not a fact. Let’s take ass slapping as an example of a behaviour. Some people, myself included, find that to be a turn on in the right context. The context being extremely important here because if I don’t know you slapping my ass on the street will make me extremely uncomfortable and probably get you punched. On the other hand, I have friends who find an ass slap degrading in any context, which they are totally within their rights to believe, but that doesn’t make me liking it wrong. Opinions about behaviour are based on a person’s previous experience and the context in which the behaviour is occurring, and even labelling a behaviour as ‘toxic’ doesn’t really seem accurate if we start to break the ideas down. Since humans exhibit a large range of behaviours, and we can’t even really label a behaviour, how can we begin to think we have the right to label an entire human as toxic or narcissistic?
When we start deciding that a behaviour is good or bad and that the people who exhibit that behaviour are also good or bad we are in dangerous territory. Labelling people can create a self-fulfilling prophecy if those people decide to believe that the label you’ve given them is accurate, so a label may actually increase the chances that someone will exhibit the behaviour that earned them that label to begin with. I also don’t believe in moral absolutism. In fact, I believe moral absolutism is often the basis for the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality that is infecting this planet in so many negative ways. Behaviours are reactions to stimuli, and like morals, they are extremely subjective. Personally, I don’t think that yelling is an effective way to communicate, and I tend to not hang out with people who yell a lot. Yet since I didn’t create the universe I’m not going to presume to know that yelling makes everyone uncomfortable and anxious and is therefore bad. I’m just not that arrogant, even though some people might still say I’m a narcissist.
Secondly, you cannot change other people. I feel like that sentence should be in all caps with hand-clapping emojis in between each word because a sick part of me still doesn’t even believe that. We as humans can influence one another, but we absolutely cannot make each other behave a certain way. As I said, every once in a while I forget this, and I think that I can get my father to stop trying to tell me what to do, or that I can get my boss to stop listening to Nickelback. When this happens I have to give my head a shake, and then I remember to do things like bring my headphones and I-pod to work, so I don’t have to listen to Nickelback. And that’s kind of the point: I could bug my boss or argue with him about music, but all that time I would still be listening to Nickelback—and potentially losing my job—because, say it with me now: you can’t change other people. Even worse is the fact that when you focus on their behaviour you just get frustrated, and forget to do things like bring your headphones, which is a pretty simple behaviour that you actually can control, because it’s yours. That is how you really solve the problem of listening to Nickelback.
The problem we humans seem to have with focusing on our own behaviour is that if we do that, we will have to question whether or not we are narcissists, and ultimately admit that we are also an asshole on occasion; that somewhere in the world there may be a person who thinks that we are ‘toxic’. If you focus on yourself it does generally leads to some self-reflection that makes you question the labels that you have given to others, and to yourself, over the years. If you are one of the many people who can’t handle self-reflection who wants to continue giving away your power, by all means, keep labelling and blaming everyone else for the experiences you encounter. I personally think it would be a lot easier if we could each admit that we are all assholes from time to time. It’s ok, it happens to the best of us, and I think being real about that is a much better place to examine your choices from than a soapbox. If we could each step down from our self-appointed judgement podiums we might actually be able to make this world a better place by working together.