Are We Over-Using the Terms “Narcissism” and “Gaslighting”?
Narcissism and gaslighting have become part of our everyday vernacular.
The debate on whether or not they are being over-used seems to be firmly split down the middle. Some believe that we are throwing a blanket statement over people and it’s become trendy rather than accurate. Others believe that they finally have a language for their experience after years of emotional abuse. These terms are everywhere. You can’t turn on a news station on either side of the political aisle without these terms thrown around. Even Taylor Swift just put out new song lyrics about Covert Narcissism. Gaslighting was actually defined as the word of the year for 2022!
As a clinician experienced in working with personality disorders for over a decade, my answer to whether or not narcissism and gaslighting are being overused is yes…and no.
For starters, I will say that narcissism is a diagnosis that a licensed mental health professional can make. Additionally, narcissism is not someone who appears arrogant or doesn’t take responsibility for something. It’s not even the person who looks entitled or spoiled. It’s not the person who is manipulative at times and comes across as a greasy salesman. A narcissistic personality disorder is a pervasive, lifelong pattern of severe loneliness and shame. It is caused by developmental trauma and covered up by:
- Maladaptive coping skills of lacking empathy for others
- Extreme victimhood
- Belief in their superiority to others
- An actual inability for true intimacy with others beyond a surface level
- And crippling shame that disables their ability to take accountability for virtually anything
As a clinician, I think the term people are looking for is “narcissistic traits,” or more accurately, “emotional immaturity.” I absolutely do see trends in society where people come across as more entitled, struggle to see another person’s perspective, and are unwilling to examine their actions and offer a genuine form of amends. I just don’t think it, in most cases, equates to a narcissistic personality disorder, which is a very serious mental health diagnosis.
The difference between emotional immaturity and an actual personality disorder is that the prognosis is much more positive with regard to therapy.
Emotional immaturity can be made better with psychoeducation, healing of old wounds through techniques that are evidence-based like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and good old-fashioned boundaries and accountability from their loved ones.
Gaslighting is manipulating someone using psychological methods into questioning their own sanity or powers of reasoning. I think people are overusing it because we are simply calling any manipulative behavior gaslighting. To actually meet the criteria, the manipulation would be much more calculated than this. For the true gaslighter, it’s an outright psychological manipulation to make a person feel as if they are crazy. Or, that something is severely wrong with them in an effort to avoid accountability for their own actions.
With all of that being said, I can absolutely empathize and clearly see why some people are so happy to see and use these terms being used more frequently.
A true victim of narcissistic abuse or gaslighting can go through years, and decades, of being purposefully emotionally active. They also receive blame, have their abuser labelling them as crazy, and receive increasingly poor treatment. Simultaneously, their abusers often have a large amount of cognitive empathy. Meaning they have the skills at presenting as charming and likable and are able to come across as good people. This is on a more superficial level with neighbors, casual friends, and co-workers.
The combination of the charm in public and the abuse at home leaves the victims feeling utterly alone. Sometimes, that can be quite crazy making. The victim of narcissistic abuse often actually meets the criteria for CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) and will need much psychological help to regain belief in themselves and trust their own intuition. In my opinion, a large number of people rejoice because they are receiving language and attention to describe their own personal hell, and we shouldn’t discount that.
My final analysis would be that we should be careful before labeling people based on singular behaviors.
Everyone has some narcissism in them and every human walking the planet can be manipulative at times. That doesn’t make them clinically personality disordered. It just makes them humans with some work and maturing to do. I would caution the general public to stick to terms like “emotional immaturity” or “manipulative”. But, also acknowledge that all people (including ourselves!) are flawed.
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