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Are They Toxic or Narcissistic? Do Labels Really Matter?

by | Sep 16, 2022 | 2 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

When I decided to focus this blog on dealing with narcissists, I assumed that we could simply slap the label “narcissist” on anyone who treated us poorly and made our lives difficult.

While learning about narcissism certainly helped me in my situation, I came to realize that calling people narcissists who have never been diagnosed as narcissists is unfair.

This is why I have decided to change a lot of my content to move away from referring to people as “narcissists.”

But does that mean we can simply ignore the way they treated us and sweep the entire situation under the rug?

No!

What we can do is call them toxic based on our experiences.

You don’t need a psychologist or psychiatrist to label someone as “toxic” – just look through your text messages, emails, and voicemails or remember the way they treated you face-to-face.

Remember the way you felt or feel.

All the evidence is there!

We can call them toxic with narcissistic traits since many toxic people do exhibit narcissistic behaviors. We can talk about narcissism as a mental health disorder in order to understand how the toxic person treated us.

But from now on, I will not be referring to anyone in my past or difficult partners as “narcissists.” They will be known as toxic ex-partners and toxic ex-partners with narcissistic tendencies.

To help you better understand the distinctions and similarities, let’s look at what makes a person toxic and why, in the end, labels don’t really matter.

Toxic Person Definition – What Makes Someone Toxic?

Think about the adjective we are using to describe these types of people – “toxic.” The term toxic implies something that is poisonous and can produce negative effects over a long period of time.

Toxic people are those that create conflict, stress, and emotional pain in your life. They are manipulative, self-centered, controlling, and needy.

These behaviors can stem from an underlying mental health condition such as narcissistic personality disorder or from something like low self-esteem.

Basically, they treat other people like garbage in order to feel better about themselves, but in more ways than simply putting others down or being insulting.

They behave the way they do to put themselves above others, and they justify their behaviors to avoid guilt or shame.

Signs of a Toxic Person

The first step in recognizing whether or not you are dealing with a toxic person is to think about how they make you feel during and after your interactions:

  • Do you feel confused and unsure of yourself?
  • Do you feel drained, angry, or anxious?
  • Do you feel bad about yourself?
  • Do you always feel like you need to help them?
  • Do you feel guilty saying “no” to them?
  • Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them?
  • Do you find yourself adapting your own behavior to deal with them?

Sometimes toxic people are easy to spot because drama follows them everywhere they go. You may notice other signs such as their constant judging of others, their neediness, and their knack for blaming everyone else for their problems.

However, some toxic people hide these traits when you first meet them, acting like sweet and caring individuals. Their toxic behaviors escalate over time, and you may not even notice you are being manipulated right away.

Like many personality traits, toxicity exists on a spectrum. You may come across toxic people who are generally easy to deal with and others who make your life absolutely miserable!

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

As I mentioned, toxic people may have an undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) – but it’s not up to us to decide if they do or not.

But understanding NPD can help you better understand the toxic person you are dealing with and how to deal with them.

Again, my content is going to refer to these individuals as toxic, but they share very similar traits to narcissists, and navigating their behavior is pretty much the same.

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition where a person has an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for excessive admiration and attention in order to address their fragile self-esteem.

This leads to troubled relationships and a lack of empathy for others.

Signs of a Narcissist

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is used to diagnose mental health disorders, a person only needs to exhibit 55% of the identified characteristics to be diagnosed as a narcissist.

But even though we can’t officially diagnose someone as narcissistic, recognizing the signs of a narcissist is an easy way to determine if you are dealing with someone who is toxic.

A toxic person may not necessarily be a narcissist, but someone who displays narcissistic traits is definitely toxic.

Here are some signs that someone may be narcissistic:

  • They act superior to others and are always the best, right, and most competent.
  • They have a constant need for attention, and the attention they do receive, such as love, admiration, and approval, is never enough.
  • They expect everything to be perfect, and life should play out exactly as they envision it.
  • They manipulate others and try to control everything.
  • They don’t take responsibility for their actions and blame others for the outcome.
  • They don’t respect boundaries and believe that everything belongs to them.
  • They have little ability to empathize and can’t understand how other people feel.
  • Anything that goes against the way they see themselves and the world is perceived as a threat.

Again, we can’t diagnose people as narcissists, but these signs are definitely indicative of someone who is toxic, and we can certainly label them as such!

Am I Dealing With a Narcissist or a Toxic Person? Does It Matter?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the person you are dealing with is truly narcissistic or not.

When it comes to identifying people as toxic: If it looks like a duck and quack like a duck, it’s a duck!

And while we shouldn’t call them narcissists, it’s okay to learn about narcissism in order to understand what you are dealing with and how to deal with it.

This is why I’m still going to write about narcissism as a mental health condition, but I won’t be referring to people as “narcissists.”

When it comes to supporting you and your struggles, I simply want to cast a wider net. We don’t have to get hung up on labels in order to address the hurt and challenges that come with dealing with toxic people.

But we have to call them something – so let’s call them toxic!

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Let’s create a supportive community and navigate the complexities of co-parenting with strength and resilience!

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I think this article is a headliner. After learning about narcissism and doing a healing program, I am finding this issue arising in myself. I have dissected many relationships and patterns and the result is not black and white. The space in between is what has to be navigated. Framing narcissism has been beneficial and that has brought to light tools to help navigate life and relationships better. Feeling safe to do this is another challenge. It takes work to gain a decent perception of what is happening in relationships. Hopefully, and with skill, the healthy perceptions will make life a bit better.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Thank you

    Reply

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