|Little Girl in a Blue Armchair by Mary Cassatt|
I apologize for writing such long posts on my blog. Experts advise people to write short and simple entries; otherwise non-returning readers won’t increase our status on search engines. That’s true. When time is short, I skip long entries on blogs, too. Since there is no way to condense the topics I write about, I have given up on my google status. It’s a necessary sacrifice for a woman who figures out what she ‘thinks’ by the time she’s finished writing.
There I go again---writing in third person. Another Red Flag for narcissism. Would that narcissism could be so easily spotted as writing in third person or using first-person-“I’s”. (Any narcissist worth his or her diagnosis will avoid the capital “I” now that people are counting “I’s” as a means to define a narcissistic personality.) The more people define Red Flags, the quicker manipulators disguise their behavior. That’s fair to say even though it’s not comforting to someone who barely survived the narcissistic relationship and is terrified of a second trip through Hell. We want certainty, not more ambiguity!
I write from the layperson’s perspective since I’m not a professional and so far, it’s been incredibly valuable reading psychological literature and applying it to my life. "Making sense of nonsense" is how laypeople put it. This is how we ‘use’ psychological information to better our lives.
Speaking of bettering our lives through easy access to psychological information, I’d like to comment on the “armchair diagnosis” by people who misuse DSM criteria. We’ve all seen this happen and maybe some of us have suffered from the Red Flag Syndrome at some point in our learning, seeing a narcissist where there isn’t one. When you’re afraid, and when you’re suffering, and when you’re protecting yourself as best you can, it’s easy to see narcissism in anyone with a crumb of self-confidence. Our hyper-vigilance may lead us down the sorry road of victimizing others because we fear being victimized ourselves. So here’s a Red Flag: Be aware of the Red Flag Syndrome. We all get it. But it passes.
For my family and I, who loved my x-husbaNd dearly, access to psychological information encouraged compassion and yes, even forgiveness. Our compassion has resulted from a deeper understanding of his difficulty discerning love from idealized love. We stopped taking his rejection personally and that has been a great gift from easy access to psychological information about narcissism.
People Label People
People label people whether it’s an official label or not. Like calling someone a ‘black sheep’ because they react differently to life than the rest of the wooly clan. Isn’t ‘black sheep’ a label that stigmatizes people, explaining their behavior in a way that interferes with empathic connection? When we don’t understand why someone behaves the way they do, and if we have tried time and time again to sympathize with their problems, we may resort to using labels from the common lingo. Like “Jerk” for example. Or “Romeo”. Or “Jezebel”. Or “He’s a Marlboro man”, or maybe even “She’s a Doormat.” Each of those labels provides a meaningful exchange of information in a social context.
Since my family has a history of ADD cropping up in successive generations, we formerly called ADD relatives “Rebels” because they defied the rules of family members who did not have ADD. With a psychological diagnosis though, our closed hearts were opened. We learned about ADD, recognized the challenges someone with ADD faced that the rest of us didn’t, and confronted our judgmental attitudes resulting from ignorance and of course, frustration.
When we’re helpless to help someone we care about, it’s easier to blame than it is to face powerlessness.
The Armchair Diagnosis
Now, some psychologists hate it when the public uses diagnostic labels. Especially labels like NPD, BPD, Histrionic, or any of the personality disorders defined in the DSM-IV, now available to layfolk because of the Internet. I can understand psychologists’ resistance; especially when criteria for personality disorders leads to animosity, polarization, a lack of compassion, increased hostility rationalized as justifiable.
The faulty reasoning in this argument against psychological labels is that people stereotype and categorize with or without the DSM. I also believe that the stereotypes and labels formerly ascribed to people who contradicted morals and values of a particular society or family clan, were ever bit as much if not morepejorative than a psychological label. That’s because there was no understanding or explanation for someone’s behavior that was eventually reduced to being "A Rebel."
What people like myself are trying to do is make sense of someone’s behavior whether we called them jerks, or more accurately: narcissists. In fact, (and yes, I am biased in favor of psychological labels), understanding why someone behaves the way they do opens a pathway for empathy and eventually, compassion. We may be angry at first, we may go through a period of hating how a pathological person impacted our lives, but eventually, we say: “There but for the grace of God, go I”.
Psychological information explaining behavior that causes so much suffering for others, propitiates our natural tendency to empathize and forgive…even someone who may be unable to reciprocate empathy or take responsibility for the harm they have caused others.
A Leather Chair?
However, there are those who abuse DSM criteria with an “armchair diagnosis” maligning people’s character, discrediting them as leaders, and blaming them for having maliciously abused people’s trust or taken advantage of people’s naiveté. I see this frequently on blogs and websites using DSM criteria to dethrone powerful authority figures, celebrity figures, politicians, anyone in the public spotlight. Even psychologists have joined in the mobbing with their own ‘leather chair diagnosis’ which unfortunately, carries a lot of weight with laypeople who trust psychologists’ credibility as reliable and objective experts.
When a layperson suggests someone has a disorder, most people recognize their subjectivity as an attempt to make sense of their relationship; but when a psychologist suggests someone has a disorder, they are basing it on professional authority. I do not like it when psychologists throw their weight around with a purely subjective interpretation, using their credentials like anchors in a sea of public opinion.
That’s my two cents on “Leather Chair Diagnoses on the Internet” and a professional concern about damage caused by the layperson’s "Armchair Diagnosis".