Warning Labels

Imagine if people came with warning labels?

Just like packs of cigarettes – a sort of handy “surgeon general’s” warning.

Not sure where it would go. Small of the back? Lower arm? Dog tags?

Obviously, we can’t do this – because while things like cigarettes harm everyone somewhat uniformly – we are affected differently by different people. But – just imagine……


Or “This person may result in unwarranted criticism, frequent deception, carelessness, neglect, and contempt.” Or “Spending time with this person will be fraught with self-doubt, devaluation, and ultimately neglect of your own health and well-being.” Or simply “narcissist who lacks all empathy, and is regularly entitled and grandiose.”

I would argue, as the doyenne of all things narcissistic, that by and large, narcissists are not good for our health. Instead of thinking about this in terms of warning labels, perhaps it is useful to think about this in terms of our health. When you go to a health care provider, or even just read a magazine article about health – everybody knows the basics – don’t smoke, eat fruits and vegetables (and avoid too much sugar or fat), get sleep, exercise, don’t drink too much alcohol, wear sunscreen – these are all tips about avoiding bad things and doing good things.

Odds are, the last time you were at the doctor, s/he gave you a quick tidbit about diet or exercise or some other health habit you need to change. But were you asked about the toxic people in your life? The quality of your relationships? I am guessing not.

Anyone who has been in a toxic relationship (e.g. with a narcissistic spouse or partner), or has toxic family members, friends, or bosses/coworkers- knows that these relationships are likely taking the greatest toll on your health of any behavior or stressor you experience – they are the reason you don’t get enough sleep, that you may rush through meals or eat to cope, that you fall back into unhealthy coping habits such as smoking, drugs or alcohol.

I can tell you as a health psychologist, if you want to change a bad habit, change what happens right before it. And for many people, the trigger that sets off the cascade of unhealthy behavior, is unhealthy relationships. Imagine what life would feel like with a supportive partner, a mother who doesn’t criticize you, a boss who gives you credit for your work?

It’s interesting that the health community feels that they should weigh in on whether you eat that candy bar in the middle of the day, or need to go to bed by 11 PM,  but don’t stop to reflect on the toll the narcissistic and other nasty characters in your life are taking a toll on you. It’s as though your toxic relationships are none of their business. Trust me, they are.

We view toxic relationships as something to be endured, or better yet – we blame ourselves and think that we are at fault – and just as with unhealthy behaviors- yes, we are responsible for lighting up the cigarette, but we aren’t responsible for the tar and nicotine inside the cigarette.
Obviously, people do NOT come with warning labels, but we as human beings come with instincts. We know when something does not feel right, or we are being treated badly. And instead of focusing on playing nice at such times and “faking it” – you would do a whole lot better to distance yourself altogether from anyone who ever leaves you doubting yourself, who criticizes you relentlessly, who lacks empathy, who deceives you, who throws you under the bus. In general, if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.

If you reflect on your toxic relationships and really look back, you recognized at the beginning that something wasn’t quite right, the red flags were there, but for some reason you pushed through. (that old adage that relationships require “hard work”)

Junk food is no different – we eat it because it sometimes tastes good, it’s cheap, it’s easy, and then it becomes a bad habit, and we have to remind ourselves to not go there.

Nasty people often start like that – they may sort of be fun or interesting in the beginning, then they treat us badly, we get used to the bad treatment, and then it becomes our new normal, and then it makes us sick.

The warning labels are there even if they aren’t always readily visible, make sure you read them before continuing to consume a toxic person.

Your health may depend on it………


Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a professor of psychology, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016 at 6:03 am and is filed under Health and Wellness, Narcissism, Relationships and Sex, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Warning Labels”

  1. M.Jayadaarini

    Narcisstic persons are often vindictive . What have I to do if I want to change or recover my beloved from this vindictive narcissism ? Is there no means or ways to maintain a healthy relationship with such persons?Are narcissts cursed to quit all relationships ?

  2. drramani

    Yes – narcissists are very vindictive, and if they have no insight or they simply do not care about what they are doing then they are highly unlikely to change their behavior. A “healthy” relationship with a narcissist can often mean maintaining solid boundaries, healthy distance, and understand that a relationship with them will rarely be reciprocal or respectful. They are not healthy spaces – so the best you can do is manage your expectations. If the narcissist does not see a reason to change – then they won’t. Good luck – none of this is very easy…. Dr RD

  3. Abusedbyanarc

    Hello Dr.Ramani,
    I’ve recently discovered what narcissism is, and was with a narcissist for almost 3 years. Had I known what a narcissist was, a long time ago, I would have walked another road…We are no longer together and as you know, narcissists don’t tell you that they don’t want to be with you anymore, they just sometimes leave/disappear. However, I’m a very young girl who had a baby with a narc, and we are now sort of in a custody battle. (The baby is a couple of months, the “breakup” happened after the baby turned a month..)He basically went to a lawyer and told the lawyer that I’m not taking care of the baby and tried to make me look like an unfit mother, which I’m not an unfit mother. There are more details to this which I don’t really want to say here, but right now we are responding through letter form, back and forth from each other’s lawyers, but he stopped responding. He owns a business and is trying to avoid child support. I’ve read that narcs don’t love their children, they use them as their supply. And I know he doesn’t love or care about the baby. The baby is a couple of months old, do you think he stopped responding because he does not want to take responsibility and pay child support/ he dropped everything because he really doesn’t care or will he just wait for her to get older and take me to court?
    Since he disappeared and went to his lawyer with his false accusations, he has not asked to see the baby nor has he dropped anything off for the baby. I really hope that he dropped everything and stays out of me and our child’s life. I don’t want him and his family’s toxicity around our baby. I love my baby and only want the best..Also, I’ve basically given up everything I’ve loved doing, my dreams, EVERYTHING for that guy…I’m a high school graduate and I’m hoping to start and finish college ( which the narc didn’t want me to do… he’s very controlling) I’ve given up and done so much for him, I LOVED him so much… I just want to live my life with my baby and my family. His emotional/verbal abuse has damaged me…. he’s trying to ruin my life..do you think he will leave me alone? Do you think he dropped everything?

  4. drramani

    We can never fully predict the future but unless there is some gain for him he may leave you alone. That said – controlling abusers get their gain by abusing and controlling someone – they are insecure and it gives them a sad sense of “power”. Your best hope is he finds another victim and gets distracted. Folks like that don’t care about anything or anyone. As far as they are concerned people just exist to serve their needs. You do want to ensure you have good legal representation so if he does resurface you have that in place. Make sure you keep good documentation of everything. Avoid contact with him and if he contacts you use an attorney to communicate. Be aware of whom you leave your child with at all times. Sadly the only way to avoid this is to never let it in in the first place. It can be a lifelong headache – each day he is away is a good day.

    Good luck!

  5. Disturbed

    Hello Dr. Ramani,

    Thank you for all your insight and clarity. I am trying to figure out whether my mother is a narcissist or just suffers from such low self esteem that she can’t help but hurt the people around her. She yells at me and demeans me and is selfish at her core, but it’s hard to believe that all the caring things she’s done in my life were all fake or had ulterior motives. Often I feel like she places a high value on me because she wants biological grandchildren. When I came out to her as queer, her first response was that I needed to have children. I was 16. Everyone convinced me that she was acting out of ignorance and to “just give her time.” Unfortunately, though she now accepts my queerness, I don’t think it’s because she genuinely cares about me. I think it’s because she has no other choice if she wants to maintain a relationship with me. I’ve been very close with my mother my whole life and I always wrote off her faults because she had other great qualities. If I truly need to distance myself from her – even limit our conversations to once a month – that would be a huge adjustment for me. I know that I might end up having to cut her out completely for the sake of my mental health. I still love her deeply. How do I even begin to make sense of all this? And how do I know for sure that I’m not the one who is “crazy”? Thanks for taking the time to read this.

  6. Gary

    My last 40 + years married to a extreme narcissit could fill many books. Five years ago my body began to show physical warning signs. I recaptured a great deal of myself after much therapy and other healing tactics. She remains a horrible person, a monster of lies, deception and more…..who could harbor deeper issues. My hope is one day to find happiness without her. Believe me…..she will never change. I know it for sure.

  7. drramani

    No. They rarely change. Focus on your self preservation. Thanks for reaching out.

  8. Cleoleon

    As I have a tendency to attract narcissists I’m wondering what it is about me that I need to alter to avoid this happening. The trouble is I like good-looking, or at least pleasant looking, men. If they have good coordination, are graceful and look intelligent, warm and open, with healthy skin and hair they should be OK, according to Lowen, Reich and others? But even then this can be misleading. My current(about-to-be-recent) lover is all of these things but he also has a bunch of other problems which I noticed very quickly.The trouble is (a) he had been an adolescent during a dictatorship and the family had suffered great insecurity and (b) we live in different countries so it was hard to know whether he was telling me the truth. I felt sympathetic about his problems but then I fell for the Sleeping Beauty trap. Looking back I can see that was my big mistake, i.e. I was over-confident about my degree of understanding and desire to help. I’m the sort of person who people come to for help (it was my job) and though I can be quite tough there must be something I’m conveying which such people spot. I feel I’m an obvious target as I live alone and am quite out-going, but is there something I’ve missed? Has there been any research on the “victims”?

    Thank you for your incredibly clear descriptions of the various disorders. Psychology has come a long way since I was involved in it. I’m retired now and my main interest is in problems of old age. I suspect a lot of these stem from poor relationships at a younger age.

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