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……
WARNING: SPENDING TIME WITH THIS PERSON MAY CAUSE SELF-DOUBT, SHAME, LOSS OF SELF-ESTEEM, AND NEGLECT OF YOUR OWN HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
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.
Tags: Health, Narcissism, Relationships, Wellness