As an adult child of narcissist parents, I am vomitously sick of that word narcissist.

No One Knows What It Means

1. For starters, no one knows what it means. Is it your everyday air-glossed Facebook or Instagram preening? Twenty-something navel-gazing? Self-centered vanities reflected back constantly by the media? Is it the girl you broke up with (or are unfortunately still dating or, worse, married to) who turned every topic back to her and never said sorry for anything? Is it that mythical pretty boy, Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection? Or is it something clinical, a serious pathology?

You Hear the Word All the Time

2. Although nobody knows what it means or what anyone else means when they say it, you hear the word narcissist all the time. A continuously erupting informational flow tells us how to tell if we are dating a narcissist, raising one, or awash in a sicko culture of them, the most prominent one being our president. Self-helpers advise us how to handle them (“How to Confront a Violent Narcissist”—don’t); amateur videographers capture them behaving badly; members of chat groups grope for support (“Help, my NF [narcissist father] tried to drown my dog”); and websites trade in jargon: flying monkey, hoovering, gaslighting, scapegoat, golden child.

Resisting the Word Is Next to Impossible

3. The word is loathsome because, as with an actual narcissist, resisting it is next to impossible. Against your seasoned better judgment, seeing or hearing narcissist triggers your interest, and like a drooling dog waiting for a pizza slice you hope for mouthfuls of insight and understanding that are rarely delivered. Like the child of narcissists who craves authentic parenting, you’re lucky to get tossed a hunk of dry crust.

You Worry Maybe You’re One

4. Then there’s the twitchy discomfiting thought the word raises: Am I a narcissist? Even if you know that the fact that you’re asking yourself the question means you’re probably NOT a narcissist AT ALL, it’s still deflating to have the thought, especially if you’ve been wronged, possibly devastatingly, by a cold-blooded narcissist.

You might go so far as to take idiotic on-line narcissism tests to prove to yourself how very unnarcissistic you are. That you know full well how to answer the test questions to produce a score clear out of narcissist range makes you wonder yet again, Am I a devious narcissist? The answer is still probably NO, but once again your history with a narcissist has contaminated you, insinuated self-doubt, and led you down another rabbit hole wasting time better spent. It’s as if the word itself engenders the trait. And then all the wondering about yourself triggers another trip around the loop: But, really, I am actually a narcissist?

It’s Drag-Ass Depressing

5. Fundamentally, narcissism is drag-ass depressing. It’s the opposite of other words, such as love, compassion, truth, and empathy. Narcissism at its most extreme begets crimes within relationships and families, crimes against humanity and nature. The malignant narcissist is full of rage, often violent, and capable of cruelties from quotidian to epic. The full-blown narcissist is a grandiose tyrant lacking or entirely devoid of empathy. Some believe the malignant narcissist is in love with himself, but in truth he is covering a gaping internal void with constant assertions of superiority, bullying, manipulation, shame, blame, and one upmanship, which turns on a dime into rage and attack when he feels vulnerable.

If you’re not a narcissist and happen to love one, it’s difficult to avoid getting trapped in the bankrupt business of trying to help or heal her. If you have the misfortune, like me, of having narcissistic parents, it’s even harder not to cling to the delusion that you can somehow, finally, win their love.

It’s Hard to Say and Spell

6. It’s the red-dye-40 frosting on the burnt cake that the word narcissism is so blasted hard to say and spell and requires so much attention to get right. Even if you know how, it taxes the hand and eye to make sure the c, i’s, and s’s are tallied and placed right. Should it end with –ism, -ist, or –istic? Should it, like a country, be capitalized? Even speaking the word can trip the tongue, as if in spite. Saying it, with all its repeated hissing sounds, makes you feel like you will never, ever be done.

Julie L. Hall is the author of the forthcoming memoir Carry You about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family. Read her blog The Narcissist Family Files on her website.

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Image courtesy of Damian Gadal.