Before I became a parent, everybody was full of advice about how to be a parent. I wish someone had pulled me aside and warned me to be more selective about the company in my life, especially with new friends.
Back when I first became a parent, I admittedly invested too much time into toxic friendships. One in particular stands out as this person was what I would call an armchair psychiatrist. Early on in motherhood, I was struggling with certain relationships in my life and so I sought counsel. This friend offered me the view that some people in my life had narcissistic personality disorder and introduced me to Pinterest and Reddit communities that were full of people whose lives were dominated by narcissistic partners, exes, parents, children, colleagues, and dogs.
I became wrapped up in these communities and after awhile, became convinced that the people I was having trouble with were full blown narcissists. This was all egged on by the armchair psychiatrist friend, who had issues with many people in her life. Her children wouldn’t talk to her, her exes had DVOs on her, and her sisters and parents had blocked her on Facebook.
Reading some of the articles, I realised that just about every human tendency could be labelled as narcissistic. Self-centredness, ambitiousness, the desire to speak highly of oneself, or healthy self-esteem. It was all narcissism, apparently.
The deeper I got into Pinterest, the more I started to think that perhaps I was the narcissist. As time went on, the armchair psychiatrist continually posted and sent me articles about narcissism. I started to feel overwhelmed, but I had no idea how to back out of the friendship. In desperation, I sought out the help of a former colleague who had a knack with people. I considered her an empath and a wise counsel. She told me, kindly, to cut and run.
I attempted to back out of the friendship rather awkwardly and the friend swore, denied there were any problems, and put it all back on me. She appealed to my heart by telling me she was an ‘empath’ and that I had exhausted her with all of my post-birth issues, as if she hadn’t spoken to me at length about her own self-inflicted dramas.
It has been a year since I ended this friendship and I attempted to make sense of it all by discussing it on Reddit, under the narcissism subreddit. The first reply post told me that I was a “victim”, that I had it written on my face, and that it sounded like I had Borderline Personality Disorder. I asked the poster if they were a psychiatrist, because my own psychiatrist had told me I was not BPD.
Since becoming more aware of this subculture of individuals I refer to as armchair psychiatrists, I have noticed it everywhere. I quit Pinterest as a result, as my feed was continually being flooded with narcissist articles and boards as a result of conversations I had with this friend. As a true-crime buff, I noticed that narcissistic personality disorder seemed to be the first diagnosis the armchair psychiatrists would jump to when a person had murdered someone or committed an awful crime.
There are books promoted to audiences that talk about how to deal with narcissists and psychopaths. I see them on my Facebook feed all the time. Realistically, these people only make up a very small portion of the population. They are not people you would meet across multiple contexts in your life, if most of the people you spend time with are average.
The most interesting thing I found about the armchair psychologist subculture is that a lot of the people who claim that everyone is a narcissist have multiple broken relationships in their lives, often with their children. I feel that more could be achieved by working on human relationships and promoting articles about that, rather than marinating in half-truths about narcissism.