It’s easy to get obsessed with, fixated on, “labels” and diagnostic categories like sociopath, psychopath, malignant narcissist, narcissist, etc. To be sure, labels and diagnoses can be important and informative.
In the case of “sociopathic” individuals, for instance, we know that there’s no changing them; we know that there’s no real hope for their redemption; and so, if you’ve correctly identified a sociopathic type, you can know that it’s pointless, self-destructive to invest another minute of your time in him. And this is a good thing to know.
But it’s also the case, I’d suggest, that an overfocus on labels and diagnoses can sometimes be a distraction, a form of avoidance, sometimes of obsession, and, in some cases, a habitually poor use of one’s time.
Does it really matter, as several LoveFraud readers have pointed out in various posts over the months, what precise label—accurate or not—you affix to an individual when he’s proven to be emotionally unavailable, or a compulsive liar, or an abusive personality, or a chronically selfish, self-centered partner, or a chronic, comfortable manipulator and deceiver?
Does it really matter, in the end, what you call this? It seems to me that what’s suitable to call this, and perhaps all that’s necessary, sometimes, to call this, is–This is a bad dude for me. This is the wrong dude for me.
Sometimes this is the diagnosis that ultimately matters: Wrong dude for me, or Right dude for me.
Whether he’s a narcissist, sociopath, or neither (in a fullblown sense); whether he’s got another personality disorder, or a hybrid of personality disorders, or whether, again, he fails to meet the full criteria for any personality disorder, sometimes this isn’t the main issue.
Often, what matters most is what it is that you require in a partner, and whether he has the goods to deliver it. And once you establish that he lacks what you require—say, sufficient integrity, emotional generosity, dependability, you name it—then, as I suggest, you’ve nailed the really, and sometimes only, relevant diagnosis—the he’s wrong for me! diagnosis.
I understand that a community of people who’ve suffered some of the common indignities inflicted by exploitive personalities can offer one another invaluable support, and I surely don’t mean to devalue the fantastic healing power of this communal process.
But it’s also important to remember, going forward, that we, each of us, needs to take a good, long look in the mirror and take charge of the kind of relationships that dignify us. I maintain that, in a great many cases, when we’re honest with ourselves, we discover, in examining the history of our relationships, that we may have tolerated, overlooked, or denied behaviors and attitudes that, in retrospect, should have been unacceptable to us.
These may have been the behaviors and attitudes of a sociopath, or just a selfish, immature partner; a narcissist, or just an emotionally unavailable, detached boyfriend or girlfriend.
We may have invested a great deal of false, unrealistic hope in the possibility that this person would change; that we could somehow change this person; that this person would somehow, someday, “get it,” wake up, possibly “grow up,” realize and, finally, properly value,what we had to offer him (or her)!
But as so many of us know all too well, this can be a misguided fantasy that leads us into dangerous, compromising investments–investments which can devolve us into protracted, paralyzing resentment of the individual in whom we made this too-long, too-patient and too-compromising investment; and then get hung-up on eviscerating him for his deviance—when all along, maybe more obviously than we ever wanted to admit, we might have recognized that he was the wrong dude for me.
Again, I sincerely don’t mean to minimize the trauma arising from the violating—sometimes the shockingly violating behaviors—of those in whom we’ve invested our trust. And I particularly don’t mean to minimize the pain engendered from the chronically violating behaviors of serial expoiters.
But I do mean to question whether, sometimes, dwelling on any diagnostic cateory, including the sociopathic spectrum category, can distract us from a most important, and, ultimately, liberating achievement, which is to own that sometimes we end up making terrible choices of partners, regardless of their diagnoses—partners incapable of doing us justice, and capable all too often of doing us terrible injustice.
These are partners—whoever they are, and whatever drives their unacceptable behaviors—whom we want to be grateful to be rid of, and whose destructive qualities, in future relationships, we want to seize every opportunity to steer clear of.
(As usual, my use of male gender pronouns in this article is purely for convenience’s sake. Everything discussed in this article applies equally to female perpetrators of deception and exploitation. This article is copyrighted (c) 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)