On a beautiful, peaceful September day, I found myself under a tree, wailing and sobbing uncontrollably.
It happened on the corner of a busy street, but oddly and thankfully, no one seemed to notice.
My heart thudded and exploded in misery, shock, and sadness again and again as snot poured generously from my nose. Not having any tissues handy, I blew my nose into my hands and wiped them on the grass—classy.
Staring at the sinking sun, my breath caught inside my chest and suddenly, I knew—I was going to die here. The sun would set, the moon and stars would move across the sky, the sun would rise again, and here I would remain: under this tree, paralyzed until I perished.
Flashes of my then-beloved husband stabbed at me in a million places inside my body.
“I don’t think I ever loved you…nothing you did means anything to me.”
His jaw was set hard in anger and apprehension; his eyes shot daggers. I had never seen him this way before in my life. We had rarely fought. But somehow, on this day, he was a volcano of disparaging remarks, melting me down like a hapless tree in his molten path.
A friend had come and swept me off of the corner and deposited me in my home, where my raw nerves fired grenades throughout my body for the next week. Eventually I found a therapist, and with her help, we tidied the room in my heart with labels, stories, and explanations.
“Since I have never met him, I can’t officially render a diagnosis, but from the emails you’ve shown me and the experiences you’ve related, it would suggest that your ex-husband has behaviors consistent with a narcissistic sociopath,” my therapist explained.
Immediately, I felt my head buzz as my tongue rolled around the taste of these new words.
Google became my best friend and enabler, providing me with loads of stories, traits, characteristics, and even a full checklist to teach me all about these dreaded narcs. With each box I marked, relief flooded my body—finally, I had an explanation for the unexplainable.
Years have passed since that day (and obviously, I was wrong about dying under that tree). Just recently, though, it all came gurgling back up in my awareness…that day, that relationship.
I was on Facebook, scrolling for a quick minute, when I encountered a video by some “coach” guy, educating women on the four types of men.
According to him, most men came in the form of either a Little Boy, a Confused Loser, a Selfish Player, or a Good Man. Only the Good Man was desirable and worthy of love. Disgust rose like bile in my throat as I listened to him describe each type to his viewers.
When I feel so actively triggered, I have come to know that it is because there is always something lurking deep inside of me, yearning to be known, craving to be seen, and needing to be loved. So inside I went.
And there it was, a shiny twinkle-beam gleaming from the pit of my soul: I am all of those things!
I can act like a child. I can be confused. I can possess the selfish and unaccountable qualities of a player. And most triggering of all of these gems was the one that illuminated how I was incessantly trying to be The Good Woman, the one who society has defined and—for most of my life—has tried to press on to me like I’m some kind of cookie dough, intending to shape me into something desirable. Something worthy.
Clearly, that was what this misguided coach was doing to the men he was defining in his video.
Compassion filled my lungs as I exhaled the knowing that no person is ever any one thing. We are all a complex mess of ever-changing ingredients, showing only the parts of ourselves that work in each moment to create our life story (and keep us safe).
If you had seen me under the tree on that lovely September day, it would be easy for you to create a myriad of labels and stick them to me. But the danger of applying a label to anyone or anything, according to neurolinguistic programming, is that once you do, that thing can only ever “be” that label to you. You cover all of the other existing possibilities with your sticker and miss what’s lying underneath.
And the worst part is: you have to live with these “people” that you have constructed. If you believe it, you will see it.
And that, my friend, is exactly what I did to my poor ex-husband during our divorce.
It felt like it was saving my soul, to pin him down and cover him up in definitive stickers. But the truth was, as long as I let him lie there like that, concealed in untrue goo, deep down it was causing me to suffer.
To claim that a lover who was highly favored in my life was actually some kind of crazy narcissist dismantled all of the magical, beautiful experiences that we shared together. It annihilated the totality of his soul and reduced him to nothing short of a monster. Which he wasn’t.
Loving and accepting all of the parts of myself has brought me to a place where I can recognize, allow, and even celebrate all of the parts of anyone else, even my ex-husband.
Although we no longer communicate with each other, I have quietly been peeling my erroneous labels off of him and tossing them in the trash. Nothing has ever made me feel better.