Are all exes narcissists?

“My ex is a narcissistic pervert. » Whether you draw this conclusion by browsing social networks, confide it to your therapist or proclaim it loud and clear, attaching the label “narcissist” to your ex-spouse is a common practice. Saving awareness or perilous exercise?


Posted at 7:00 p.m.

Mental health problems are increasingly being discussed in the public space. Narcissistic personality disorder – which is fascinating – is extensively covered in the media, both in films and series and on social media platforms. “Signs that you are dating a narcissist”; “the secrets of the narcissistic pervert”: the hashtag “ narcissist » is associated with 2 million posts on Instagram alone.

Talking about mental health in the media is a “super positive” thing, but when we do it briefly, on social networks, it leaves room for a certain improvisation, indicates Laura El-Hachem, social worker, marriage therapist and family and psychotherapist. “When we base ourselves on a Reel [une courte vidéo] of 30 seconds to analyze our relationship, we sometimes lack nuance,” she summarizes.

The three professionals we spoke to agree: in the last decade, the label “narcissism” has come up more and more often. “Before, it was little known,” emphasizes Yves Dalpé, psychologist, doctor in sexology and author. Now people are more aware of this, but they can also misuse this diagnosis. »

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PHOTO IVANOH DEMERS, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Hubert Van Gijseghem, psychologist and psycholegal expert

Psychologist Hubert Van Gijseghem has been a psycholegal expert for almost 60 years. Today, he says, narcissistic personality disorder is alleged in “about a quarter” of the family cases in which it is involved. Most often, it is the woman who discovers, after the separation, that the man with whom she lived for several years is in reality a “narcissistic pervert” or a violent controlling person. “People who suffer from a separation are vulnerable to an interpretation that takes away their guilt and their anxiety. They understand finally,” illustrates Hubert Van Gijseghem, who sees this as a form of ideology.

An expert on narcissistic personalities, Hubert Van Gijseghem describes the true narcissist as a being who feels grandiose, who has difficulty loving someone other than himself, who uses others to be admired, and who puts the other when something doesn’t work.

The narcissist gives his victim “narcissistic food” (“you are the most beautiful, the best”, etc.), but in homeopathic dosage, he says, and in general, his relationships are short-lived. “Living with a real narcissist is something different than living for 15 years with someone who irritates us once a day,” summarizes Hubert Van Gijseghem.

Married life is full of small imbalances, disagreements, conflicts, he emphasizes. The risk, after separation, is to interpret these irritations of the past with this “tunnel vision” of the victim and the executioner. “I assure you, sooner or later, children are very often contaminated with it,” laments the psychologist.

Boundaries violated

It is true that more women describe their ex-partner as narcissistic than the other way around, but men cannot escape the temptation to label their ex either. “Stereotypically, we also hear men using borderline personality disorder to talk about the strong reactions of their ex-partner,” explains Laura El-Hachem.

The psychotherapist will not necessarily directly correct her patient’s statement: she will rather reframe the discourse around the traits of the ex and the behaviors that transgressed the limits. “A lot of times it’s really well received,” she says.

In therapy, this search for meaning can have a restorative function, believes Laura El-Hachem: it allows you to connect to your states of anger and resilience, and to put in place self-protection mechanisms.

“Ultimately, it makes it easier to heal the ego wound and the rejection wound that we will often have following a separation,” she emphasizes.

Still, she says, it all depends on the context. Talking about the manipulative or transgressive traits or behaviors of your ex-spouse to your therapist or confidant is one thing. But it’s another to call your ex a narcissist in front of mutual friends or – worse – the children. “If the person alienates the ex-spouse, that’s where it becomes inadequate,” says Laura El-Hachem, who reminds affected patients of the importance of keeping children away from this discourse.

The psychologist Yves Dalpé emphasizes for his part that the two spouses “do not choose each other by chance”: in general, he says, they have approximately the same level of adaptation to life. “If I think that my partner is very narcissistic, there is a good chance that I myself am something very different,” he illustrates. Typically, he says, you will find a narcissist with an addicted person.

You can very well have narcissistic or dependent traits without having a personality disorder. It’s a question of degrees, says Yves Dalpé. When the couple is still together, it is possible to work on these traits, by inviting one to improve their empathy and the other to express themselves more, for example. “The danger is seeing yourself as the victim of a big bad guy,” says Yves Dalpé. It always hurts my heart, because often there is no way out. »

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