Recently, the New York Times reported that the mental health diagnostic “bible,” the DSM is going to drop Narcissistic Personality Disorder in its 5th Edition. Laura Smith, Ph.D. provides a good explanation for why this was done, here. While an interesting development in its own right, the move brings to mind an overriding concern about the easy use of labels like “narcissistic.” Many, many, times have I heard people in recent years label someone as “narcissistic.” It’s not that “people who believe the world only exists if seen through their own eyes” don’t exist – and it’s not that these folks don’t cause a lot of distress to those close to them. (I remember hearing in my training that the only way you see a person with NPD in therapy is if their spouse or family basically says, “Get help on this or we’re outta here!”) San Diego mediator Bill Eddy identifies people struggling with NPD as one of a handful of “high conflict personalities” who challenge helping professionals mightily. But here’s the problem – it’s easy to label, isolate and dismiss another person, losing sight of the fact that this rigid shell of a personality they present to the world covers enormous, old pain. Eddy has suggested that the 4 major “high conflict personalities” at their core, are protecting themselves from the pain of early, constant violations to their developing, tender personalities. The “borderline” personality is driven by the Fear of (emotional) Abandonment, suffered so early. The “antisocial” personality is driven by the Fear of Being Dominated. The “histrionic” personality is driven by the Fear of Being Ignored. The “narcissistic personality” is driven by the Fear of Inferiority. In fact, these people with hugely (over)inflated views of themselves have buried within their hearts a glass shard of failure to measure up – of not being good enough. When we almost cavalierly label others as “narcissists” (or any other thing) we rob them of their humanity and pain. Of course, in their striving to protect themselves from the ancient, overwhelming wounds that are long-buried within, they may often overwhelm and deeply injure their intimates. But as with all injuries which we suffer at the hands of others, our own healing comes in part through our own halting efforts to understand and even hold compassion for the other. It’s not necessary to label the other so that we don’t take on responsibility for our own injuries. It was never our fault anyway. To humanize ourselves without dehumanizing the person who wounded us is an ongoing challenge and, I think, righteous goal.