Just Because He's Your Ex Doesn't Mean He's A Toxic Narcissist

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By Heather Gray

It can be validating when a relationship ends and you can look back and see that the person was just toxic or narcissistic. You’d be able to recognize that there really wasn’t anything you could do to change the unhealthy patterns between the two of you. Leaving or accepting the ending might be easier.

It can feel empowering to say out loud “She was just toxic” or “He was a narcissist. It never would have worked.” If you’re feeling empowered, and maybe even a little angry, the whole experience can make you feel a bit bigger instead of smaller. It can sometimes hurt less when you can sit back and say “it was them, not me.”

We’ve gone a little overboard using those phrases and character descriptions, though, and it’s not doing anyone any good.

For people in truly abusive and unhealthy relationships, we’re minimizing their experience down to a pithy listicle and we’re running the risk of normalizing unhealthy relationship patterns. They can soon tell themselves a story that these are just things that everyone has to deal with, that they are common in relationships, and they can lose their motivation to make a change.

If you’re managing a heartache and are soothing your hurt by telling yourself a story that the relationship was just toxic or that you were just with a narcissist, you might feel initially comforted but you could also be setting yourself up for a whole new round of hurt and not even know it.

After a breakup, you’re supposed to ask yourselves the tough questions: What happened? What went wrong? What did I miss? Did I try hard enough? Answering those questions as authentically and as honestly as you can is the biggest defense you have against going through all of this all over again in your next relationship.

If you walk away from a failed relationship with a story that there was nothing you could have done, you haven’t done the work and you’ll likely find yourself in a similar situation again with no clue as to how you got there.

Worse, if you don’t learn from your past and apply insight into your future interactions, you develop unhealthy patterns of your own-a cemented way of doing things that might not be the most helpful and that’s how toxicity is actually born.

Toxic people lack insight into their own relational patterns. They fail to see the negative impact that their way of moving through the world has on others. If you’re not looking into yourself, taking stock and making new goals and are instead relying on soothing yourself that your ex was toxic, you run the risk of becoming toxic, yourself.

You might have to face a painful truth.

Sometimes people can be good. Just not good for each other. Beginning. Middle. End.

It’s that simple and that sad all at the same time. People sometimes just want different things, have different priorities, need different things, or have contrasting ways of moving through the world.

Those endings are so hard. No wonder it’s tempting to just write them off with the “toxic” cliché. It’s so painful to walk away from someone you still love and still respect but recognize that the two of you just want different things. It doesn’t make sense. You find yourself moving away from tremendous potential and are left shaking your head as to why two people, who are so well-intentioned, just can’t make it work.

For a moment, it might be easier to just call your ex “selfish” or “narcissistic” and tell yourself they didn’t love you enough to be what you needed. It’s maddening, baffling, and heart-breaking.

Sometimes, though, it’s also unavoidable.

It is in those moments, though, that you learn who you truly are.

It’s so unfortunate that so many life lessons are preceded by pain. I’m sure we’d all want to skip the pain part and just quickly move to the place where we learn the lesson. When these kinds of relationships end, the ones with two good people who just aren’t good for each other, it’s usually because at least one partner got really clear on what he or she needed and wanted in a committed relationship.

Sometimes you just can’t get clear on what you want or what you need until you live through a time of not having it. Sometimes, when you finally figure it out, you’re not with the right person who can give it to you. They may even really want to. You might really want to for each other but for whatever reasons, it just can’t work and the best thing you can do for each other is to let one another go in peace.

Move through the pain and then go after what you want!

This is where the point in going through heartbreak lies. This is why you’ve been in that awful hole for a while…you now know what you need and want and you’re free to go out and get it. That’s scary, for sure, but so worth it. It’ll feel vulnerable because knowing what you want doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find it right away at your next turn at bat but the odds are certainly increased and in your favor.

When you’re really clear on what you want and need in a relationship, you simply find it faster. You say no sooner and you stop “waiting and seeing” if something will become right. You lose out on all of that when you walk away from your current relationship with a misguided story of toxicity or narcissism.

When you shut your eyes and look away from the temporary pain, you close your heart to the potential of finding permanent love and joy.

This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.