-in this writing I use the scenario of abused woman/abusive man, because that is most statistically prevalent. But I do know this can be gender-reversed.-
One thing that has been controversial in my healing, at least for other people, is the notion of labels. The popular argument against labels is that they do not allow for people to be responsive and they are pigeonholed. I think it is much more nuanced than that. For instance, labels like "depression" and "cancer" can be life-saving as one can then bring to light exactly what is wrong. It is truth that in this day and age, we use labels to hurt each other, but those labels are as simple as "woman" or "African-American". It doesn't take much to elicit hatred and bias in people.
The labels become very important to a person who has been abused. One little-talked about phase of healing from an abusive relationship is the learning phase, where a person will greedily drink down everything they can learn about narcissism or psychopathy. It does become somewhat all-encompassing, since the only thing that can combat years of gaslighting is fact, especially psychological fact. And one learns there is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis to anything. One simply needs to take and acknowledge the aspects that apply to one's own situation.
But for those who disparage the labels, there are several things to keep in mind. Firstly, we live in a culture that loves to blame victims. We live in a culture where the only acceptable narrative of abuse is that he hit her, and even then, we don't properly respond and still have underlying attitudes that blame her. And finally, many have the attitude that when a woman uses labels to speak out against abuse, she is somehow being cruel. Lundy Bancroft calls this "taking the abuser's perspective."
Beyond that, the labels are important for healing. Sometimes a person will be discouraged from using a label as a way of invalidating that person and telling them, "don't think, hide the truth, don't acknowledge reality."
A person needs to know if they are dealing with a dog or a dragon. A dog will mess up the room when the master leaves, chew up the toilet paper in play, eat all the cat food, run out the door, and otherwise wreak havoc when they're not supposed to. But they will return with their tail between their legs, eager to learn how to please you, wanting to always be near you. A dog can be taught how to be in rightful relationship, simply by holding to the rules, "no, you may not chew up my leather coat. no, you may not use the bathroom on the floor...you must go outside. no, you may not beg at the dinner table." And they will learn, with a happy grin on their faces and a wagging tail.
A dog has a conscience.
A dragon is trickier. A dragon will simply go and ravage the village for sport. A dragon's nature is to destroy and retreat. A dragon cannot be reasoned with, negotiated with, or asked to stop. A dragon needs to be carefully studied and automatically incites fear. Many times, the dragon is not as big as you think, and certainly lacks courage and heart. And sometimes, the dragon is wiley. Principles of operant conditioning do not work on a dragon. A dragon will blame the villagers for his behavior. A dragon will make himself out to be the poor, innocent victim. A dragon will say he is trustworthy and benevolent even while he is planning destruction. Dragons have been so anthropomorphized in modrrn culture. But the dragons that are akin to cluster B personalities have no hope of gaining human traits. A human can be asked to have a heart...to stop hurting someone else...to listen to reason...to look at the ravaged village and consider the weight of their actions. A human being has the capacity for remorse, recovery, making restitution, grace, gratitude, awareness of their actions, and repair. A dog will say they are sorry with their demeanor, A human will repair a relationship more directly. But a dragon never will. A dragon is often depicted with a cold, black heart; cold on the outside with its reptilian scales. Reptilian skin, twinkling, charming eye, intelligent head, firey breath, reptilian heart. No hope of repair.
A dragon has no conscience.
Dealing with a dragon requires a different approach than dealing with a dog. There is hope for a dog, but not a dragon. It's important to know the difference so one can protect one's self. The dog that constantly bites and won't back down is not the dog you keep, but it's less dangerous than a dragon. The dragon who constantly seeks to ravage is to be fled from so you can be safe.
Healing from each scenario takes different tools, resources, and approaches. One has more hope, the other has none. Know the labels so you can wield your sword in protection or take out your dog treats and positive reinforcement.
In this election, there have been so many moments of needing to call the dragon a dragon. So many abused women are identifying strongly with Donald Trump's gaslighting, lies, and avoidance of responsibility, even to the point of being triggered.
Keep your dogs, lose your dragons, know the difference.