A while back, I posted the following essay to a Facebook group of women writers that I’m in. In a nutshell, this essay is about me — while I was living in Hanoi — dating a much younger Vietnamese man for 10 months, who turned out to be a covert narcissist. He almost killed me.
I Finally See Him for Who He Really Is
It was 10 months before I realized the man I was dating wasn’t who he appeared to be.
You would think that the comments about my essay would centre around the cycle of narcissistic abuse, or trauma bonds or intermittent reinforcement. Or how a smart, educated woman like myself could be drawn in by manipulation and lies. How I was gaslighted and controlled. Or why leaving emotionally abusive relationships is so difficult. Or about an older woman was busting stereotypes by dating a younger man.
There was none of that.
The commentators were outraged that I said my ex was Vietnamese, that I described his physical features, that I was attracted to him because of these characteristics, and that I said his manipulation was cold, calculating and reptilian. These are all facts, all true. And this— I’m paraphrasing — is what was said about my essay:
- You need to think super critically about racial disparities in this piece
- You have eroticised him
- You have positioned yourself unflatteringly as a fearful victim, deceived and entrapped
- You need to take a course about writing memoirs
- You need to discuss Vietnam’s troubling history and colonialism
- You shouldn’t be analysing his words and actions.
The commentary completely missed the point of my essay: that I was a victim of narcissistic abuse. Yes, it was perpetrated by a Vietnamese man who was much younger than me, but would this even be a bone of contention if the narcissist were an older, white guy? I don’t think so. Narcissistic abuse is narcissistic abuse, no matter who perpetrates it.
I was deflated by their outrage.
Then I got curious. Who were these women who were so outraged about my writing? Why had they missed — or completely ignored — the point of my story?
Turns out one is a cultural critic. Another is an editor. The other offers writing coaching.
They have criticised my story through their own lenses, their own agendas, their own positioning. Just as I have written my story through mine. And I’m the bad guy? Please.
I write about myself and my experiences because no one can tell me I’m wrong. Or so I naively thought. Writing this piece has shown me that when I publish my stories, I can’t control how people choose to read them. All I can do is control my response to their reading. And if outrage is their response, that is more to do with them than me.
Justifying what I wrote and why is not a path I choose to take. I refuse to censor my interpretation of my lived experience because I might attract outrage. You can be as outraged as you like, but the facts remain the same. The story doesn’t change. The experience is what it is.
Look, I get that when you put your work out there, you’re leaving yourself open to criticism. But there’s a difference between criticism and outrage — and constructive feedback. When you’ve had a similar or identical experience, feel free to critique away, because then you’re approaching from a position of empathy, rather than arrogance.
Writing is contextual. Nothing is every written, or read, in a vacuum. The outrage around this piece was penned by women who knew nothing about me, and weren’t interested in understanding my experience. They saw my piece as a way to position themselves as experts, and use their collective voices to drown me out. They imposed their personas on my story to discredit me, and elevate themselves to advance their own agendas.
I find that disturbing.
In fact, I’m the one who should be outraged.
And in this case, I’m right.