Is It Narcissistic Abuse?

“How do I know for sure if it’s narcissistic abuse?” It’s the question I am asked most frequently by clients in the early stages of disentangling from toxic relationships, and my answer surprises them – beyond understanding that you’re not losing your mind from all the gaslighting, it doesn’t really matter. If you are living the dreadful experience of narcissistic abuse, that is your current “reality,” whether or not that person has narcissistic personality disorder or just an abundance of narcissistic traits and abusive tendencies. Their official diagnosis, or lack thereof, does not have any bearing on you.

When your hand gets burned, does it matter if that happened via a stove burner or hot pan? Does it matter what type of stove or pan? The result is the same, as is the remedy – you need to remove your hand from the irrelevant source of the burn and attend to healing it.

Would your trauma magically convert to healing if it turned out your partner, family member, etc. wasn’t a narcissist, but rather, just someone who behaves like one? 

Spinning your wheels trying to ascertain whether someone is a narcissist is a time and energy-sucking trap, one that people can get stuck in for a long time as they keep their focus on “other” instead of bringing it home to self.  

Would the anguishing pain, anxiety and confusion melt away with proof that your partner “just” has anger management issues? Would the abuse hurt any less if it wasn’t technically narcissistic abuse? Someone else’s diagnosis is their journey – how they affect you is yours.

I was recently reminded of this while working with a company I’d invested in to help me publish Love Without Traffic (the novel). Last month, I still hadn’t received one completed “done for you” service, all of which were to be delivered in advance of my original publishing date, which came and went months ago.

Was the company short-staffed? Were too many new people working there? Did I just happen to get assigned a book production liaison who was better versed in ineptitude than integrity?

What difference did it make? The “why” was not my challenge. What mattered was what I did with it.

First, I tolerated the delays. I made excuses for them. I don’t do this in personal relationships anymore, so it was interesting to see this old, dormant habit popping up in a new way. 

Then, when my patience wore off, I unconsciously drifted into control mode, trying to make the company deliver what was promised when I signed up. It was easy to fall into the trap of giving my power away and trying to force them to meet my needs instead of meeting my own. My efforts felt a lot like trying to get an ex to change, instead of accepting, against the will of my heart, that this was not going to happen.

It had been my choice to remain in such a painful relationship as long as I did. How long was I going to make that choice with a company I’d paid to help me? It was easy to stay stuck due to a belief that I had already invested so much time. How much more delayed would my launch be if I left? How much money would I lose?

With all the lack of accountability and sizable gap between words and actions, it felt a lot like narcissistic abuse. I could also make a strong case that I was experiencing dishonesty, manipulation, minimizing, ghosting, table-turning and even gaslighting. This was fascinating, since narcissistic abuse is one of the themes of the novel. Was the company run by a pack of sociopathic internet marketers? Did it set out to scam me and other customers? Or did it just seem that way? 

It doesn’t matter! The answer is their journey. What I did with it was mine. Regardless of their why, the result was still the same. The only thing that mattered was that the program wasn’t working for me, and my efforts to change that had failed. During my second attempt, I was given an abundance of bonuses that sounded valuable. But two weeks later, the carrots hadn’t filled me in any way. Plus, it dawned on me that the bonuses would tie me to this company even longer. And what would lead me to believe I’d receive the bonuses in a timely and professional manner if none of the other services had been?

That’s when I decided to pull my hand – and my book – off the stove. I’d chosen self-publishing because I wanted to maintain creative freedom. The time had come to see that I felt more like a hostage, unable to move forward until this company did what they’d advertised when I signed up. Even if I lost every penny by pulling my book, it was the right choice. 

So, I called to inform them that I was doing so. They tried to talk me out of the choice with more empty promises but when it became clear I wasn’t going to change my mind, their tone changed. Suddenly, it was my fault none of the services had been completed, because, for example, I wouldn’t accept the formatting issues “no one else would notice.” Like two title pages and links that didn’t work?

Was this usually helpful man, one of my two favorites at the company, minimizing and table turning to protect his commission? To save his ass? Did he really believe in this company and the work he was defending, or did he have to, for a paycheck?  It didn’t matter the reason, or if he’d been the amazing human he originally showed up as or had been charming me all along for the sale. That was between him and himself.

The awareness of this helped me remain loving and grateful for all the support this particular company rep had attempted to give me up until that point. I didn’t defend myself. I simply stated I had a right to an error-free book and reiterated I was pulling it.

He then told me I would end up investing even more money with another company for the done-for-you services than the inordinate amount I’d invested with them, suggesting I couldn’t do it on my own. 

We shared this conversation at the base of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, just before I set off on what turned out to be the most dangerous solo hike of my life, complete with cables and ladders along the side of very steep cliffs. When I got to the top, I thought, “Well if I just did that, I can figure out how to publish a book!”

It was a triumphant feeling, as was the moment I was granted a full refund, a rarity for this company. I had to invest a lot more time and energy in obtaining that, but it was well worth it.  

The time I thought was wasted turned out to be a great blessing. Any experience of narcissistic abuse can be, once you take your power back from the crazymaking and learn what it’s there to teach you. 

As usual, life knew what it was doing. Shortly after pulling my novel, inspiration arrived to first publish a different book – one which I’d almost completed several years ago. This would give me an opportunity to make rookie mistakes while self-publishing a book I wasn’t as attached to getting into the hands of the masses. 

It would also give me a chance to build a base of readers who would be excited for Love Without Traffic when I publish, since the books are connected in interesting ways. Like Love Without Traffic, the new book will be of interest and support to anyone growing through narcissistic abuse and other relationship challenges. 

I’m grateful for the experience with the company that led to this. While it looked like they “should” have done things very differently, it turned out they were honoring the exact soul contracts I needed. This is what all the “villains” of our lives are here for. But they only get to help us along our path if we let them.

The first step in doing so is letting go of the need to identify them.

Whether narcissists, pans or hot stoves, they’re going to be what they are regardless of what we want them to be. All the time and energy we waste trying to change them is time and energy we need for ourselves.

What’s one way you bring your energy home to you today? While you’re contemplating that, I’d love your help naming the new book!

Thanks to the last contest resulting in such an amazing name like Love Without Traffic, which also became my mission’s name, I’m currently hosting a contest to name the book I will be publishing first. I’ve decided to move the contest to a Facebook group. Join us!

I posted additional photos from that destiny-changing hike and will be sharing more of the story on the Love Without Traffic page on Insta and Facebook. I’ll be getting more active on social media this summer. Here’s the link for FB. See you there!:


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