Projection

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

The Bible suggests that knowing the plans and methods of your enemy is just good sense.  Some of the narcissist’s tactics come up in our discussion regularly and it seems like it would be good to expose them more.

Projection is one of the most powerful and most difficult of the narcissist’s tactics.  Put simply, it describes what is happening when the narcissist (or anyone else) denies his own behavior but accuses others of doing the same thing.  For example, narcissists often believe that the people around them are lying but deny their own use of deception.  An adulterous spouse might become increasingly suspicious and accusatory.

There are differences of opinion as to the roots of projection in the offender.  Sometimes it appears to be almost subconscious.  The narcissist sees the bad behavior in himself, but cannot allow that negative to be attributed to the image he wants to manifest to others.  However, the more he focuses on the negative, the more glaring it becomes in his mind.  Soon he sees it everywhere.

I once had a man talk with me about his son and the strange way his son talked.  He opened only the side of his mouth and spoke from that side.  While he was telling me about this, the man was doing the same thing.  He was completely unaware that he was doing it.  I don’t know if his son was doing it or not, but I was amazed at what seemed like hypocrisy in the man.  Perhaps he was subconsciously aware and ashamed of the action, but saw it clearly in others.

Often narcissists make their accusations with what seems like absolute sincerity.  So strong are their assertions that the accused begin to believe them.  Several people have written to me with the concern that they are the ones with the problems because the narcissist has convinced them.  But the truth is that it is the narcissist who is lying, cheating, abusive, argumentative, condescending, or whatever.

Sometimes it appears that the narcissist is very much aware that he is projecting and he is doing it on purpose.  Lying is not usually difficult for the narcissist, who is fundamentally practical about protecting himself.  If he is stealing, he may accuse you of stealing to divert attention from himself.  If he is cruel, he may accuse you of cruelty so that you can’t accuse him.

For example: Kitty accuses her daughter of betraying her confidence.  She has told her daughter about certain feelings and now she is accusing her of having a big mouth and not being able to keep a secret.  She says that her daughter betrayed her.  However, the way Kitty learned this was by reading her daughter’s diary, which her daughter had hidden in her room.  Kitty regularly searched her daughter’s room and read her diary.  When the daughter repeatedly said that she hadn’t told anyone, Kitty called her a liar and punished her.  Then the girl found her diary and realized that her mother had read it.  When she claimed that her mother had actually betrayed her privacy, her mother became even more angry and abusive.

Dealing with projection can be very difficult.  Often the narcissist will make his accusations to others and the victim will have no opportunity for a defense.  And any similar behavior by the victim will serve as support for the accusations.  One time of anger is all the narcissist needs to call you the angry person.

The only way to handle this may be to walk in integrity and deny the lies whether or not you can defend yourself.  You cannot live in perfect avoidance of narcissistic behavior.  People in relationship with narcissists normally feel angry or depressed.  It is natural for a victim to withdraw and try to hide from the abuse.  Deception or denial are normal parts of dealing with attacks.  Those feelings (or the actions associated with them) do not prove the narcissist’s point.

However it comes, projection is a powerful tool for the narcissist.  It is an attempt to bring you down to his/her level; or even to force you to swap perspectives.  It is a curse that says, “You are just like you say I am.”  But it is still a lie.

Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so a curse without cause shall not alight.

Proverbs 26:2 (NKJV) 

You do not have to accept the lie, even if others believe it.  You can still walk with your head held high and know the truth.  Once others see the truth for themselves about your narcissist, they will begin to understand what you have been going through.

There are many good resources online about projection and other behaviors.  One group you should know about is “Out of the Fog”.  They have a great deal of material on many personality disorders, including narcissism.  Their article on projection is here:  http://outofthefog.net/CommonBehaviors/Projection.html

Understanding this tactic of the narcissist may not make it easier to bear, but it might help to settle some of the confusion in your own mind.

19 Comments

Filed under Narcissism

19 responses to “Projection

  1. rebecca

    I guess I have a question….I have seen this characteristic in an individual and had decided that they were narcissistic. However, I have learned recently that they were diagnosed as being Bi-polar. Is it possible to be both? I am still having trouble accepting the diagnosis because of just how truly mean/nasty this individual was…. Any advice???

    • Bi-polar disorder is a troubling illness that exhibits all kinds of strange and hurtful behavior. Disorders like narcissism are defined by a collection of symptoms or characteristics. Projection, grandiose thinking, depersonalization – these are things most people who are narcissistic will exhibit. But exhibiting some of these characteristics is different from being a narcissist.

      I know that bi-polar can present itself with cruelty. It’s what we used to call “manic-depressive.” These poor people are way up and way down, sometimes lethargic and other times hyperactive. Catching them at any place within that circuit could expose behavior and attitudes differing greatly from other times.

      Please understand that I am not a psycho-therapist of any kind. My guess is that the test would be to determine whether narcissistic behavior is consistently expressed. That can be a little difficult unless you truly understand the behaviors of a narcissist. People regularly report that their N is at times very kind and gentle and at other times very cruel. But those in relationships over time begin to understand that this is two sides of one manipulating coin. In other words, the N wants something and uses whatever method is necessary to get it. The kindness isn’t really personal or loving. Even the anger seems phony at times. The narcissist has no empathic emotions toward the other in the relationship; so the emotions have a falsity about them.

      So, to state it simply: has this person been up and down, on and off, with these characteristics or were they all just part of his manipulation? Also, bi-polar disorder can be effectively treated with meds. If he is taking them, have they changed him?

      • Ashley

        Good question. I have degrees in mental health and my ex just recently said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have been with him many years. He is not biopolar. He has learned what to say to his shrink so that he can play the victim and get a disability check. He has been on lithium and although he says it makes him feel better, his behavior has not changed one bit. Again part of his act. They are masters at deception.

  2. Maggie

    I am grateful for this article this morning. I am a bit confused. In my marriage I may have expressed a complaint. The NPD spouse would attack and state, “you are projecting, that is exactly what you do to me”. When I was younger and less aware I would defend my complaint about his behavior and then I would defend my person against the attack that I was doing the same thing. This was of course fruitless. Over the years there were times when I absolutely was doing behavior similar( by that I mean unproductive..maybe ungrounded criticism , as an example), but it would not have been in that moment. i n the moment of the complaint I was stating a complaint about a very real and undesirable behavior in him. It was his argument that the mere fact that I stated the complaint was the exact evidence that I was doing the same behavior he was doing. I took that to mean that because i was expressing a complaint I was criticizing him and since I was complaining about experiencing ungrounded criticism from him I was in fact criticizing him…the same thing I was complaining about. He was lying, criticizing, blaming, shaming, etc.. and I was complaining about that. Somehow he took the act of me complaining about this behavior as the same as me doing that behavior of course… to him. I got very warn down overtime. So much to the degree that as I write I hope and pray I make sense to someone out there because it is all very confusing. To complicate things because I would become confused I have contemplated, “do I have a personality disorder”. Certainly, I am capable of similar behavior, that is projection. I think I could have projected at times because I was protecting myself. Often I did not want to own that I perhaps was critical or that I did gaslight him on occasion . I did these behaviors in moments when I was suffering and I assume I did these behaviors in ordinary time as well ..because i am human. My heart never hardened from these occasional moments of insanity and immaturity but I did do these behaviors nonetheless. I cannot remember a time when I did not own up to my behavior. Sadly, I cannot remember a time when I owned the very rare occasion I gaslighted. I gaslighted to avoid the abuse I expected to follow . Not good but that is what it came down to at the very end. I know today my heartfelt complaints for the purposes of exposing destructive behavior and bringing light on it…FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE MARRIAGE , NOT THE DESTRUCTION OF A SOUL( as it was so often experienced) is about the healthiest thing I did in my marriage. I believe I owned those times I projected onto him what I was flawed at, like procrastination for example, when I certainly battled that from time to time. Of course that was like kerosine to his narcissism, validating him over and over again. I did the best I could do with all this stuff. The mere fact that there was so much stuff should have been an indication of personality disorder. I know now . I just am battling some deep insecurity as a result and I pray it does not turn out I have one as well or a problem with projection….YIKES.

    • Hi Maggie! Thanks for your comment. I certainly sympathize with your confusion and frustration. Narcissistic relationships usually move to a certain playing field where the narcissist rules and anyone else is uncomfortable. Ordinary methods of relating don’t work, so you are almost forced into playing by their rules.

      For example, let’s consider physical abuse. You might have a friend who likes to hit you. That seems so strange that you don’t know what to do. You can’t easily avoid the person and you have asked her to stop, but she doesn’t. Pretty soon you find yourself planning to hit her back. Now, that isn’t normal for you. You are not a hitter. So, when you do hit her, she screams and accuses and tells others. You feel terrible. What in the world is wrong with me, you ask. You try to convince yourself, and maybe others, that it was her fault, that she started it; but then you sound like a child. It doesn’t take long before you begin to wonder if maybe there is something wrong with you.

      But, you see, this was her fault. She did push the right buttons to move you to that action. Others would have done the same thing, whether they believe it or not. Reciprocal behavior is defined by the offender, not the victim. The person who hurts determines the playing field. This is why you hear of gentle and kind students taking a gun to school to shoot the bully who has been tormenting them. Society has to hold the victims accountable for their response, but we can at least understand.

      What I am saying is that your use of projection or other unkind and unfair tactics may have simply been a response to what was being done to you. The real question is whether these actions are consistent with who you are. If your actions were not like you, but more like him, they might be what I would call “reciprocal responses.” None of this makes them right or good, just understandable.

      I would encourage you to talk with a good counselor who believes your story and can help you sort out what is from you and what is from him through you. Please feel free to ask questions or challenge these thoughts.

      • Maggie

        I am so very grateful for this reply. I do not want to beat a dead horse but I would appreciate a bit more coaching here if that is practical. I heard a very small voice rising in the back of my head as I read your response and it was his. It said something like this, “Yes, that’s right. My response to you is reciprocal, you set the playing field when you criticized me. It doesn’t mean it was right but I had to defend myself. I was justified. I only get like this when you treat me like that.” Again, a little confusing here but he often justified his stuff by linking it to my behavior. I do understand in the larger picture this is his stuff, I do . And I do accept your thinking, “the person who hurts sets the playing field”. But how does that work when the N perceives everything as a hurt, a wounding? but in reality it is simply expressing a feeling or sharing an authentic complaint? Also , I assume you would suggest in an ordinary healthy relationship if someone set the playing field with something “perceived “unkind, the other would clarify , not reciprocate. And to your point over time if one was unkind to another repeatedly eventually even that healthy relationship may resort to “reciprocal responses “?
        Maybe one last example may shed more light for me…
        When the N would withhold and control with silence and I would pursue some kind of a connection. I would express my hurt/pain. He would say, “your trying to control me”. I used to get very upset. I would ask for clarity or some kind of conversation and he would become more agitated. I would mostly present my feelings as a complaint, not a criticism. If I did present criticism (and certainly i did sometimes) would you consider his reciprocation to be understandable? He would say I provoked him with criticism and when I would not accept he did not want to discuss the subject, he had to reciprocate. Do you see how crazy and confused I got. of course you do. Thank you for listening. I appreciate this wonderful work you do. Thank you very much.

        Please note that I understand that the response the spouse gave, N. injury response or reciprocation is truly not germane because the real issue is the deliberate withholding and controlling with silence and everything else that follows is simply to cover up,avoid, create distance, sulk, gaslight, etc… the original withholding.

      • Cecilia K

        Maggie, yes, it is all so very confusing when you’re in relationship with a Narc, because they don’t make sense. They do not operate with logic, so they are extremely unpredictable. And how right you are that they perceive everything as a hurt, a wounding. You can say something or make a certain choice in complete faith and innocence, and the next thing you know, you get attacked or shut out, and your perplexed as to where that reaction came from.

        It was very difficult for me to respond with grace in these situations. In my mind, I would be thinking how utterly ridiculous it was that he was making such a huge deal out of this – I didn’t do anything wrong (ex., Sometimes on the phone, I wouldn’t have much to say and might start to end the phone call after only a few minutes – not in hostility, just not wanting to have to grope for conversation for even five minutes – and this was a pretty rare occasion – but each time, he took it as a major offense), but then I would think about how if I said that to him, then it would give him reason to dismiss my feelings. Of course, he often did dismiss my feelings anyway, but I guess I was trying to set an example by seeking to understand his feelings, hoping that eventually, he would respond the same way and would not just assume that I was trying to disrespect him.

        To be clear, I know I didn’t always respond with grace; in fact, I probably spoke out of my flesh more often than in the Spirit, but I do remember catching myself a few times and thinking, you’re just going to set yourself up for more abuse if you tell him what you really want to say.

        All that to illustrate that I can really understand your concern that he can link his behavior to yours. I may not have expressed an exact parallel, though.

        I think ultimately, it comes down to How you express your concerns. If you make a conscious effort to express them with grace and love, rather than in the form of an attack (ex., “You’re such a jerk!”, etc.), then you’re simply informing him of how his behavior makes you feel. A loving person would want to know if their behavior is hurting their partner. Of course, I realize these people usually aren’t very loving, but at least according to Scripture, you could have peace that you fulfilled your obligation, and how he responds is not your responsibility. And unfortunately, even if you do express your feelings graciously – speak the truth in love – Narcs will still tend to get defensive and rage back at you or punish you.

  3. Marie

    My husband made me go to a Psychologist because he says I am either mentally or psychologically unstable which accounts for the difficulties in our marriage. After some solo counseling for the two of us and several more of the joint counseling, the psychologist said that it is my husband who has a high degree of NPD. We were adviced to take a psychological test (which I did) but my husband backed out at the last minute. Thank you for your posts. The articles are really helpful in my journey.

    • You are not the first one to tell me a story like this. I regularly teach counselors that the only time they may encounter a narcissist in their office is when he brings his wife there for them to fix. Praise the Lord that the psychologist saw through his deceptions! I hope you were affirmed in the truth about yourself. I also hope others read this and find a word of encouragement in what you have written. Thanks!

  4. Penny

    This post is so meaningful, especially the part that says “People in relationship with narcissists normally feel angry or depressed. It is natural for a victim to withdraw and try to hide from the abuse.” I have recently been told to get help for my “anger problem”. Anger problem? Me?? I was never described as angry prior to the abuse & false accusations & scapegoating by the N! Isn’t anger a healthy response to such behavior? Why are so many Christians afraid of the righteous anger of the victim? Why are we further victimized by other Christians who demand that we “bend over” for it, turn the other cheek, forgive the unrepentant, minimize the abuse. Why?? Dave–can you help me with this?

  5. Carolyn

    Boy….every time I read this blog and the comments, I feel as though we have lived each others life. When a narccist projects, it usually leaves you feeling very confused. With my ex…I felt as though anything I said about something he did…would somehow be made out to be my fault. So after years of this, you just start to feel like “why bother expressing my needs or thoughts when doing so only causes more pain”? So invariably, you begin to lose your “sparkle” and all that makes you YOU, which is a horrible way to live.
    I found that when my ex projected…that was the time that I better dig a little deeper with him…because it was REALLY about something wrong or bad that he was doing.
    I used to say to him that what he really wanted was a “Stepford Wife”. He would just snicker….
    Thank you all for taking the time to share your stories. There is power in knowing that we are not alone. Praise God for the strength He gives us…and the unconditional love and grace. In His eyes….we are loved so dearly, and that is sufficient for me!

    • Cecilia K

      Confused – felt it, too. “Why bother?” – Thought it, too. And I don’t remember actually saying to him that what he really wanted was a “Stepford Wife” (or girlfriend in our case), but I think I thought that very same thing on occasion. It’s such a comfort to see how many others feel and think what you do/did. I am also thankful to all these wounded souls for sharing their stories and feelings in our safe little community here. And thank you to Pastor Dave for providing it.

  6. Sunflower

    Interesting what you said about ‘losing your sparkle’. I always wondered, “Why does he need to put the fire out?” If I or the children got excited about anything, that excitement had to be squashed, and fast. So after a long time, I discovered that the only way to sometimes get what we wanted was to pretend we just didn’t care, or even that maybe we didn’t even want it. Feels like reverse psychology, which feels deceptive, but it works. How sick is that?

    • Sunflower- I have also had that expereince with my N but not just with being happy or excited about something. He can’t seem to tolerate me/us being sad or angry about anything either. Too much emotion of any kind and I “don’t have a biblical perspective”, have an anger problem, etc…exhausting

  7. Whisper

    My family often commented that I was a different person after marrying my N husband. Over time, he drained the life out of me and I didn’t even realize it was happening. When we met, I was a confident, independent professional women. His emotional abuse and unpredictable behavior gradually eroded my confidence and feeling of self worth. I began to feel anxious and confused. Thank God, a dear friend gave me a book on Narcissism. The book made sense and pulled me out of the pit I had been pulled into by my N. husband. I prayed & cried and decided that I had to work hard to regain my confidence, strength and joy. One of my strategies is to let him think he’s winning. I’m usually aware of his manipulative & deceptive ways. I choose not to get pulled in. It is not easy.

    • Fellow Survivor

      Janice, why is your description so much like what happened to me. I used to be a happy, confident, can do anything kind of guy. After years and years of the deception, put downs and just all around indifference to my basic needs I feel like a bug. Sometimes we begin to actually believe the stuff they project onto us. And why not? They know us as well as anyone and we trust their judgement, so why wouldn’t they be right about us, and so we begin to believe it.

      Anyway, the last few days have been the, how should I put it, the “I miss my narc” days. But do I really? Its the addiction I know. Why would I miss someone that treated me so badly and never gave the time of day to my needs or anything that was important in my life. All that work, all those sacrifices, all for what? They say it may take years to get over this kind of breakup, I certainly hope not in my case.

      • Repol

        Janice’s description sounds like me too.

        I’ve heard that recovery takes as long coming out as it did going in. I too hope that is not the case. But I am finding that I am much, much better when I come here and get reminded that the responses I have are truly the normal reactions to something that is so very wrong and should never have been a component in our personal circumstances. The circumstances were absolutely wrong, and it is normal (not crazy) to respond in ways that show how wrong those things are. Then we can deal with them.

  8. I’ve been through the projection of a narcisstic sociopath… your post is spot on. They are truly messed up individuals. As more awareness is made hopefully fewer people will become their prey/victims. Take care, Jen

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