It’s Narcissist Friday!
Whoever calls it first gets it, right? The baseball catch, the last piece of cake, the front passenger seat, the check at the restaurant, the parking place. We name it and claim it. Somehow, being first seems to grant control.
Politics is a great place to see this game. Blame the other party for something you are doing or want to do. As long as you call them on it first, you control the narrative. Then you can do whatever it is you wanted to do and all the complaining of the other only looks like sour grapes.
In these days when narcissism has become a popular word, it shouldn’t surprise us when the narcissist calls others “narcissists.” I have heard this more lately. Someone will write to me saying that an abuser has referred to the writer as a “narcissist.” Yet, when more information is gathered, it is plain that the abuser is the narcissist.
“You’re a narcissist!”
“No, you’re a narcissist!”
Which has the stronger position? See what I mean? The second response might be the right one, but it sounds childish.
This is called projection, a subject we have considered before, but it is aggressive projection, kind of a first-strike projection. This kind of preemptive combat is common for narcissists. Accuse the other person, let them fluster in their own defense, then do whatever you accused them of. When they complain, the narcissist can refer to the original accusation as fact and remind others. That way the others will assume that the victim is the one doing the projecting.
Confused? You are supposed to be. That’s how it works.
And this serves as a reminder that the narcissist’s ways are probably not your ways. Who thinks like this? Narcissists do. They are always thinking ahead, at least when it comes to their plans and manipulations. Because they have to be right (and seen as acceptable or superior) they have to find ways to cover their “sins.” Sometimes they do that by blaming you—even before they do the nasty deed.
I know of narcissists who accused their spouses of lying in front of the court, when the narcissists were the ones lying. The victims were shocked and effectively silenced, just so they wouldn’t look weak in response. I know of co-workers who accused other co-workers of some less-than-acceptable practice, and then set out to do the same thing themselves. If the deed was discovered, it would be the victim who would be investigated.
There is some power in this tactic, if for no other reason than it is so ruthless and unexpected in normal relationships. But that’s the point. The narcissistic relationship is not normal—and you need to be ready for anything. Projection is one of the more difficult narcissistic tactics to overcome, especially when others are involved.
How can you protect yourself? First, understand that the narcissist does not play fair. You will be abused in the process. Narcissistic relationships hurt. If the narcissist accuses you before he/she does something, you may not be able to do anything right. So maybe there is nothing for you to do, at first.
Second, don’t accept the blame for something you did not do. Most of us have been taught to accept guilt when it comes our way, whether we deserve it or not. If someone says that we are doing something wrong, our minds go quickly to any compromise in our lives, and we start to feel guilty. We stammer and try to explain and make ourselves look both guilty and weak. Instead, just say no. If it is not true, say it isn’t true. Whether people believe you or not, this will be the strongest position for you to take.
Third, call the narcissist on the tactic. Let him/her and others know that you understand what is happening and will not accept the game. The narcissist knows what he/she is doing, but the others probably do not. Identifying the tactic might help them to see the truth.
Fourth, point out behavior by example. Be specific. Don’t get into a name-calling exchange. Don’t even get angry. Just be prepared to point out where the narcissist did what he/she accused you of. (This is one good reason to keep a journal, just so you can remember the details, although I would not reveal the existence of the journal until the narcissist can’t get to it and destroy it.)
So the conversation might go like this:
“You’re a liar!”
“No. And I understand what you are doing. You call me a liar to deflect from your own lying. You didn’t work at the office that night. I know where you went.”
I suspect that the narcissist’s tactics will change at about this point in the conversation. You will be attacked in a different way, of course. That’s how this works. But you will probably not be called a liar again.