It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Selective Memory

Selective memory is one of those things that is an essential ingredient in other things—without selective memory, such things as denial and gaslighting just don’t work.

What must be understood about the narcissist is that many of her peculiarities—like denial and gaslighting and selective memory—are not always consciously, intentionally created. Oh, narcissists can—and do—intentionally lie and twist things to suit their own agenda, but there is also a non-volitional component in which the narcissist has unconsciously altered reality to create or support her fantasy world and those things are as real to her as anything in your reality-grounded life is to you.

Self-identified narcissist Sam Vaknin addresses this in his essay Being There: Narcissism and Selective Memory, “I am often shocked when presented with incontrovertible evidence to an event in my past, something I said, or did, a person I knew, a sentence I have written. I do not remember having done, said, or written what is attributed to me. I do not recall having met the person, having felt anything, having been there. It is not that it looks alien to me, as though it happened to someone else. I simply have no recollection whatsoever, I draw a blank…I simply erase and atomize that which is no longer of use in the pursuit of Narcissistic Supply.”

The website Out of the Fog, a site dedicated to people having to deal with personality-disordered others, describes selective memory thus: “…the use of memory, or a lack of memory, which is selective to the point of reinforcing a bias, belief or desired outcome.”

My own MNM’s particular brand of selective memory was simple: if she didn’t remember it, it didn’t happen. Not that she might have forgotten it…that was not possible. She was absolute in this—if she didn’t remember it, it never happened. And you can be assured that, like Sam Vaknin, she never forgot anything that might lead her to N-supply!

Now this could be applied in a lot of ways—she could forget her own words and deeds or the words and deeds of others, or she could “misremember” her own words and deeds as well as those of others. Any way you sliced it, she was entirely confident of her memory, so when it came to a difference between her memory of an event and yours, you were inevitably wrong…even when you were objectively right. And if she said it didn’t happen and you insisted that it did, well, you were just setting yourself up for a world of hurt.

There was nothing too small for this to be applied to. If she thought she told me to peel some potatoes and put them on the stove—but failed to do so—then came home from work the potatoes were not there, I got a beating; trying tell her she had not told me to put the potatoes on would just make the beating worse: if she remembered it, it happened, whether I “remembered” it or not. She once gave me permission to go to a choir concert, which she promptly forgot; weeks later, when I asked for a ride to school where I would pick up the bus to the event, she exploded and accused me of trying to “sneak one past” her. I was sent to my room for the rest of the day and evening, causing me to miss the concert, which caused a knotty problem for the other 59 members of the choir and the choir master, since I was a featured soloist and I just didn’t show up for the event.

There was nothing too big to come under the spell of selective memory, either. My mother conveniently “forgot” that she forced my father out of the house…her “memory” of the event was that he abandoned her for his “cheap chippie.” When I became pregnant at 17, she attempted to have my 17 year old boyfriend arrested for statutory rape (didn’t fly—he was also under age) and when I married someone else, she “forgot” about my high school boyfriend and insisted to everyone that my new husband (whom I did not meet until I was 4 months pregnant) was the baby’s father. Now, this may sound petty and small—and even understandable, given the mores of the time—until you realize that years later, when my daughter was an adult, NM still insisted that my first husband was my daughter’s father, long after there was anything “embarrassing” to hide in such a lie. To her mind, my claims that she tried to have my boyfriend arrested and that he is my daughter’s father were lies simply because she didn’t remember it that way and therefore my story could not be true.

The ability to remember what they want in the way they want it, should not be confused with lying. In telling a lie, a narcissist is consciously creating a falsehood to advantage herself. The lie can be as simple as saying she works ten hours a day rather than the true eight, or it can be as elaborate as the two years of lies my MNM told her family and the courts in three states to separate me from my children. Selective memory, however, is less contrived: the narcissist believes those very lies her subconscious has fabricated in order to create a “memory” that is more in keeping with the narcissist’s self-image, takes blame away from her and puts it on another, makes her look noble, heroic, smart, accomplished, or simply right.

When their selective memory is not consciously chosen, the narcissist may be engaging in “confabulation.”  “Characteristic features of confabulation:
1) Typically verbal statements but can also be non-verbal gestures or actions.
2) Can include autobiographical and non-personal information, such as historical facts, fairytales, or other aspects of semantic memory.
3) The account can be fantastic or coherent.
4) Both the premise and the details of the account can be false.
5) The account is usually drawn from the patient’s memory of actual experiences, including past and current thoughts.
6) The patient is unaware of the accounts’ distortions or inappropriateness, and is not concerned when errors are pointed out.
7) There is no hidden motivation behind the account.
8) The patient’s personality structure may play a role in their readiness to confabulate.”

Item #7 may seem confusing with regard to narcissists, but bear in mind that when the narcissist’s subconscious is amending reality for a purpose, the narcissist may be completely unaware and have no conscious hidden motivation. And #8 is particularly important: a dysfunctional personality structure surely makes one more susceptible to confabulate than a person with a more integrated, functional personality.

I am not trying to prompt sympathy or empathy for the narcissist, here. Quite the contrary, in fact. Nobody is certain what prompts a person to develop NPD, but we are all aware that the narcissist’s actual actions are volitional: they have the same ability to choose their behaviours as the rest of us, the same ability to resist their baser urges, the same ability to take the high road, even if they have no emotional investment in doing so. Make no mistake, narcissist’s know right from wrong and when they do wrong, they make a choice to do so, just as a normal person might. They choose to do wrong because there is something in it for them, some kind of obvious gain or the not-so-obvious reward of Nsupply.

This is why, even if the narcissist in confabulating and is truly not aware of her selective memory, I give no quarter. A perfect—and true-to-life—example is two men I know: both are diabetic, both recently had seizures that left them unconscious for a brief period of time, and neither of them have any recall of the seizure. The first man, while having absolutely no memory of the seizure, believed his wife when she told him what happened and, as a result, became more careful with his medication. The second man (already known to both me and his girlfriend as a narcissist) had not one but two seizures on the same day. But when his girlfriend told him what happened he, like my NM, didn’t remember it and therefore declared it didn’t happen. As a result, he continues to make foolish choices regarding his medication, adjusting nothing because, in his mind it never happened and he simply refuses to entertain the thought that his lack of memory of an event does not negate its reality. Both men had exactly the same choice—to believe their “memory” or their partner—and the narcissist took the arrogant, self-aggrandizing one.

Selective memory can be volitional, as when someone determinedly puts something unpleasant...or something that simply does not serve her...out of her mind, and it can be non-volitional, as when the subconscious rewrites history to create or support the narcissist’s fantasy life. But in both cases, a person has the option of relying on what she thinks she recalls or relying on outside evidence, the testimony of others, society’s norms. The narcissist invariably goes for what she “remembers,” to the detriment of all others concerned.

Next up: Hypocrisy

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Denial—the core of Narcissism

Denial is at the core of narcissism. Without it, Narcissistic Personality Disorder simply could not exist.

Denial (also called abnegation) is a defense mechanism…in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.” Simply stated, denial is lying to yourself and believing the lie.

Brought down to its very essence, denial is expressed in two basic forms: lying to oneself about others (the woman who cannot admit her man is cheating on her, for example, even though there is ample evidence of his perfidy) or lying to oneself about one’s own self (the jowly, bloated, middle aged matron believing she looks “hot” in fashions better suited to her 13-year-old daughter). One need not be a narcissist to engage in denial—we all do it from time to time, whether it is in reference to romance or fashion or health. But while not all deniers are narcissists, all narcissists are deniers—narcissism could not exist without the ability to deny reality and believe that denial.

When you are in denial about yourself it can take more than one form: it can be as superficial as believing you look really good with a trout pout or as deep as believing that you are entitled to whatever it is you want by whatever means you must employ to get it. You can deny what the mirror tells you, substituting in your vision what you want to see; you can deny that the rules of society and law apply equally to all of us and behave—without qualm—in a way the rest of us believe to be unethical.

Denial with respect to others is something you see all the time: people who essentially bury their heads in the sand rather than acknowledge unpleasant truths they don’t want to deal with. But there is a deeper, more pernicious kind of denial with regard to other people: the refusal to acknowledge the feelings of others and the substitution of something less true but more palatable to the denier.

The narcissist engages in denial that serves him, that allows him to always be right, that allows him to feel good about himself, no matter the cost to others. The narcissist’s lack of empathy allows him to look at someone who is crying as a result of some cold or cruel remark he made and believe she is not really hurt, she is trying to manipulate him. Or, if acknowledging she is hurt, she is hurt not because of something he said or did but because she has chosen to be hurt by his words or deeds.

Because a narcissist does not live in reality, however, sometimes his denial backfires on him and causes problems—but don’t think for a minute the narcissist learns anything from it. The boyfriend of a friend of mine now has a partially crippled hand due to his denial: he got an infection and refused to see a doctor about it, saying it was “fine.” Eventually, pain (and his girlfriend) drove him to see a doctor but by then the bones were involved and some of them eventually fused. His denial of the severity of his injury—whether because he subconsciously thought he was Superman or whether he was afraid to see a physician—caused a far-reaching consequence. Did he learn from this? No—he blamed the cat that scratched him and the next time he got really sick, he refused treatment until he was so sick he had to be admitted to a hospital in critical condition.

Unfortunately, most narcissistic denial doesn’t have the outcome of the narcissist being the only one injured. My mother denied I needed glasses—my science teacher sent me to the school nurse because I could not read the blackboard from the front row. The nurse checked my eyes and told my mother I needed glasses. When my mother said I was “faking it,” the nurse gave my mother the choice of taking me to the optometrist herself or she would call in CPS and lay a charge of neglect (she had been dealing with my mother for years by this time and was not fooled by her at all). All the way to the optometrist’s office I was harangued, terrorized and screamed at, accused of faking, and promised the beating of my lifetime after the doctor’s tests proved it. The drive home was absolutely silent—I needed glasses stronger than hers—but no apology was forthcoming for her tirade en route. Her denial of the reality of my needs took the form of believing me to be a “drama queen” and a “hypochondriac.” Even when I was truly sick, like when I had pneumonia or an allergy attack that swelled my eyes completely shut, I was accused of “playing up” my symptoms and pretending that I was sicker than I was. My mother’s denial of my medical needs not only caused me unnecessary pain and suffering, it set the stage for me neglecting my medical care: without my mother responding to my needs appropriately, I learned to endure long past the time I should seek treatment, because I was never sure when I should seek it.

The narcissist lives in denial about himself as well as others. To himself, a narcissist is special, talented, entitled, better than everyone else. He may be a short, plain, social bumbler, but in his mind, he is the superior being deserving of a supermodel girlfriend and a rich man’s lifestyle. That he doesn’t have it is not his fault—it is the fault of those who are jealous of his abilities, who don’t like him because of his colour, who won’t give him a chance because of his origins or religion or the school he went to (or didn’t go to) or his parents because they denied him those things that would have given him entrĂ©e into that to which he believes he is entitled.

In the narcissist, denial can be applied to any and everything. Laws? For the narcissist, they only apply if he is caught—but you had better abide by them! We must all be predictable so that the narcissist can anticipate what we will do and make his plans accordingly. It’s OK if he fails to return something borrowed—even money—but you have no such leeway. His front yard can be an overgrown mess and his house need painting, but you had better keep yours up or you’ll lower his property values!

James, my N ex-husband, was famous for his denial of economic reality—and when caught out, he was invariably angry with those whom he identified as the cause of the problems that cost him money. He, of course, never included himself among those at fault.

When I met James, he had about $3000 (about $16,000 in today’s money) invested in a company called Bowmar. “In 1971, Indiana-based Bowmar Instruments introduced the first hand-held LED (Light Emitting Diode) calculator. The “Bowmar Brain” was a huge success. Other manufacturers developed cheaper calculators, and when the company could no longer compete, it went bankrupt in 1976.” As Bowmar’s share price sank, James refused to acknowledge the company was crashing and he needed to sell out to minimize his losses. His denial of the reality of Bowmar’s decline—he kept telling me “it will go back up…then I’ll sell…”—caused him to ride Bowmar right down to the bottom. And then he got mad. He got mad at Bowmar for crashing, he got mad at the stock market, and he got mad at me for being right…so much so that when, a few years later, I suggested he buy a new stock called Redken, he got mad all over again and refused to invest a penny. Redken, of course, went on to be a huge success in its market.

The narcissist can sink himself into denial and hold fast to it, no matter how much reality may attempt to batter him. When James and I divorced, I retained possession the family home for a few years (and had to make the mortgage payments), after which we were supposed to sell it. I called in a real estate agent who had worked my neighbourhood for many years and asked her to get a comprehensive report of sales in my neighbourhood against which we could compare my house in order to set a selling price. Considering the age, condition and location of the house, she set the optimum selling price at $215,000, telling me to be prepared to accept offers at $200,000. But when I tried to get James to sign the sales authorization papers, he refused. He wanted to sell the house for $279,000, significantly more than the house was worth, and some $60,000 more than the best house on the street had sold for! And ours was far from the best house on the street.

I couldn’t imagine why he was fixating on this figure and eventually had to drag him back to court to get a judge to set a price and authorize the sale. I took my agent with me and she carefully explained to the judge why she had recommended her price and presented charts and other research of the sales of similar homes in my area over the previous year. When it came James’ turn to speak, he had no supporters, no presentation, no statistics. What he had was this: He wanted to by a house in Colorado, where he was currently living. He needed $90,000 cash to buy the house free and clear. So, he did calculations determining how much he would have to sell the California house for and, after taxes, commissions, paying off the old mortgage and splitting the proceeds with me, have that $90K left over. And the figure the house needed to sell for, in order for James to realize his $90K profit, was $279K.

He was in complete denial of the reality of the property market and sales. He was livid with the judge when he set the listing price at $215K and ordered we accept any offer of $200K or more. He was incandescent with fury when the judge stuck him with my lawyer’s bill and court costs for the hearing, saying if he had been reasonable, the hearing would never have been necessary. He fully expected the judge to side with him despite our research and the figures my estate agent had presented (and all of this had been presented to James before we decided to go to court—he simply denied their veracity). Interestingly, after being on the market for seven months at $279K and not a single showing, when the house was reduced to $215K it sold for $200K within a month.

James saw himself as a victim—he was my victim in the divorce, the victim of sandbaggers and backstabbers at work, the victim of the police who gave him citations for doing things (like speeding, running red lights, driving on the shoulder during commute traffic) that he considered harmless—speeding was OK because he was “in control”; blowing a red light was ok because he “looked and no traffic was coming”; driving the shoulder was OK because there was plenty of room and why should he wait with all those other morons who weren’t smart enough to take an opportunity when it presented? He was the victim of my “rapacious attorney” for taking him to court every month and sticking him with her bills—even though we only took him to court when he was in violation of court orders for things like support and maintenance costs for the house. He simply could not face that the trouble that were costing him so much money were of his own doing. So, instead of making his support payments on time, instead of paying half the bill to fix the furnace and the roof, instead of giving me half of the joint tax return, he viewed the situation as him being victimized by a greedy ex-wife, her voracious attorney and biased judges. Had he not been mired so deeply in denial he would have seen that on-time payments of both support and household repairs and refraining from forging my signature on a government check would have kept him out of court and my attorney’s fingers out of his wallet. He was so invested in his victimhood that he spent four years creating situation after situation that forced me to drag him back to court for redress...and every one cost him money and left him feeling further victimized.

My mother was no less in denial about most aspects of her life. When I was about 10, she told my father that she was going to start “seeing other men,” and that she might bring some of them home with her…and if he didn’t like it, he could leave. This was the 1950s and she was in complete denial about the moral strictures of the day. She didn’t need to adhere to a moral code she didn’t like (although the rest of us damn sure had to!). One of the clearest examples of her denial was how she treated my growing, developing body. As my breasts grew and my height increased, instead of taking me shopping to buy me appropriate undergarments and school clothes, she took my little girl dresses (size 12 or so) and let the seams out as far as they could go, let the hems down and even stitched a band of lace to the bottom of the dresses to lengthen them. I just thought she was cheap, but my stepmother remarked that she was doing an awful lot of work just to be cheap—it was her opinion that I was becoming competition for male attention and by keeping me looking like a little girl, NM could not only deny her own advancing age, but keep me a child and not a rival. In context of the way she lived and thought, it made perfect sense.

Denial is always self serving. There are a lot of people in America who are unwilling to admit even to themselves that they are racist. Rather than admit, for example, that they simply do not want what they secretly consider to be a sub-human to dictate to them as the ruler of their country, they will come out with incredibly outlandish ways to try to discredit the black guy in the Oval Office and get him evicted, without dirtying their reputations by revealing their closet racism. Chief among these are the “birthers,” those who refuse, no matter what kind of evidence is presented, to believe that Obama is a natural born American citizen. His birth certificate was released from the state archives of Hawaii—and they called it a forgery. The governor, who was personally acquainted with Obama’s parents at the time of his birth, has attested personal knowledge of the man’s birth in Hawaii—they refuse to believe him. Not even the fine point of law—the technical meaning of “natural born”—sways them from their denial (there are two kinds of citizens—natural born and naturalized; if either one of your parents is a US citizen at the time of your birth, it does not matter where in the world you are born, you are a “natural born” US citizen). Their denial of the incontrovertible facts of Obama’s citizenship serves them—it gives them hope that they can remove this person from the presidency and allows them to avoid accepting that their leader is a man of what they secretly consider to be a member of an inferior race.

Denial is a peculiar thing but it always serves the denier. My daughter, despite authentication from half a dozen people in the family who were—or became—aware of my mother’s plot to steal my children and give them to her brother for adoption, has consistently refused to believe the truth. NM told her that I had abandoned her, that I didn’t want her anymore and as proof, cited that I did not make any attempt to contact her for the whole eight years she was gone. No amount of logic or proof to the contrary has swayed my daughter from believing that despite knowing that I didn’t know where she was, despite a large kraft envelope of cards and letters I sent to her and her brother over the years (in care of my grandmother), despite my father, my uncle, and even my grandparents telling her I did not abandon her and that I had made regular attempts to locate her and they blocked me.

How did this denial serve her? It gave her a safe target for her anger: if she got mad at NM or some other family member, they might reject her but since she believed I had already done so, there was nothing to lose. By siding with NM and becoming virtually her only ally, she became NM’s new Golden Child. When she needed a fat loan for a down payment on her first house, Dear Daughter approached her grandmother (who was flush with cash inherited from her own parents) for a loan. Several years later, when NM wrote her will, she told DD that I was being written out of it in her favour, a fact DD could not wait to impart to me over the phone.

“Do you think that’s fair?” I asked.

I could hear the dismissive indifference in her voice, “Well, you and Grammi never got along, anyway.”

Not only was she in denial about whether or not it was fair for my mother to disinherit me in her favour, she saw nothing at all wrong with her two brothers being disinherited right along beside me. Her denial netted her a fortune…literally…and then she lied to her brothers about it, saying Grammi had left the money to all three of them but she was to administer it.

Like the trusting idiot I can be, I believed that foreshadowed her intent to split the money with her brothers. Since this is what I would have done in my own will—split my estate evenly among my kids—I was somewhat mollified at the money having gone to her. If she was sharing it her brothers, then I could go along with that. But it didn’t work out that way—when my oldest son, who was disabled, approached her for the money to buy a car, she refused because she had already spent it all buying herself a new house—a McMansion in a neighbouring town, a huge overgrown monstrosity of a place for her family of three (she had empty rooms that she had no purpose for!). And when asked why, she denied any intent to share with her brothers—it was her money and she could do what she wanted with it.

Denial is at the absolute core of narcissism. Without the ability to deny one’s own feelings of inadequacy and shame, without the ability to deny how one’s self-serving actions affect others, without the ability to deny that one is part of a whole rather than an isolated entity, narcissism is simply not possible. When you deal in reality you hear the note of hurt in another’s voice and respond to it viscerally, you wince with another’s pain—even today I cannot watch my husband inject his insulin without feeling a little twinge in my belly as the needle pierces his flesh, and he has been a diabetic for a decade.

Denial is at the heart of every narcissist, it is at the centre of their being, it is what allows them to live conscience-free, to truly believe in their superiority over us lesser mortals, to be blameless in all things. Without denial, narcissists simply cannot exist.

Next up: Selective memory

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Projection: coming from a narcissist near you—

Projection was the first clue I had that my husband James had something terribly, terribly wrong with him. When he reported having an entire conversation with me in his head, becoming angry with me as a result of “my part” in the “conversation,” and then retaliating against me as a result, I was shocked. On questioning him, however, trying to discern just what it was he thought I would say, I was further surprised to discover that, after years of marriage, the responses he imagined I would give were not even close to the kinds of things I would say. They demonstrated a complete lack knowledge about me, my beliefs, values, and even my behaviours. Further probing revealed that the real person he was responding to was his mother and for the entire term of our marriage, he had been projecting…and reacting to…her, not to me. I didn’t even exist.

Most times, projection is slightly different from this type, but both kind have a lack of recognition of the real person who is the victim of projection: the reality of the person is simply not acknowledged and the projecting person’s imaginings are substituted. In classic projection “ .. a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people. Thus, projection involves imagining or projecting the belief that others originate those feelings.”

“In psychopathology, projection is an especially commonly used defense mechanism in people with certain personality disorders: ‘Patients with paranoid personalities, for example, use projection as a primary defense because it allows them to disavow unpleasant feelings and attribute them to others’…all ‘the primitive defenses, such as splitting, projection and projective identification, are commonly connected with primitively organized personalities, such as’: Borderline personality disorder, Narcissistic personality disorder, Antisocial personality disorder, [and] Psychopathy.”

Narcissists and malignant narcissists differ somewhat in that the garden-variety narcissist often operates from a position of lesser consciousness of what she is doing to others, although when confronted she will invariably rationalize or justify her actions and take no responsibility for the hurt she caused. Malignant narcissists are more self-aware in the sense that they consciously create some of the hurt they inflict on others and feel entirely justified in doing so. Both, however, engage in projection and neither of them project with intentional malice…projection doesn’t work that way.

My MNM was a master at projection. When I learned to set a proper table in my Home Ec class and tried to replicate it at home, my mother’s immediate reaction was to assume I wanted something from her. When I later asked for a ride to my Girl Scout meeting, she assumed that I was “buttering her up” so she would be inclined to give me that ride, the fact that I needed a ride every week somehow forgotten. When I did something unexpected, her response was often to think I was “buttering her up” or the contrary—“are you trying to make me mad?” There was some kind of calculating motive behind virtually everything she did and, in true projection mode, she believed others operated just as calculatedly as she did…and often she ascribed to others the feelings or reasons that would have been her own motivations.

A narcissist will believe you are out to get her not because you are or that there is even any indication that you, but because she would be out to get you in a similar circumstance. I read recently about a bride who purposely chose ugly bridesmaid dresses and unflattering coiffures for her wedding party so that none of them could upstage her on “her” day. It would take a narcissist who would actually upstage a bride to think of this and project that onto the women in her wedding party.

James constantly projected his lack of integrity and willingness to “sandbag” others by assuming they also lacked integrity and had no compunctions against sabotaging their colleagues. If, in a meeting, someone disagreed with him, James would immediately assume the other person was doing so for the sole purpose of discrediting him, because that is why he would disagree with someone in a less-than-wholly-private forum: to discredit them and make them look like fools. The idea that someone honestly disagreed with something he had said in the meeting would never occur to him because he, himself, wouldn’t bother to speak up unless there was something to be gained by it: either making someone else look bad so he could look good, or to get credit for something.

Narcissists will do this projecting on virtually any topic with just about anyone. When I was about nine or ten, I was late coming home from the library so I cut through the school yard. NM chose all of my clothes and despite how badly I hated the ugly red oxfords she had bought me that school year, I wore them without protest—they were the only shoes I had and a protest could earn me a beating. In the schoolyard I was accosted by a “flasher,” a man who opened his pants and exposed himself to me. I dropped my books and fled, running across a small creek between the school and my neighbourhood. Hearing my screams, a classmate’s father intercepted me in mid-flight and called my parents and other adults who went to the school in search of the pervert. They found my library books, but nothing else.

My father was appropriately concerned for my well-being but my mother’s grim face told me another story. Sure enough, as soon as she could get me alone she informed me that she knew there was no man at the school, that this whole thing was an elaborate charade on my part to get the shoes wet and ruin them so that she would have to buy me a new pair. My protests were labelled “lies,” and I was beaten for ruining the shoes, “cooking up” a “fairy tale” to explain their damage, and for lying. And, the replacement shoes were ugly red oxfords like the first pair to “teach me a lesson.” The real truth was, this was the kind of scheme she would have cooked up to get new shoes and that, as far as she was concerned, was exactly what I had done. Her projection took precedence over reality, even with a horde of concerned neighbourhood parents prowling the school looking for the man who had so terrified me.

Projection occurs anyplace a narcissist might appear. Standing in the queue at the market you accidentally bump the woman ahead of you who then turns on you and accuses you of intentionally trying to damage her costly coat because you are jealous of her affluence; I accidentally lost control of the heavy door on my luxury SUV one day as I was getting out of the car and the powerful spring popped it open—and into the door of a tiny little transportation box parked next to it. It didn’t leave a mark, but the owner of the little transportation box saw it happen and, before she even reached the car, was already verbally abusing me for believing that the fact I drove a luxury car gave me the right to “slam into” other cars and damage them. That I was chagrined at the heavy door getting away from me and that I immediately checked to see if the other car was damaged did not even occur to her—no, her very insistence in attributing an unpleasant motive to me told me, on the spot, that were our positions reversed and she was exiting the luxury car, she wouldn’t care if it damaged a little econobox parked next to it—she was projecting her own subconscious onto me. As stated earlier, projecting her feelings onto me allowed her to disavow her own unpleasant feelings and attribute them to another—me.

Projection is a tool that is not exclusive to the narcissist. Anyone can use it, given the right circumstances, but in the hands of a narcissist it is one of the tools that define their lives. Where you might think—or even say—something cutting about another person when, in fact, you really are a little envious of her, the narcissist uses projection to disown her own feelings and ascribe them to others. She is then at liberty to use that projection, what is now her perception of victim, as a justification for anything she chooses to do in retaliation. It is entirely too easy to ascribe motives, beliefs, and feelings to people in the absence of information, but the narcissist hones it to a fine art…and inflicts some painful damage along the way.

You know you are engaging in projection when you say “Well, that is what I would do/want/think,” and then immediately assume that is what someone else is doing. Truth is, you might be right…but there is a pretty high chance that they would be doing/wanting/thinking something entirely different. Narcissists, with their assumption that they are the centre of the universe, find it inconceivable that other people would have different, even loftier, motivations than themselves have.

What can you do about it? What can you do if another person persists in projecting her own motives/beliefs/values onto you? In reality, not much. Projection is a form of denial and trying to get someone to give up denial is a formidable task. To ask them to see you as you really are may well be creating an impossible task and, since the narcissist is only motivated by her own advantage (she doesn’t care if you are hurt or upset by her projection, so there is no motive there), it is unlikely the narcissist will see any reason to put in the effort necessary to inject a little reality into her fantasy kingdom.

Next up: Denial