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.

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. She made me wear the damaged shoes for months and, when she eventually bought replacement shoes, they 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


  1. Crikey,as I was reading that you had had to cross a creek I knew that you were going to be berated about the shoes, not comforted following your ordeal. How awful and horrible. Money, possessions, counting for everything -what about you, her daughter?

    1. As the scapegoat, the only thing I mattered for was to be a convenient receptacle for blame. She used to accuse me of faking stuff as an "attention getting device," a motive more hers than mine because I didn't WANT attention--I wanted to be invisible because if I was, she wouldn't see me. When she didn't see me, she didn't think about me and when she didn't think about me, I was safe.

      She absolutely did not believe there was a man in the schoolyard that day but I often wonder (this was the 50s and little kids were incredibly naive about sexual matters then) where she thought I would get the information to make this up. I mean, if your kid still believes that the stork brings babies, where does the kid learn about flashers unless someone actually DID flash her?

      I counted for nothing--for my entire life, in her eyes I counted for nothing--except to be a convenient excuse for everything that was wrong with her life.

  2. My mother could be mean and abusive but I don't know if she really falls into the malignant narcissist category. My mother is a "poor me" narcissist. Nobody every had it as hard a her. She gave more, she suffered more than any one else. Nobody appreciated her sacrifices. She isn't as abusive as your mother was, Violet.

    1. Hello, Katie and thanks for your comment.

      This blog is about narcissistic parents of all kinds and while mine was a malignant narcissist, many are not. I'm glad yours wasn't as extreme as mine, but sorry that yours wasn't a "normal" mother.

      I don't think, from the standpoint of the children we were, that my NM was any worse than yours. What I mean is, from the viewpoint of children, we simply experienced warped mothering that hurt us deeply. It is not until we are older that we can look at specific acts and put values on them, quantify them as bad, worse, worst, horrifying. As children we simply experience a lack of love, nurturing, empathy and normal maternal care, and the scars that become etched on our psyches as a result have no value attached to them.

      The fact that mine was a pretty horrific excuse for a mother does not minimize your pain or your NM's behaviour. The "martyr" mother is well known and even MNMs like mine engage in it (mine saw herself as MY victim, believe it or not!). Pain is pain and the pain of rejection by our own mothers is not lessened one whit by the fact that one mother emotionally battered her child as opposed to physically. Your pain is no less--nor less important--than mine simply because our mothers used different means of rejecting us.

      Thank you again for writing and please feel free to join the blog so you can be notified of updates as they are posted.

  3. Violet, thank you for your kind understanding. On another note, I thought I did join the blog. Maybe I did something wrong when I signed up?

    1. My error...I didn't check.

      You know, Katie, often we DoNMs minimize our experiences and one of the ways we do it is by comparing ourselves to others. We make ourselves feel like we don't deserve to feel bad about how our NMs treated us because somebody else had it "worse." But it isn't a competition--each mother-daughter dyad is unique, and your feelings are just as hurt, you are just as deprived of normal mothering and anyone else. Our experiences, while having many common elements, are as unique as we are and I don't think any one person's pain is "more" or more deserving of care and concern than anyone else's.

      You are fortunate that your NM was not malignant, but that doesn't make having an NM of any stripe a walk in the park!!

  4. Thank you so much for this. I totally understand projection now. I never really truly got it until reading this.

    1. Glad I could help. I had to do a bit of research to nail it all seemed rather nebulous to me...but once I got to reading, it began making sense and episodes with Ns in my past began to make sense.

      Thanks for writing and letting me know I helped. I really do appreciate it.



  5. My father's way of projecting was to put his bad feelings about himself on us. I was angry and unloveable. My brother was a loser and had a "weak ego"! He would complain that I was an angry person (ESP when I stuck up for myself or set a boundary with him). He grew up in a family where his mother left him with an abusive grandmother and his birth and existence were a source of shame for him and his family (born to a teen mother, his first fiancé (not my mom) broke off the engagement because he was a "bastard". When my mom left him, all his narcissitic demands and anger turned to me and my brother.

    1. I could almost feel sorry for your father, knowing he was abandoned and reviled for the circumstances of his birth, something over which he had no control, but then he goes and spoils it all by having no compassion for innocent children and putting them through the same or worse than he, himself endured.

      Life is not fair...we all know this, even if we are loathe to admit it...but it's not right to go through life making other people miserable just because you got a bad shake. That is just mean-spirited and wrong, especially when the people you are making miserable are your own kids, people you are supposed to love and nurture.

      You are right--what he was doing was projecting--and it was wrong of him to do so. You deserved better from your own father. I hope you and your brother have found ways to cope with him and his destructive behaviours that emancipate you from the negativity.



  6. Thanks for this article. I have been dealing with a borderline narsistic sister for 12+ years. I have sough theapy to cope and my social worker just told me about classic projection today......Oh perfect.....this has occured for many years...

  7. hi im from india
    ive been in this relationship for about 8 years and he swept me off my feet with whirl wind romance and his giving attitude. he started showing his true colors soon after marriage. i suspect his parents are bothe narcissists. they do not communicate with each other since years, mother i have seen her play games and lying and father seeks negative attention and is an alcoholic. it has taken me 8 long years although i am a counsellor myself that i all that i believed or dreamt about in this relationship did not exist. i have a 13 year old daugghter from my previous marriage which was also to a bipolar and ocd.
    he has become very abusive verbally and financially. in these past 8 years he has gained information about my family, friends and work. currently apart from my immediate family there is no one i can turn to. even they find it difficult to trust that this is the same person who was so giving. finally they have kind of accepted it but still feel if i compromise or if i tolerate just a wee bit more things will change between us. however i know that i have tried everything in the book to bring back what we once shared or i thought i shared with him.
    financialy he has ruined me, work wise i have been under house arrest for the past 3 years and am allowed to step out only with his permission which is rare and then too he fights with me. he has put me under camera the entire day for months on end and to no result, made me sign and record that i am not being bothered by him etc. he is now fighting me tooth and nail so that i stop conversing with my daughter and family. even prayers offered to god are not permissible in his eyes. i feel as if he is stripping me of any armour i can have.
    i now see his lies and the deceit however he has understood that i know it and has become more abusive. he seems not scared of anything. couple of months ago he pushed me off the bed and i broke my hand. he was not scared when i called my family to help me to a hospital as i refused to go with him and sat for over 2 hours in pain till they arrived. they even talked of filing a police complaint but that also did not deter him from making fun of me while i sat there in pain.
    it hurts me terribly as i feel cheated all over again, this time with a person whom i loved terribly and trusted immensely. now my only concern is that of my daughter. he is putting me under pressure and not allowing me to go out by accusing me of an affair, which is ridiculous. he has threatened me that he will bang my daughters head against the wall and kill her if he suspects anyone in my life apart from him.
    i fear for our lives, am i just imagining this or is it real fear.
    i fail to decide what i should put my foot down on and what not. he spies on me all the time, checks my phone bills, pays surprise visits to the house and my computer etc. he has told me not to mention all this to anyone else i will regret.
    what extent can he go to and is he a coward or a potentially harmful client.
    sometimes i wonder is it better to stay in poverty and be safe than tolerate his nonsense.
    please help.

  8. My mother assigns me all HER personality traits. She doesnt SEE me. It hurts. I'm 41. When i think ive gotten past the pain, she does soemthing else mean or offensive. She walks around in see thru nightgowns yet sneers at women who dress "like whores" wich means nicely. She likes fat obese crippled people to be her friends bcs it makes her feel thin and able. She has no manners but likes to talk about royalty and fancy tea parties. She has sabotaged my life over and over. I was a naturally sweet happy child. She projected that i was fearful and shy and rude. Thats what she is: Defensive and vindictive and insecure. She's been so awful yet part of her tries to love me. I married an abuser, physically and verbally abusive, bcs that felt like love: always think of his needs, i didnt count, everything was my fault, i existed to erve and fix and be blamed. After i escaped him (he was 30 when i was 15. Did she call the cops? Nope. She let him live with me in the back shed for two years.) she convinced me to return to the city she lived in with my son instead of making a life where i had friends, where I wanted to be. She offered "help" and of course it was a trap. My sons childhood and my 20s were spent in isolation in terrible house she installed us in, in poverty, dealing with her games.My brother is the golden boy. Everything he says is amazing and smart,while everything i say is immediately rejected and mocked. Even if its the same.thing my brother later says. She prevented me from seeing my wonderful grandma before she died. She is awful to my dad whenever she sees him, humiliating him in oublic is he specialty. He is a soft spoken shy person. She took the house car and his money in the divorce. But thru her skillful manipulation and guilt trips and my falling for her lies she made it so my son and I live with her and have been dependant. I wont even explain her body shaming and the hell thats been. She cant stand that im not an
    ugly troll. I have learned to dress in sloppy layers and slouch over so as not to provoke her passive aggressive attacks. Somehow i managed with Gs grace to meet a nice man. Yes hes married but his divorce is in progress and he wants me to move in with him. My son is grown and can stay here till i can get him out or he moves out with friends. I hope she doesnt stab me in the back somehow. When we took her out to dinner she said something so explicit and perverted its a stain on my relationship to.even think of it. It was a betrayl. She exerted her sexuality at my man, embarrassing both of us. Did i mention shes competative with me? One of her more sicko aspects. Im so tired of the bull$hit she dishes out. But i feel sorry for her too and its only her my dad and brother and my son. The rest of the relatives i dont know and they dont contact me. So its too sad to do NC. Plus she manipulates with money. What a tangled web. On the plus side, i got religion and found the Lord bcs i had no where else to turn. G is merciful and loving and is healing me. G is the reason I even try to not be angry, that i try to choose compassion, that i was ready to be with a NICE man who really is good to me and that I can stay hopeful.


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