Narcissistic projection is a defense tactic narcissists use to pivot the blame of their actions onto others. This is often done unconsciously to protect their low self-esteem, as any mistake on their part could rupture the idealized image they create of themselves. Narcissistic projection can be subtle and easy to overlook, but its long-lasting impact on victims is substantial.
What Is Narcissistic Projection?
Narcissistic projection is a defense mechanism through which individuals “project” or see their own negative behaviors, emotions, and traits in someone else. Projection can be performed without the narcissist’s awareness as they struggle to hide uncomfortable inner conflicts, imperfections, and shortcomings. While projection is not exclusive to those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), it is a very common occurrence in many of their relationships.
Projection is something that many of us are guilty of to some extent. For example, a person who is insecure may make fun of a friend for the same flaw they perceive in themselves. However, a narcissist engages in this defense mechanism more frequently, and on a much larger scale.
Why Narcissists Use Projection
Narcissistic projection can be hurtful for the person on the receiving end. A narcissist may use this alongside typical narcissistic manipulation tactics, making it more challenging to deal with. Regardless, a narcissist will do whatever they can to protect their fragile self-esteem and prevent others from uncovering their insecurities. Because of this, those in relationships with a narcissist often find themselves endlessly falling victim to narcissistic projection.
6 Examples of Narcissistic Projection
Narcissistic projection can occur in any type of relationship, whether it be platonic, romantic, or familial. If it happens frequently enough and causes harm to the victims, it can be considered a form of narcissistic abuse. Unfortunately, projection can take many forms and impact the mental and emotional well-being of the recipient.
Below are six examples of narcissistic projection.
1. They Criticize Your Appearance
Although they may not appear to dislike themselves in any way, narcissists possess significantly low self-esteem. To prevent you from ever recognizing this, a narcissist may constantly criticize your appearance. This type of criticism in a relationship is extremely harmful, as it not only impairs the relationship but also the victim’s self-esteem and confidence.
2. They Claim You Are Narcissistic
Due to their lack of self-awareness, inability to self-reflect, and their high tendency to project, many narcissists do not know they are narcissistic. Instead, they will project these traits onto someone else. Being accused by a narcissist that you are the one who is narcissistic can be frustrating and oddly confusing.
3. They Say You’re a Bad Parent
It is very common for a narcissistic parent or narcissistic mother-in-law to project their own shortcomings as a parent onto another person. Any ]type of narcissist may do this, but it is common behavior within families that share a narcissistic member. Narcissists who feel ashamed of their parenting techniques will never admit it, so they will blame you as an attempt to deal with this inner conflict.
4. They Claim You’re Dishonest
One of the classic signs of a narcissistic relationship is a narcissist accusing their partner of being dishonest. For example, they may claim you are cheating, engaging in fraudulent or illegal behavior, or hiding money from them. While these accusations may also be caused by any number of reasons, they most commonly stem from projection. In the workplace, a narcissist can use allegations against a coworker’s reputation to distract from their own misbehaviors.
5. They Say You Hate Them
Due to their low self-esteem, a narcissist who feels poorly about themselves will claim that others feel the same about them. Claiming that you hate them is a common example of narcissistic projection, as they refuse to face the fact that they are the ones who truly hate themselves. This is often a sign of a vulnerable narcissist.
6. They Make Fun of Your Sexuality
When a narcissist is uncomfortable with their own sexuality, it is typical for them to point out or make fun of another person’s identity. For instance, a person with NPD may be seen insulting someone for being or “acting” gay. No matter what your true orientation is, this behavior can be deeply disturbing and uncomfortable.
How to Respond to Narcissistic Projection
Many people are unaware they are the victim of narcissistic projection, as first experiencing it can be confusing. Sometimes, this behavior comes seemingly out of the blue. However, it is important to know how to respond to narcissistic projection to ensure that you don’t fall back into a narcissistic abuse cycle. Maintaining distance, establishing clear boundaries, and prioritizing your own needs are essential.
Below are ways to respond to narcissistic projection:
Don’t Feed Into Their Manipulation
Staying calm and collected when dealing with a narcissist is important. Doing so may not stop projection in its tracks, but it can prevent things from getting worse. Fighting back with the same behavior can trigger narcissistic rage, possibly increasing the narcissist’s behavior.
Setting aside time for yourself is important, especially if you have been subjected to narcissistic abuse. A toxic relationship with a narcissist leaves a monumental impact on both your emotional and mental health. Because of this, be sure to focus on fulfilling your own needs, practicing emotional self-care, and ensuring you are able to recover after any interaction with the narcissist.
Know When to Walk Away
Knowing when and how to leave a toxic relationship will help protect you from future narcissistic projection and abuse. If you are thinking about breaking up with a narcissist, you should learn more about what a narcissist does at the end of a relationship so you can prepare for any backlash.
Depending on the nature of your relationship, you may want to consider seeking therapy to help you deal with the effects of narcissistic projection. A therapist can help you learn how to respond to this behavior in healthy and productive ways. They can guide you in establishing boundaries, improving your self-esteem, and developing coping skills. Finding the right therapist first is important, and there are also online therapy options for those who prefer telehealth.
Stay True to Yourself
Ultimately, remember who you are. The things said about or to you are false Being the recipient of narcissistic projection is a clear indication that you are not valued or respected, and this will never support your growth. Learning how to recognize this red flag in a relationship—especially when in one with a narcissist—allows you to protect yourself from future abuse and take steps towards bettering your own well-being.1
In My Experience
As a therapist who works with survivors of traumatic relationships, I frequently witness projection. Because survivors of narcissistic abuse are so commonly subjected to this behavior, it can be difficult to understand their experiences from an objective lens. Because of this, it is important to take time to validate your own truth and work on yourself, as this will help you better recognize when someone else is projecting. For some, I recommend working with a therapist or coach who specializes in these types of relationships, as they will understand your recovery and thought process.