The term “projection” was first coined by Sigmund Freud, who used it to describe a way that the ego defends itself from injury. Narcissistic projection is a defense mechanism utilized by people with narcissistic tendencies in order to avoid feeling hurt and vulnerable.
It involves attributing one’s own negative thoughts and behaviors onto someone else, often resulting in an unhealthy and destructive dynamic between the two people involved.
Projection is a defense mechanism that we all use occasionally and unconsciously, in order to protect ourselves from the reality of a situation.
It becomes a problem when it’s used too often or when it’s weaponized as a tool of manipulation.
In these cases, it creates an unhealthy dynamic between people and can result in feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness.
When deployed by someone with narcissistic tendencies, projection can be particularly damaging, since they resort to it for blame-shifting, to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions or feelings.
Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory
In Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, projection is a defense mechanism that involves projecting unwanted or unmanageable feelings and desires onto someone else.
By externalizing it, it becomes easier to deal with.
This way we avoid the shame of having to admit (even to ourselves) that we had such emotions.
For example, a man who is attracted to his boss but afraid of being rejected may instead project his feelings onto her and believe that she is attracted to him.
He therefore protects his ego by telling himself that it’s the other person who wants him, not the other way around.
People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) already have a massive narcissistic injury at the very core of their sense of self.
This means that they will be even more protective of their damaged ego than the average person.
As a result, narcissists resort to projection A LOT.
They do it to deflect blame for their own failures and shortcomings and to avoid feeling any responsibility for their own actions.
Narcissists also use projection to attack other people.
They often accuse others of doing or thinking what they themselves are doing or thinking.
For example, a narcissist who has been caught cheating may accuse their partner of being unfaithful, or a narcissist who is unemployed may accuse their family members of being lazy.
The Signs of Narcissistic Projection
Blaming Others. One of the telltale signs of narcissistic projection is when the narcissist accuses others of behaviours that they themselves are guilty of committing.
For example, they may accuse someone else of being too manipulative or controlling, when in reality it is them who are manipulating the situation to get what they want.
Excessive Need for Attention and Validation. Those projecting their inner feelings onto others will often have an excessive need for attention or validation from others as a way to fill their own emotional voids.
They may seek out compliments or positive reinforcement from those around them in order to make up for their own lack of self-esteem.
Unreasonable Expectations. A narcissist may have unrealistic expectations about how people should behave around them or respond to their actions.
This may result in disappointment followed by blame and criticism when these expectations are not met, as the narcissist projects their own feelings onto their victim.
Guilt Trips. A narcissist is likely to use guilt trips as a way to get what they want from a person, rather than asking directly for it.
By making someone feel guilty about something, whether real or imagined, it becomes easier for the narcissist to manipulate them into doing what they want without having to take any responsibility for it themselves.
Gaslighting. A classic sign of projection is gaslighting, where the narcissist attempts to make their victim doubt their own judgement and perceptions by showing them different versions of reality than what actually exists.
The narcissist’s goal is to divert attention away from themselves by making the victim question and doubt everything they thought was true.
How to Protect Yourself from Narcissistic Projection
Recognise the Behaviour. The first step in protecting yourself from narcissistic projection is to recognise the behaviour for what it is.
Pay attention to how someone talks and acts around you, noting when they accuse you of being something that they are actually guilty of or when they put unreasonable expectations on you.
Set Boundaries. Once you become aware of a narcissist’s attempts to manipulate or control you through projection, it’s important to set boundaries.
Make sure to be clear about your expectations and let them know that you will not accept any kind of exploitation or manipulation.
Remain Assertive. It can be difficult to remain confident and assertive when faced with a narcissist, but holding firm in your convictions can help keep the narcissist at bay.
Try to stay focused on your own values and beliefs while being assertive in defending them.
Seek Support. Having support from family and friends can help provide much-needed perspective during periods of doubt and confusion caused by a narcissist’s projection techniques.
Building a strong support system around you can also provide strength during periods of vulnerability or helplessness.
Stay Empowered. Finally, it is important to stay empowered in order to protect yourself from narcissistic projection.
This means having faith in yourself and believing that your opinions and judgement matter regardless of what anyone else may say or believe about you.
Final Thoughts on Narcissistic Projection
Narcissistic projection is a psychological defence mechanism used by people with narcissistic tendencies to deflect their own feelings onto someone else. Remember that your opinions and your truth matter, regardless of what anyone else may say or believe about you.