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Narcissists use various techniques to manipulate and control the people around
them. Often these techniques start out as defense mechanisms for the child and
then evolve into unhealthy, toxic, and even dangerous behavior as the child
becomes an adult.

A common technique used by narcissists is known as projection. Projection can also
occur outside of narcissism, but with the narcissist, it is more prevalent. Therapists
see projection as a defense mechanism. It is the ability to take anything we don't
like internally and project or place it on someone else. In other words, it allows the
individual to avoid responsibility for the situation by laying the blame or the
responsibility at the feet of someone else.

By externalizing the problem, the narcissist sees his or herself as free from blame.
It also makes the situation easier to deal with as the problem now becomes
someone else’s responsibility.

Why Narcissists Use Projection

In their behavior and outward expression, a narcissist is often seen to be confident,
outgoing, and self-assured. They are grandiose and extravagant and seem to enjoy
being the center of attention and the focus of admiration.

However, deep inside, the narcissist is full of self-doubt and lacks a healthy sense
of self-esteem. When he or she begins to feel these doubts, it is easier to project
these insecurities onto someone else, sidestepping the reality of being a narcissist.
It would be impossible for the narcissist to see his or her own insecurities. This is
too much at odds with the mental image and story they have created for

What Narcissist Projection Looks Like

Living with or being around a narcissist who uses projection is often a very
confusing experience. These individuals are likely to make accusations or blame you
for things that are not happening. For example, if a narcissist is very jealous of a
relationship you have with a friend or family member, he or she may accuse you of
being jealous of their friendship with someone.

In addition, the narcissist may engage in bad behavior, such as ghosting you or
going out of their way to start a verbal argument. They then blame you for not
returning their calls or tests, standing them up on a date, or being unwilling to talk
rationally and calmly.

It is also not uncommon for a narcissist to blame someone else for needing to be
the center of attention or trying to be “in control” of the relationship. This is the
narcissist projecting his insecurities onto you. This is confusing and impossible to
address, as the narcissist then accuses you of being defensive, angry, and out of

Narcissistic projection is the first step in moving into gaslighting. With gaslighting,
the narcissist then moves to recreate your memories of the event, causing you to
doubt the experience and making you assume the blame, responsibility, or
consequences they are trying to externalize.

Tips To Manage Narcissistic Projection

There are several techniques to protect yourself from the impact of projection. The
first and most important is to recognize when it is occurring and to understand it is
their defense mechanism, not anything you can fix or make easier for the
narcissist. In fact, the more you attempt this, the more likely the narcissist is to
continue with the projection and move to gaslighting.

Other techniques to protect yourself from this behavior include:

  • State the truth – when the narcissist tells you how you feel, recognize that is
    their emotion or belief and not yours. Stating this in a neutral way can be
    helpful. This can look like I am not arguing, or I am not angry. Then stop and leave the conversation. Do not continue to engage, as this supports the narcissist.
  • Understand the issue – projection provides a way for the partner to see into the mind of the narcissist. This can be helpful in recognizing the issue, but it does not mean you need to take responsibility or accept the blame. It is just insight that may be beneficial in setting boundaries and limiting conversations.
  • Talk to a therapist – talking to a therapist or counselor familiar with narcissistic behaviors is very helpful. These professionals can help unpack the situation and create self-care techniques to help cope with the projection.
  • End conversations – boundaries are always important when dealing with a narcissist. Set clear boundaries regarding what is allowed and not allowed in conversations, and end the interaction if a boundary is crossed.
  • Finally, getting help to deal with any relationship issues, including how to evaluate toxic relationships, will be critical for your mental health and well-being.


What is Narcissistic Projection? The Narcissist’s toxic blame-shifting tactic

Sherry Gaba, LCSW and Transformation Coach
Author of Love Smacked: How to Stop the Cycle of Relationship Addiction and Codependency to find Everlasting Love
And Wake Up Recovery for Toxic Relationships, Codependency and Love Addiction