Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone takes aspect of their own sense of self that they find unacceptable and place them onto others. Both narcissistic and non-narcissistic people use projection but narcissists over rely on it because it allows them to protect their emotional stability.

Narcissists are so emotionally stunted and immature that they are incapable of using healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage all of the negative emotions that they have about themselves. These negative emotions are powerful ones such as shame, sense of inadequacy, fear of abandonment, and self-loathing.

If a narcissist were to try to acknowledge and manage these emotions, they would emotionally implode on themselves. Therefore, they hide behind a false sense of self and rely on defense mechanism like projection to protect their emotional stability from being jeopardized.

A Short Video About Defending Yourself Against Projection

8 Examples of Narcissistic Projection

The nine personality traits that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are the foundation of a narcissist’s false sense of self.

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitative behavior
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

We highly recommend that you read our article How Are Narcissists Made for a comprehensive grasp of narcissism, narcissistic personalities, narcissistic abuse, and their false sense of self. In this article we are going to give you eight examples of narcissistic projection that occurs when one of those nine personality traits are contradicted.

When a narcissist experiences a contradiction to one of those nine personality traits, it contradicts their false sense of self and triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions. They use projection to quickly place their negative emotions onto others before they compromise their emotional stability.

Examples of Projection In Romantic Narcissistic Relationships

It is the middle of July and Richard, a narcissistic man, is on his way to meet his girlfriend at their favorite restaurant to have dinner. The place is packed with people and there’s a long line to get in. Richard’s girlfriend suggests that they go to a different restaurant but he refuses because he believes that they’ll open up a table for him.

Confident as ever, he walks straight past everyone waiting in line but is told by the host to go to the back of the line or be kicked out of the restaurant. This contradicts Richard’s grandiose sense of self-importance and triggers his suppressed negative emotions. He begins to feel inadequate, embarrassed, weak, and worthless.

Instead of using healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage these emotions, he projects them onto his girlfriend by saying, “Did you even try to dress up tonight? I come here all the time and they always have a spot open for me. But the moment I bring you, they reject me. You’re so f*cking embarrassing. It is like you don’t even care that I have to be seen with you.”

A narcissistic husband using projection on his wife

Jasmine, a narcissistic woman, is feeling horrible because today is supposed to be her five-year anniversary but her ex-husband suddenly left her and her daughter nine months ago without explaining why. To feel better about herself, she sets up a date with someone that she thinks that she can have a real future with.

She gets all dressed up and waits for her date to come pick her up. An hour goes by and Jasmine realizes that she has been stood up. This destroys her fantasies of obtaining the ideal love and activates her deeply rooted negative emotions. At first, she uses maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as drinking too much alcohol and overeating, to manage her negative emotions.

But when Jasmine’s daughter tells her that she is going out on a date with her boyfriend, Jasmine projects all of her negative emotions onto her daughter by saying, “Is that what you are going to wear? I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter because there is no way that the relationship is going to last. He is probably talking to five other girls that look better than you. I am not trying to be mean, I am just saying that you are probably going to end up alone.”

Examples of Projection In Narcissistic Work Environments

Oliver, a narcissistic man, has been working for the same company for two years. At just 24 years old, his quick rise to a supervisor position has earned him the title of “wunderkind” around the office. Tonight is his company’s 50th anniversary and the CEO is having a company party where they will be announcing their choice for the new Director of the company.

Oliver is confident that he is going to get the promotion. He is on really good terms with the CEO and he has also made the company a ton of money over the past year. When the CEO announces the new Director and it is not Oliver it crushes his belief that he is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions. Up until this point, he has been absolutely sure that he was the most talented, special, and unique person in the company. Being overlooked for the promotion makes him furious.

When one of Oliver’s colleagues notices how upset he looks, they try to comfort him by telling him that he will eventually get the position. Oliver uses this moment to project all of his negative emotions onto his colleague by saying, “Can you just shut the f*ck up? You’re a waste of everyone’s time and have no business being here. How do you look at yourself in the mirror without crying? You are worthless and a failure.”

A narcissist trying to project his anger onto his colleague.

Rachel, a narcissistic woman, has spent the past three months working on a presentation that she has to make at work. Every successful employee in the company that she works for has told her that a solid presentation is a really good approach to moving up the company ladder. For the past three months

Rachel has fantasized about being praised, worshiped, and applauded after giving her presentation. Finally, the wait is over and Rachel is ready to give her presentation and she does a fantastic job. However, her colleagues’ reaction does not live up to her expectations. They applaud and tell her that she did a good job, but they aren’t worshiping her like she hoped they would.

Since Rachel’s excessive need for admiration isn’t fulfilled, it triggers her negative emotions and makes her feel horrible. She bottle all of her negative emotions up as much as she can but when one of her colleagues tries to give her some advice on her public speaking skills.

Rachel becomes really passive aggressive and tries to devalue, degrade, invalidate, and humiliate her colleague by any means necessary. In her mind, if she can make her colleague feel as badly as she does, she will feel much better about herself because she would have projected her emotional instability onto her colleague. 

Examples of Projection In a Narcissistic Family Structure

Ethan, a narcissistic father, has been in power and control of his family’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs for decades. Ethan’s golden child, his son Tommy, started to go to therapy after he graduated college and has now unpacked all of the abuse that he experienced and participated in. He is furious with his narcissistic father and has decided to go no contact with him. Ethan does not like this at all.

Narcissists often live vicariously through their golden child, so, when Tommy goes no contact with him, it is an incredibly destabilizing experience that triggers all of the narcissist’s suppressed negative emotions. Ethan decides to ignore Tommy’s no contact rule and shows up to his house on Christmas with an expectation to have things continue as normal.

When Tommy kicks him off of his property and threatens to call the police if he comes back, it contradicts Ethan’s sense of entitlement to being able to live vicariously through his son. Ethan feels entitled to being in control of Tommy’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. By setting and maintaining firm boundaries, Tommy is preventing his narcissistic father from doing so.

This makes Ethan furious so he begins to create a bunch of posts on social media to publicly degrade, humiliate, invalidate, and devalue his son. This allows Ethan to project his negative emotions onto Tommy but it also allows him to publicly victimize himself so that he can get validation, admiration, and reassurance from others. 

a narcissistic father trying to project his anger onto his son.

Amy, a narcissistic mother, has agreed to go to therapy with her husband to work on the relationship. The only reason that Amy agreed to going to therapy is because she sees this as an opportunity to triangulate her husband with the therapist. The only problem is that the therapist is really good and sees straight through Amy’s lies.

The therapist points out Amy’s interpersonally exploitative behavior and lack of empathy. The therapist does not allow Amy to bully her husband into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse. It becomes more and more clear that Amy’s behavior is destroying the family structure.

This triggers Amy’s suppressed negative emotions and makes her feel horrible. She doesn’t feel bad because she is hurting people who truly care about her, she feels bad because the therapist has exposed her abuse and this contradicts Amy’s false sense of self. It prevents her from being in power and control and it limits the amount of narcissistic supply that she can get.

After the session Amy tries to project her negative emotions onto her husband by saying, “I can’t believe that you let her attack me like that. You are the most pathetic man I’ve ever met in my entire life. You have the audacity to sit there and pretend that everything’s my fault? No! Everything is your fault. You are insecure, weak, and worthless.”

Examples of Projection In a Narcissistic Friendship

Victor, a narcissistic man, has been best friends with Terry for nearly a decade now. They are both graduating from high school in the next few months and are waiting to hear back from the colleges that they’ve applied to. They have both applied to the same colleges because they want to stick together.

A few weeks later, Victor and Terry get letters from the college that they both want to attend the most. Victor is rejected but Terry is accepted. This rejection triggers Victor’s negative emotions and he begins to feel really bad about himself and really jealous of Terry. Even though Terry states that he doesn’t want to go to the school without Victor so he will reject the offer.

Victor remains furious and jealous that Terry got accepted and he didn’t. To project all of his negative emotions onto Terry, Victor says, “I’m sick and tired of you following me around in life. You are always trying to do everything that I am doing. You are just so envious of me, it is exhausting. I think that you should go to that stupid school and live your own life. I didn’t even want to go there anyway. I just didn’t want you to feel alone and realize how empty you are without me.”

Becky, a narcissistic woman, has to appear in court because she was caught going 40 over the speed limit in a school zone with her friend in the car. She thinks that her actions were justified because her father is the Mayor of the city. Everything is just a big joke to her and on the day of her hearing, she shows that. She is very arrogant and shows that she doesn’t understand the severity of her crime.

She thinks that her father will just wave his finger and solve the problem like he always has. Only this time, her father decides that she needs to be taught a lesson about respect and consequences so he sits back and does nothing. Becky is sentenced to 500 hours of community service and has her driving license suspended for a year. When complaining about the situation to her friend, her friend tells her that if she wasn’t so arrogant and acting like a brat, then the judge might have been easier on her.

This makes Becky so angry because all she wanted was for her version of reality where she can do no wrong to be validated. When her friend calls her out on her arrogant and bratty behavior, it contradicts her sense of self and triggers all of her suppressed negative emotions. She tries to project these emotions onto her friend by saying, “I’m the arrogant one? You’re just pissed off that none of the guys like you at school. I was speeding because YOU had to go to the bathroom, remember? And this is the thanks that I get? You are a horrible friend, irresponsible, and a loser.”


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References:

Cramer, Phebe. “Seven pillars of defense mechanism theory.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2.5 (2008): 1963-1981.

Murstein, Bernard I., and Ronald S. Pryer. “The concept of projection: A review.” Psychological Bulletin 56.5 (1959): 353.