Projection is the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. For example, a woman who is attracted to a friend, but rather than admit this to herself, she accuses her friend of flirting with her. Narcissists use projection on a regular basis and it destroys the self-esteem of those close to them.

Projection can be difficult to spot, but as a general rule, if a narcissist is overreacting, blaming you unjustly, living in a distorted reality, victimizing themselves, or ruining your mental health, they are usually projecting their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto you.

In this article we are going to guide you through the different signs that you should be on the lookout for if you want to spot a projecting narcissist. We’ve also embedded a short clip (see below) from our interview with Karina Ramdath, a Registered Social Worker and Therapist, about projection that has information that you may find helpful.

Karina Ramdath, a Registered Social Worker and Therapist, Speaks About the Reason Narcissists Use Projection and Much More!

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5 Signs That a Narcissist Is Projecting

When learning about narcissism and projection, it is important to remind yourself that everyone uses projection at one point or another. It is a subconscious action that is really hard to stop yourself from doing.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a narcissist. It just means that you have thoughts, feelings, and/or emotions that you haven’t figured out how to address yet.

A woman wondering if she is a narcissist

The reason that projection is often associated with narcissism is because narcissists use it as one of their primary forms of regulation because their emotional incompetence prevents them from using healthy forms of regulation (i.e. therapy, self-reflection, physical activity, etc.) to manage their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Suggested Reading:

Narcissists have many painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they project onto others. This is why being around a narcissist can destroy your self-esteem. Our articleWhy Do Narcissists Use Projection? has a ton of information about this that you may find helpful.

Their Anger and Reaction Are Disproportionate to the Situation

When someone overreacts, it means that they respond more emotionally or forcibly than is justified.

For example, if you politely interrupt a conversation that someone is having to ask them an important question (“Hey. Sorry to interrupt but can I move your car? It is parked illegally and I don’t want you to get towed”) and they respond by screaming at you, that would be considered an overreaction.

A narcissist projecting onto someone else.

When a narcissist’s anger and/or reaction are disproportionate to the situation, it is a good sign that they are projecting. The reason for this is because when a narcissist uses projection, it is typically because their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions have been triggered (i.e. a narcissistic injury).

Narcissists hate when this happens because it reminds them that deep down they feel worthless, inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, and weak. Since they don’t have the emotional skills needed to manage these types of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, narcissist’s tend to overreact when they get triggered.

For example, if you said to the narcissist, “Hey. Our son is crying because you took his iPad away. I told him that he could use it because he got an A+ on his test so I wanted to reward him” and they responded with, “You’re a f*cking horrible parent. Why didn’t you tell me first? You want me to look like the bad guy? I shouldn’t have had kids with you.”

A narcissist using projection to get out of trouble.

Woah. What just happened?

Well, they are projecting their fears of being a bad parent onto you. By confronting them about the iPad, it damaged their fragile ego and triggered their feelings of inadequacy. They can’t acknowledge these feelings so they project them onto you instead (i.e. “You’re a f*cking horrible parent.”).

They Blame You Unjustly

When someone blames you unjustly it means that they place blame on you in a manner that is not in accordance with what is morally right and fair.

For example, if the narcissist in your life is driving you to an appointment when they suddenly crash into the back of another car and blames you by claiming it would have never happened if they didn’t need to drive you to your appointment, this could be considered unjust blaming.

Two people talking

Unjust blaming is considered to be one of the most confusing signs of a projecting narcissist because it often leads to wild and unfounded accusations. For example, in a romantic setting, a narcissist could blame you for ruining the relationship and then accuse you of cheating when in fact they are the one who is cheating.

Another example of this could be in a family setting. A narcissistic parent could blame you for “ruining their life” and accuse you of hating them because they can’t accept the fact that they have a strong hatred towards their own parents and a deeply rooted insecurity/belief that they ruined their parents life.

When a narcissist is blaming you for things that don’t make sense and/or making wild and unfounded accusations about you, it is a good sign that they are projecting. The cool thing about this is that you can take the unjust blaming and wild and unfounded accusations and use them to figure out what the narcissist isn’t telling you.

Someone thinking about a narcissist's projections.

The simplest, and sadly, the most common example of this is cheating. If a narcissist is constantly accusing you of cheating, there’s a good chance that they are the ones who are cheating.

Suggested Reading:

If you are interested in learning more about a narcissist’s tendency to accuse their romantic partners of cheating, our article Why Do Narcissists Accuse You of Cheating? has a lot of information that you may find helpful.

They Live In a Distorted Reality

When a narcissist is projecting onto you, their perception of reality gets distorted (i.e. pulled or twisted out of shape; contorted.)

For example, if a narcissist is projecting their fear of being unwanted and unlovable onto you, meaning they are mocking, belittling, punishing, etc., you for being “unwanted/unlovable”, they honestly believe that you are unwanted and unlovable.

They will subject you to unfathomable levels of invalidation, devaluation, degradation, etc., because their distorted perception of you reminds them of a part of themselves that they hate with a passion.

An angry narcissist.

Projecting this hatred onto you allows them to attack parts of their identity that they find unacceptable without having to acknowledge that they exist. This can be a very tough sign of projection to spot because over time, you might adopt their distorted reality. Meaning that you start to believe the negative perception that they have of you.

However, if you know who you are yet have a narcissist in your life who is trying to force you to accept their negative perception of you (i.e. “You are f*cking worthless. They only hired you because they want more people of color in the office.”) it is a very good sign that they are living in a distorted reality and projecting it onto you.

They Victimize Themselves

When someone victimizes themselves it means that they label themselves as victims and blame their problems on external factors.

For example, if you catch a narcissist stealing money from you, they could victimize themselves by spreading false accusations about physical abuse during their childhood upbringing. (i.e. “It is not my fault. My father used to abuse me as a kid and I had to steal to survive. This is all I know. I know that I have a problem, please help me.”)

A narcissist victimizing themselves.

It is very common for narcissists to try to validate their projections through self-victimization. They want you to feel guilty for a trait you don’t have or something that you didn’t do so they victimize themselves in a way that portrays you as the abuser and them as a victim of your behavior.

If you have a narcissist in your life who is attempting to validate the things they say about you or accuse you of doing by victimizing themselves, there’s a good chance that they are projecting their thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto you.

They Are Ruining Your Mental Health

There are two things that narcissists want from a relationship.

First, they want narcissistic supply. Second, they want to use the other person as a repository for all of their suppressed painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This is true of all types of narcissistic relationships (i.e. family members, friendships, colleagues, romantic partners, etc.).

When a narcissist uses someone as a repository for their suppressed painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, they are projecting!

They are subjecting this person to unfathomable levels of invalidation, devaluation, degradation, humiliation, and other forms of emotional abuse so they can figuratively point their finger at them and think to themselves, “I’m not the one who is unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak, they are.”

A narcissist thinking negatively about himself.

Narcissists need to do this to keep their grandiose self-perception and public persona intact so they can get the narcissistic supply that they need to feel emotionally stable. Sadly, this also destroys the mental health of the people that they abuse.

Have noticed that your mental health has taken a nosedive ever since the narcissist came into your life? Meaning you are struggling with things such as powerlessness, helplessness, confusion, shame, depression, isolation, self-doubt, and so on? It is because the narcissist in your life is projecting onto you. 

someone learning about mental health.

We will provide you with some helpful resources (see below) that will help you understand this better, but narcissists have a high degree of emotional pain, distress, torment, and suffering suppressed within themselves that they are too emotionally inadequate to manage on their own. So, they project it onto you!

Poor mental health is one of the most reliable, and sadly, common signs of projection.

Suggested Readings:

Our article How Are Narcissists Made? has information that will help you understand the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions of a narcissist and our article What Do Narcissists Want In a Relationship? has information that will help you grasp a better understanding of the reason narcissists seek out relationships with others.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist who is constantly overreacting, blaming you unjustly, living in a distorted reality, victimizing themselves, and/or ruining your mental health, they are most likely projecting their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto you.

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

7 Signs someone is projecting onto you

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