A common question that many people experiencing narcissistic abuse have is, “Why does the narcissist in my life constantly use projection on me?”
Narcissists use projection to protect their self-image. By projecting their own undesirable characteristics, emotions, and behaviors onto others, they can maintain a grandiose self-image, externalize the source of their internal conflicts, preserve their self-esteem, and create a scapegoat for their shortcomings.
In this article, I am going to help you grasp a better understanding of the reason that narcissists use projection and give you resources that you can use to understand this topic better.
1.) They Are Trying to Protect Their Self-Esteem
The first reason that a narcissist could start using projection is that they are trying to protect their self-esteem.
You see, narcissists typically create an inflated sense of self as a protective shield to avoid acknowledging their deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
To keep this protective shield intact, they need a consistent flow of external validation, which is also known as narcissistic supply.
When they encounter situations where this flow is disrupted, their deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness get triggered.
When this happens, it is very common for them to subconsciously respond by projecting these deep-seated feelings onto others to protect their inflated self-esteem.
2.) They Are Trying to Avoid Feelings of Vulnerability
The second reason that a narcissist could start using projection is that they are trying to avoid feelings of vulnerability.
You see, narcissists typically associate vulnerability with weakness. Because of this, their self-perception is built around being powerful.
Consequently, any form of vulnerability—expressing fears, insecurities, or weaknesses—threatens this self-perception.
When narcissists have their self-perception threatened, their deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness get triggered.
So when they encounter a situation that makes them feel vulnerable, they commonly project these vulnerabilities onto others subconsciously.
In doing so, they effectively distance themselves from their vulnerabilities, further solidifying their self-image of being powerful and invulnerable.
3.) They Are Trying to Manage Their Painful Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions
The third reason a narcissist could start using projection is that they are trying to manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
I’ve hinted at this a lot throughout this article, but narcissists have many painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions about themselves.
It can be hard to believe sometimes, but deep down, they struggle with powerful feelings of being unlovable, unwanted, worthless, inadequate, and weak.
But they lack the emotional intelligence required to use healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage these painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Instead, they project them onto the people they abuse through abuse and manipulation.
They do this because, in a twisted way, it allows them to figuratively point their finger and others and think, “I am not the one who is unlovable, unwanted, worthless, and weak; they are.“
4.) They Are Using Someone as a Scapegoat
The fourth reason a narcissist could start using projection is that they are using someone as a scapegoat.
The term “scapegoat” refers to a person who the narcissist blames for their problems to deflect attention from the real problem, which is themselves.
Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Need a Scapegoat?
For example, imagine a father named David who exhibits narcissistic characteristics.
He has a grandiose self-image and sees himself as infallible and superior.
However, David struggles with managing his anger. He often loses his temper over minor issues, resulting in explosive outbursts that distress the entire family.
Recognizing his uncontrollable anger would mean admitting a flaw, which directly contradicts David’s inflated self-perception.
David uses projection as a defense mechanism to protect his ego and deflect personal responsibility.
He consistently blames his youngest daughter, Sophie, accusing her of being ill-tempered and overly sensitive.
Over time, Sophie, who is generally calm and reserved, becomes the scapegoat.
David attributes it to Sophie’s ‘bad temper’ whenever a family dispute arises, even when she is not involved.
Through projecting his anger onto Sophie, David maintains his self-perceived image of calm and control, thereby preserving his fragile self-esteem and avoiding dealing with his anger issues.
5.) They Are Trying to Avoid Acknowledging a Traumatic Memory
The fifth reason that a narcissist could start using projection is that they are trying to avoid acknowledging a traumatic memory.
You see, it is believed by many mental health professionals that narcissists are created by an emotionally and/or physically abusive upbringing with primary caregivers who are emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent.
Growing up in this environment can, and often does, create traumatic memories for the narcissist, leaving deep emotional scars and causing them to develop the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions I’ve mentioned in the previous sections.
Suggested Reading: How Are Narcissists Made?
Narcissists aren’t capable of processing and accepting the impact of such experiences. So what do they do? That’s right, they project them onto others.
They can distance themselves from the painful memories by projecting their trauma onto others. This also allows them to express and process the trauma indirectly, without the need to acknowledge their vulnerability or pain.
For instance, imagine Lisa, a narcissistic individual who was emotionally abused throughout her childhood. Recognizing and accepting this past trauma is difficult for Lisa, as it conflicts with her self-perception of strength and independence.
To cope, Lisa projects her past trauma onto her coworker, Sarah. She often tells others that Sarah seems fragile and insecure, suggesting she might have been victimized in the past.
Despite Sarah’s actual confidence and emotional stability, Lisa uses projection to distance herself from her traumatic history, indirectly dealing with her past abuse without having to confront it directly.
6.) They Are Trying to Normalize Their Abusive Behaviors
The sixth reason that a narcissist could start using projection is that they are trying to normalize their abusive behavior.
You see, the thing about narcissists is that, to a degree, they know the difference between right and wrong.
The biggest indication of this is that they often have a relatively pleasant public persona but are incredibly abusive behind closed doors.
This is because they know that being abusive in the public eye will prevent them from getting the consistent flow of validation that they desperately need.
Suggested Reading: How Do Narcissists Act in Public?
So it isn’t uncommon for them to project their harmful, unethical, or socially unacceptable behaviors onto others to try to convince the people around them that their behavior is normal.
For example, imagine a narcissistic individual named Jonny, who is known for his public charm but is verbally abusive at home.
Aware that his abusive behavior isn’t socially acceptable, he projects this behavior onto his spouse, Justine.
During social gatherings, he often points out how “everyone loses their cool” or “everyone says harsh things in the heat of the moment,” subtly referencing examples from their friends to normalize his abusive behavior.
Through this projection, Jonny tries to convey that his verbal abuse is just a normal part of everyone’s life, including his own, thereby evading scrutiny and accountability.
7.) They Are Trying to Avoid Taking Accountability for Something They’ve Done
The seventh reason a narcissist could start using projection is that they are trying not to take accountability for something they’ve done.
Generally speaking, narcissists have an aversion to accepting personal responsibility, particularly when it comes to mistakes or failures.
Their inflated self-image doesn’t leave room for errors.
Projection is a tool they can use to attribute their shortcomings to others.
By doing this, they can keep their self-image intact, evade accountability, and sidestep the damaging effects of self-blame or criticism.
Why Should You Take Away from This Article?
Narcissists use projection to protect their self-image. It helps them maintain a grandiose self-image, externalize the source of their internal conflicts, preserve their self-esteem, and create a scapegoat for their shortcomings.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.