It’s very common for narcissists to manipulate and bully their victim into devoting themselves to being “perfect” even though they are some of the most unpleasable human beings on the planet. It is incredibly stressful for the victim, especially when the narcissist makes wild and unfounded accusations about the victim like cheating. 

A narcissist will accuse their partners of cheating because they themselves have cheated and are trying to project the negative emotions they feel onto others, they are trying to confuse, minimize, and devalue their partner in an argument, or because of the insecurities they have from their anxious attachment style.

Narcissists are notorious for making a multitude of wild accusations that, in the midst of the narcissistic abuse cycle, can seem logical and true to their victims. If left unchecked, these accusations can contribute to the continuation of an abusive relationship for months, years, and even decades. It’s for this reason that understanding the reasoning behind the narcissist’s delusion is so important. 

The Defense Mechanism Projection Causes Narcissists to Accuse Their Partners of Cheating

Projection is a defense mechanism where one takes unwanted aspects of themselves and projects them onto others. 

Three examples of projection in a narcissistic relationship

It’s important to remember that both narcissistic and non-narcissistic people use projection. However, the reason that projection is considered a narcissistic behavior pattern is because of how frequent narcissists use it.

Why do narcissists use projection so often? 

It’s widely believed that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with primary caregivers who are unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. This level of emotional and physical neglect leaves the child with a severe number of emotional inadequacies. 

The two that explain a narcissist’s overreliance on projection are their insecure need for a falsified identity and inability of managing their own emotions. This need for a falsified identity that narcissists have originates from the belief that their true identity isn’t lovable. A belief that they developed because of the neglect they experienced from their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers.

As a result, they’ve developed a deeply rooted hatred for emotions and feelings like insecurity, vulnerability, shame, etc., because they believe it makes them weak and unloveable. 

Unfortunately, their emotional inadequacies render them incapable of managing their negative emotions so they build a falsified identity to get the admiration, reassurance, and validation that their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers couldn’t give them.

In the process of all of this, their falsified identity suppresses all of their emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs that they believe makes them unloveable and weak. 

Suggested Reading: How Are Narcissists Made

But what does this have to do with a narcissist accusing their partner of cheating? 

an abuser accusing his victim of cheating

For narcissists, public image is everything. They devote their entire lives to maintaining a falsified identity that portrays them as successful, admirable, virtuous, and inspiring to others. When they do something that contradicts their falsified identity, they feel a tremendous amount of negative emotions like shame. 

Not because they know that they’ve done something wrong, but because it serves as a reminder that they’re living a lie. Meaning when a narcissist does something that contradicts their superficial public image, like cheating on their partner, they try to project the negative emotions they feel onto their partner which is a really immature form of emotional regulation

To sum up everything that has been stated so far, one reason that a narcissist will accuse their partners of cheating is because they themselves have cheated and are aware that their behavior has contradicted their falsified identity, which causes them to feel a tremendous amount of negative emotions that they try to project onto their partners in an immature attempt of emotional regulation.

A Narcissist Will Accuse Their Partner of Cheating to Confuse, Minimize, and Devalue Them in an Argument

Any form of authenticity that does not support a narcissist’s falsified identity contradicts their grandiose sense of specialness and causes a narcissistic injury.

A narcissistic injury is essentially an ego injury but due to the fragility of a narcissist ego, they happen much more frequently. With that being said, ego injuries are very dangerous for narcissists because they punch a huge hole in their falsified identity which allows their suppressed negative emotions to resurface and serve as a reminder that they’re living a lie.

It’s important to understand the significance of a narcissist being reminded that they’re living a lie. You see, the negative emotions that they’ve suppressed with a falsified identity are very powerful.

If their falsified identity is even slightly contradicted, their emotional stability will be compromised and there’s a high probability of them emotionally imploding on themselves. 

So, their falsified identity is designed to suppress their negative emotions to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance of others and it is designed to protect themselves from having to acknowledge their negative emotions in the first place. 

Contradictions to their identity are ferociously pursued and eliminated because for a narcissist, it is an act of survival. 

The most common way they pursue and eliminate contradictions to their identity is by minimizing, confusing, and devaluing the opinions of others. Two manipulative techniques they often use to do this are gaslighting with diversions and narcissistic word salad. 

Gaslighting with diversions is when a narcissist will use evasive phrases and techniques to avoid taking responsibility for things that would contradict their identity.

a narcissist gaslighting with diversion

Narcissistic word salad is simply when a narcissist will respond with a jumble of responses that have very little to do with the original topic of the conversation. 

narcissistic word salad

The reason that narcissists use gaslighting with diversions and narcissistic word salad is because they want to confuse, minimize, and devalue their victims in arguments where their falsified identity could potentially be contradicted. There is no logic or reason when it comes to gaslighting with diversions and narcissistic word salad so wild and unfounded accusations like cheating are very common for victims of narcissistic abuse to hear. 

The Insecurities a Narcissist Gets From Their Anxious Attachment Style Could Cause Them to Accuse Their Partner of Cheating

According to the founders of the Attachment Theory, psychiatrist John Bowlby, and psychologist Mary Ainsworth, an attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another person across time and space. 

From their work that focused on the attachments we develop as infants with our primary caregivers, three attachments have emerged. 

Secure Attachment

Children with a secure attachment style feel loved by their primary caregiver which helps them develop the ability to form healthy relationships with others. 

Children with secure attachment styles in childhood often have no problem building long-term relationships without fear of abandonment in adulthood.

Avoidant Attachment

Children with an avoidant attachment style learn to neglect their own emotions, needs, feelings, and thoughts to keep the peace between themselves and their primary caregivers. 

Because they grow up feeling unloved and unseen, they often struggle with expressing their feelings and emotions which causes them to avoid intimate relationships in adulthood. 

Anxious Attachment

Children with an anxious attachment style tend to distrust their primary caregivers which means that their environment is explored with caution instead of the excitement children with secure attachment styles have. 

Children with anxious attachment styles are constantly seeking the validation, admiration, and reassurance of their primary caregivers and have a crippling fear of rejection and abandonment.

In adulthood they often feel unloved by their partners and find it difficult to express love and connection themselves. Those with an anxious attachment style in adulthood often have low self-esteem, strong fear of rejection or abandonment, and clinginess in relationships. 

A narcissist with an anxious attachment style

It’s believed that narcissists have anxious attachment styles, which coincides with their fear of abandonment and rejection and their constant need for validation, admiration, and reassurance in all parts of their life. 

When this level of emotional insecurity is combined with the emotional inadequacy of a narcissist, it’s very common for victims of narcissistic abuse to experience accusations of cheating from their abuser simply because of how insecure they are in the relationship.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

In narcissistic relationships, wild accusations like cheating are a very common occurrence. It can be incredibly destabilizing for victims of narcissistic abuse until they grasp a comprehensive understanding of projection and a narcissist’s over reliance on it.

As a general rule, the wild accusations that narcissists make are either projection or a manifestation of their insecurities.

Either way, with a calm and alert approach victims of narcissistic abuse can use a narcissist’s wild accusations to determine what the narcissist is doing behind their back, because of the projection, or understand their underlying vulnerabilities and insecurities but we strongly recommend that this is done with the guidance of a qualified professional.

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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

Hunyady, Orsolya, Lawrence Josephs, and John T. Jost. “Priming the primal scene: Betrayal trauma, narcissism, and attitudes toward sexual infidelity.” Self and Identity 7.3 (2008): 278-294.

Brewer, Gayle, et al. “Dark Triad traits, infidelity and romantic revenge.” Personality and Individual Differences 83 (2015): 122-127.

Rosenfeld, Herbert. “On the psychopathology of narcissism a clinical approach.” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 45 (1964): 332-337.