Many times, narcissistic abusers, use a psychological defense mechanism called projection. Projection is defined as a defensive triggered response that can be activated when an intolerable characteristic that lies beneath the line of consciousness of an individual (the abuser) is attributed and shifted to another person (the intimate partner).
This mechanism of defense can subconsciously be used by all types of individuals and is not solely utilized by abusive narcissists.
One example is when an abusive narcissist is carrying on multiple affairs and accuses his/her partner of cheating. These accusations can be relentless, incessant, and continue with a harshness that causes the victim to question her/his every action. The victim may start questioning their own behavior and modify their actions to please and/or appease the abuser.
Glaring red flags emitted by the abuser’s actions may be ignored, denied, and justified by the victim. The confusion sometimes created by repeated projections may leave the victim confused about what is really occurring. Gaslighting may also be involved.
Here is a real life example with many layers of projection:
- The victim is out with colleagues after a work presentation. The abuser calls the victim and demands that the victim return home because “you sound drunk and out of control (not true) . You are probably flirting (Uh – no). You are out too much and never home (another false statement). You need to start looking at yourself and your choices. You are not spending enough time with me.(victim caters relentlessly to abuser)”
- Please note that the abuser is rarely home, is often intoxicated and out of control, and has a history of out of control flirting. Abuser is later exposed as a serial cheater.
This can be very common in the work place with all types of individuals. When folks start gossiping, judging, using subtle “suggestions” to undermine others and their honest efforts, or taking undue credit for the work of others, projection may be at play.
After an abusive relationship with a toxic other, consider that you can raise your level of awareness in all types of relationships. If you know yourself intimately and are honest with yourself about your motivations and shortfalls (permission to be human we are all a work in progress), you will begin to recognize all types of folks when they are projecting. You can learn to choose your responses wisely.