Narcissists: The Projection Machine

Narcissists don’t just project their faults and failings (character flaws and bad acts) onto you, they also project their feelings, emotions, and beliefs onto you. Actually, “into” you (See Projective Identification next).

The projected beliefs may be beliefs about themselves or beliefs about you or beliefs about anything. In fact, in posing to the mirror of your face, they are projecting their image onto you = their belief about themselves onto you.

The projected feelings and emotions may be positive ones or negative ones that they want to get rid of.

Note that the narcissist projects both positive and negative things onto you. In projecting positive things on you (e.g., his grandiose false image) he is using you as a mirror.

In projecting negative things on you, he is using you as a dumping ground.

Here we focus on the bad, or negative, things narcissists project, their faults and failings in particular.

When narcissists slander and calumniate you, they have two objectives. One is projection, and the other is to muddy a bright spot in your character with whatever slander or calumny they’re projecting at you. It’s as though any shine on your image diminishes the glow of their glory.

Don’t take my word for it: test a narcissist. Praise someone before a group and see what happens. The next day the narcissist launches a smear campaign against that praised person.

This is, of course, the mentality of the rapist, who must tear others “down off that pedestal.” The narcissist just does the deed in a non-sexual way.

Now, you’d think it would be hard to accomplish both objectives — projection and smearing — at the same time. But it’s uncanny how narcissists manage to do so! It’s all in the way they word their “line” on you. They are glib and amazingly adept at killing two birds with one stone: they not only ditch one of their faults, they muddy one of your virtues in the process.

Note that in doing this, the narcissist isn’t attacking your faults and shortcomings: she is attacking your virtues and accomplishments. Consequently, when she is conducting a campaign of character assassination against someone, the arrows she shoots never hit one of that person’s real flaws.

The result is something like Dr. Frankenstein accomplished with body parts. A chimera. The narcissist’s false image contains the virtuous qualities in other people’s characters, and their images have had those virtuous qualities replaced with the flaws in the narcissist’s character. In other words, the narcissist steals your virtues and dumps on you her faults.

In doing so, the narcissist is stealing your identity, pulling an identity switch with you, piecemeal.

It’s a kind of magic, an illusion created with nothing but words, which can warp perceptions by making anything of anything.

For example, let’s say that the narcissist is stingy and that one of your virtues is that you are outstanding for your generosity. She hates the glow of that shiny spot in your character, because it serves as foil to her stinginess, making it more noticeable by contrast. So she muddies your image and glorifies her image by misappropriating your generosity to herself and misappropriating her stinginess to you.

How? She goes around lying about how much she gives to charity and about helping people out all the time. More important (since one must be careful and subtle about boasting), she just makes everything she does sound generous. She also goes around telling lying stories about you, stories that have you being stingy. More important, she makes everything you do sound stingy, however generous it manifestly is. In The Art of Lying I gave an example of how a narcissist can make one $500 purchase sound like payment for room, board, toiletries, cigarettes, and laundry services for twenty years — in order to unsound like a freeloader.

This is what makes narcissists stand out. Normal people do project. They sometimes even smear. But not in such a calculated fashion. In “What Makes Narcissists Different” (in What Makes Narcissists Tick)., I enumerated the difference between the way normal people project and the way narcissists do:

  • Normal people project when put on the defensive. Narcissists project in unprovoked attacks.
  • Normal people don’t smear themselves off on just anybody. They wouldn’t dream of harming those near and dear. All people are nothing but objects to narcissists, so they smear themselves off on their own parents and children as thoughtlessly as we smear ourselves off on a towel. For no reason other than to cause pain, they will say anything — ANYTHING — about them, without a second thought.
  • Normal people are likely to shake themselves off on whoever happens to be near at the moment. So, they sometimes project a flaw off onto someone who actually has it. But narcissists project ironically, accusing those with the corresponding virtue of a vice.
  • Normal people stick to slander (which has at least some degree of truth in it), rarely engaging in calumny (lies). When they do calumniate someone, they at least have a natural reason for animosity toward the target. Narcissists are perverted. There is no natural reason for what they do.
  • Even when normal people do calumniate someone, they don’t go hog-wild and calumniate that person so badly and so widely as to destroy them and ruin their whole lives. Narcissists do go hog wild. They are mental children and therefore as dangerous with their mouths as an angry five-year-old with an assault weapon.

In fact, a narcissist is most likely to smear off on someone he owes gratitude, because needing help damages his image. So he repays help as though it were an insult. He must devalue it by devaluing the giver of it, as if such a contemptible person is incapable of really helping someone as grand as he.

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