People with strong narcissistic tendencies and other dark personality traits tend to blame others for their own bad behavior. If they are lying, then they will accuse others of lying. If they are cruel, they will say that others are cruel. If they are stealing and scamming, then they will accuse others of stealing and scamming. They never take responsibility, and it’s always someone else’s fault.
Besides ascribing their undesirable character traits to others, they will attribute the good characteristics of others to themselves. For example, if they see someone being nice, they will say, “No, no, this person is not nice—I am nice!” If somebody is successful and happy, the narcissist will say, “That person is such a loser and a fake—but I, I am really successful and authentic!”
Psychologically speaking, this mechanism is called projection, and I talk more about it in my article titled 5 Ways Narcissists Project and Attack You.
A Short Story
While I was growing up, there was a guy who had protruding ears. He used to bully other, smaller children by making fun of their ears for sticking out, even though there was nothing wrong with their ears. He attributed his undesirable physical trait onto others and then attacked them for it. We can speculate from his behavior that he was likely bullied about his ears, and subsequently projected his insecurities onto others.
At the time, I was unfamiliar with psychological concepts like ‘projection’ or ‘defense mechanism,’ but it was still very strange and obvious that something was not right about him, the bullying, and the situation in general. And while this guy was a bully and a coward, I still understood on some level what was going on. I felt sad for him because his behavior towards others seemed to be a result of people bullying him. By acting out his suffering, he made others suffer.
These days, when people project their flaws and moral shortcomings onto others, or lack personal responsibility, or blatantly lie, I identify it instantly. It is clear what is going on and that they are trying to hide their undesirable characteristics or inflate their false image. I understand that they are trapped and struggling in their own web of lies and deception. But since they are adults who hurt others, including children, it is really pathetic, obvious, and tragic.
Narcissists, psychopaths, sociopaths and other people with dark personalities traits think that others are stupid and that they themselves are very clever—and in some ways they can be quite cunning. However, if you are familiar with this behavior, it is senseless and pathetic when you see them trying to bend and negate reality. It is also unfortunate to see how many people fall for it. Naturally, abusers prey on the weak and confused, and so the stronger your sense of self is, the less susceptible you are to gaslighting and other forms of manipulation.
By deflecting focus from their own wrongdoings, the manipulator expects that others will forget about them and will ignore or even forget about what happened. It can be illustrated by the following:
“Don’t examine me, look at this shiny thing here!”
2. Putting Others into Defense Mode
Instead of addressing people’s concerns, admitting fault, or examining their own problematic behavior, the manipulator attacks others. By doing so, they hope to do two main things: (1) deflect attention from themselves and (2) make themselves look better by making others look worse.
They will say, “No, no, you’re the one doing horrible things,” or, “Yeah, but look at how awful this other person is.”
Many people respond to criticism by trying to explain themselves. That is what the manipulator relies on. If you challenge the manipulator’s abusive behavior, they will attack you or someone else in the hope that you will stop examining them and start defending yourself or others.
Don’t fall for it.
3. Lying to Look Better
As explained in the previous section, narcissistic manipulators try to make themselves look better by putting others down. “If others look worse than they are, then maybe I will look better than I am.”
But besides that, they also talk explicitly about themselves in an exaggerated and unnatural manner. They tend to brag a lot: how much money they have, how good at their job they are, how much better than others they are, how everyone is jealous of them, how everyone loves them, how great of a person they are, and so on.
The main mechanism here is lying, or at least gross exaggeration. If they have any accomplishments, they will exaggerate them, add to them, and make them look better than they are. However, they mostly just lie. They lie a lot. And at first it may seem confusing and you may even feel like you should give them the benefit of the doubt even if something looks suspicious. But after a while it’s clear that most, if not all, of the things coming out of their mouths are blatant lies.
4. Victim-Blaming and Playing the Victim
Narcissistic manipulators are fake, fragile, and they are cowards. They pretend to be strong, call others weak and sensitive, bully and abuse people, but if you challenge them about their lies or stand up for yourself, they immediately start playing the fragile victim. “Look, I’m being attacked!” “You’re the real bully!” “They are so mean to me!”
As I write in the article How Narcissists Play the Victim and Twist the Story:
“Narcissists also like to truncate the story and present only the bit where the aggrieved party reacted to their toxic behavior, framing it as if that’s where the story started.”
They will shamelessly blame the actual victim by saying that “they deserved it,” or even gaslight by claiming that “it didn’t happen.”
People with strong narcissistic traits are unwilling or unable to reflect on their shortcomings and destructive behaviors. As a result, they project, blame, and manipulate others to cope with their low and shaky self-esteem.
Manipulation tactics include deflecting, attacking and putting others into defense mode, lying about others being worse and themselves being better, victim-blaming, and playing the victim.
By resolving your own trauma and developing a stronger sense of self, you can become less prone to manipulation and narcissistic abuse.