“If your heart is a volcano, how shall you expect flowers to bloom?”Khalil Gibran
Definition of Projection or Blame-Shifting: (n.) A term originally coined as a self-defense mechanism by Anna Freud when a person attributes their own unwanted thoughts, feelings, or motives onto another person (A. Freud, 1936). By projecting, or “blame-shifting” one’s undesirable mental/emotional notions onto another person, the individual is defended against having to be aware of and accountable to their own thought process. The object of the projection is then targeted for blame, since the unwanted thoughts/emotions are too threatening to be accountable to.
Narcissistic abusers are classic examples of individuals who deploy this type of defense mechanism but take it up exponentially several notches. Any human being can fall prey to a defense mechanism in the face of stress. Healthy people, however, can acknowledge where they need to access integrity and authenticity and explore uncomfortable feelings. Extremely narcissistic individuals are not capable of that level of insight and feel very exposed and vulnerable to shame and judgement, thus refusing to be aware of or show and admit their own imperfections and scary feelings within their inner psyche. Therefore, projection (or “blame-shifting”) becomes habitual as very common psychological abuse tactic against the psychological abuser’s target (family member, romantic partner, friend, co-worker) (Louis de Canonville, 2015).
Like a volcano burbling and and ready to spew hot magma, hissing and blowing steam, prepared to erupt at any given moment, narcissistic abusers have great difficulty when their false self mask slips. Underneath the mask lies a psychic void in which the narcissist seeks to extract ego fuel, or narcissistic supply, from his/her relationships and interactions (Schneider, 2017). When a narcissistic abuser feels exposed due to a short-coming of their own, this person will feel as if a narcissistic injury has been imposed upon them by their targeted object (person supplying ego fuel). It’s hard to fathom that setting a healthy boundary with a narcissist is interpreted by the abuser as an egregious, blasphemous and slanderous statement they take very personally. A healthy individual would receive a constructive comment as an opportunity to learn, grow, make amends, compromise, and evolve with their loved one. A narcissistic person is threatened by any input which renders them any thing less than exceptionally unique and special.
What to do if you are being verbally barfed-up on?: First of all, realize that if you are the object of the projections of a narcissistic abuser, understand that you are now being devalued and possibly discarded. You have ceased to provide high quality ego fuel (narcissistic supply) for the narcissist by setting a boundary, limit, or disagreeing with the narcissist. His/her reaction is absolutely unreasonable, and in many cases, downright abusive. Abuse is never ok. Furthermore, be aware of projecting your own compassion and empathy onto the malignant narcissist, as such an abuser will use your kindness as a weapon against you and instead, exploit and further extract ego fuel (Arabi, 2016).
So what to do? :1) Remove yourself from the situation. If the abuser is escalated and appears out-of-control, get to a safe space physically where you can call for help or inform the authorities of an impending assault. Do not try to reason with the narcissistic abuser or escalate the argument. Seek physical safety.2) Once out of harm’s way, debrief and process with supportive support network, reminding yourself that you are not to blame for an abuser’s fury and uncontrollable outrage. 3) Seek qualified professional help to determine a safety plan, consider No Contact/Limited Contact options; consider if it would be in your best interests to leave this relationship (whether romantic, platonic, work-related, familial). If an abuser is a malignant narcissist (or even worse, a psychopath), that person is not capable of insight, accountability, taking responsibility for their actions, empathy, and sustained change. Exposure to toxic abuse by an extreme narcissist is traumatizing. Again, abuse is NEVER ok. Blame-shifting and projection is the extreme narcissistic abuser’s relentless trick of the trade.
Arabi, Shahida (2016). Retrieved January 19, 2018 from https://thoughtcatalogue.com/shahida-arabi/2016/06/20-diversion-tactics-highly-manipulative-narcissists-sociopaths-and-psychopaths-use-to-silence-you/
Freud, A. (1936). The ego and the mechanisms of defence. New York: International Universities Press.
Louis de Canonville, Christine (2015). The three faces of evil: Unmasking the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse, Black Card Books.
Schneider, Andrea (2017). Retrieved January 19, 2018 from https://themindsjournal.com/narcissists-bubbling-fury/2/