The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
We've all heard about how the narcissist projects their negative or uncomfortable feelings onto other people. What some people may not realize is that the other person in the relationship is doing some projecting, too. That's what we'll be talking about in this episode.
Projection is what we call it when someone takes how they feel, what they are doing or what they think and puts it on another person. A simple form of projection most people are familiar with would be if someone is cheating in their romantic relationship, they may accuse the other person of cheating. We sometimes call that a "guilty conscience," meaning that the accuser knows they're doing something wrong and they are inadvertently telling on themselves with their behavior.
Another example would be that most pathologically narcissistic people have deep feelings of self-hatred and shame, therefore a lot of times they accuse others of feeling that way about them. They may interpret someone's actions as hurtful or malicious when they are not or they may insist that someone's words have a "hidden meaning" that is hurtful, hateful or cruel. In summary, this is because of their own feelings for themselves.
However, projection doesn't always refer to "wrong" behavior or negative emotions. Narcissists often project negative or stressful emotions because they can't handle them but any emotion can be projected. We often find in narcissistic relationships that the narcissist is not the only person engaging in projection. The other person or people involved are often doing some of their own. For instance, when the narcissist has lost a valued situation or relationship and they begin to come unraveled, they hoover people in an attempt to rectify the situation or re-secure the relationship. Many people read love and remorse into the hoovering behavior. They believe the narcissistic person is sorry, that they feel bad, that they have seen the light and now have a new understanding of how much they love their partner. Often, this is supported by what the narcissist says during the hoover.
The truth is, though, the way the narcissist behaves during a hoover often doesn't really look like love or remorse to anyone who is not emotionally invested that evaluates it independently. It looks like panic and desperation, like manipulation. People are interpreting it as love because that is how they feel and that is what they would do or what they want. This is projection.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things for people to face when it comes to understanding narcissistic relationships. When you hear someone say "You were not seeing the narcissist, you were seeing your own good qualities reflected back to you," this is what they are talking about. You were projecting your own good qualities onto the narcissist and therefore you believed that is what you were seeing in their behavior. Unlike narcissists, however, for most people there comes a point where they realize this is just not true.
Narcissists are in such deep denial of their own behavior and especially their own emotions that this realization will likely never come to them. They will generally not realize that the qualities they are attributing to other people are their own. Most non-narcissistic people they see it eventually. People in relationships with narcissists are often in their own denial, but it is usually not as deep-seated or as pervasive as the denial of pathologically narcissistic people. There comes a time when the truth just can't be denied any longer and they realize, "I was wrong about this person. I thought they were insecure but they are just selfish. I thought they were sorry but they are just manipulating me to keep me around. I thought they loved me but they are just using me."
Most of us only experience the world from our own paradigm, through our own experience. Narcissistic people believe everyone hates them because they hate themselves. They believe everyone is out to manipulate and control them because that is what they are doing or would like to do to others. They believe people are fakes and liars because they are fakes and liars. This is projection. Conversely, you might believe people will be honest because you are honest. You might believe people will be kind because you are kind. You might believe people will be fair because you are fair. This is also projection.
There is nothing wrong with giving someone the benefit of the doubt. The problem comes when the person has repeatedly demonstrated that what you would like to believe about them is not the truth. If someone is violent in a relationship one time and you want to believe they are sorry, that they just lost their head, that they were just extremely stressed out and snapped, that's one thing. I would not advise it, but technically it could be true. Maybe they never act out violently again. That's great. However, if it happens continuously and you still want to believe that they are sorry, that they just snapped, it's time to find out why you are not accepting the reality that obviously, this person's behavior is acceptable to them. It's the same with all other hurtful behavior, whether it's cheating or raging or smear campaigns or lying or anything else. If the person keeps doing it, they obviously don't feel the way that you would like to believe they do - regardless of what they say.
It's important when you are dealing with other people to remember that they must be evaluated based on their own merits and their own behavior, not yours. There comes a point where giving someone the benefit of the doubt can become denial if people are not careful. There has to be a limit to how many chances someone will be given before it is decided that this person is either not capable of behaving in an appropriate manner or they are not interested. If there isn't a limit, then it is likely because someone is refusing to accept that.
Not everyone is fair. Not everyone is honest. Not everyone is considerate, loving, not everyone experiences remorse or thinks hurtful behavior is wrong. It's important to see people for who they are and not who you are, or who you would like them to be.