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Why Do They Do That? Common Behaviors of Narcissists & Why They Do It

The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

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Projection

Probably one of the most damaging and confusing things that narcissistic people do is projection. Projection is what it's called when a narcissistic person takes their feelings, thoughts, actions or beliefs and says that someone else feels, thinks, does or believes that way. For example, narcissists may accuse others of feeling jealous of them when in reality, the narcissist is the one who feels jealous of other people. Or they may accuse others of thinking about stealing something when in fact it is they who are thinking about stealing it.

This happens because narcissistic people cannot take ownership of these things. They project them outward onto their environment in an effort to disconnect from these things and disown them, usually because they are upsetting or painful somehow. They then either experience these things as coming from others and will state things like that they can feel the other person's feelings or that the person's behavior points to these things being true, or they will recognize them as their own but believe the responsibility for them lies with other people. To that end, they will look around for ways that the other person is making them feel the way they do, or making them think, act or believe the way they are. It can get convoluted, but in it's simplest form, projection looks like someone saying: "I don't feel this way. I didn't do those things. I didn't say those words. It's you." This way, they don't have to face anything unpleasant about themselves, nor do they have to take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings or actions. Blame-shifting and shame-dumping are directly related to projection.

Projection is an unconscious defense mechanism designed to deny and disown things that are considered unacceptable about the self; conscious projection is called "lying." Because it is unconscious, trying to make someone see they are doing it can be very difficult. When someone is pathologically narcissistic, it can be impossible. Their lives depend on keeping this knowledge from themselves, so don't bother. The way to defeat projection is for you to understand what it is and why it's happening so that you don't take on responsibility that doesn't belong to you or allow yourself to be defined by things that aren't yours.

Gaslighting

Another common behavior of narcissistic people is gaslighting. Gaslighting is what it's called when someone tries to control or reframe another person's reality, whether this is a conscious or unconscious thing. Intentional gaslighting is literally lying and is done with the intent to confuse the other person so that they will do what the narcissist wants, whatever that might be.

For example, if a person is angry that the narcissist took something without asking, the narcissist may say, "No, you told me I could have it, don't you remember?" That's intentional gaslighting, because the narcissist knows this is not the truth and is simply trying to escape the consequences of their behavior. The old movie the name of this behavior was taken from is a perfect example as well. Among many other examples of deliberate gaslighting, the man was looking in the attic for the woman's jewels and it was causing the gas lights to flicker. Every time she mentioned it, he said she was imagining it. This not only prevented her from discovering what he was doing and enforcing consequences, it made it easier to continue his behavior because she became confused about what reality really was.

The villain in this movie was a very sophisticated psychopathic personality who waited years to enact an extremely well-thought out plan to make this woman appear unstable so that he could assume power of attorney, have her committed and then finally find the jewels he'd actually killed her aunt for years earlier.

While deliberate campaigns of purposeful, intentional gaslighting such as the one depicted in the movie are not unheard of by any means, they are not the norm. Most experiences with intentional gaslighting are of the unsophisticated defensive kind, where a person is simply denying something happened - or insisting that it did - because they fear the consequences, or because they will not get what they want if the truth is discovered. Gaslighting in general is a very immature behavior that is actually often seen in toddlers and small children. They don't have the wherewithal to defend, explain or excuse their behavior, so they simply say it didn't happen. The motive behind gaslighting may sometimes point to more sophisticated kinds of thinking, such as in the movie Gaslight, but the behavior itself is not sophisticated at all.

There is also unintentional gaslighting, which occurs because narcissistic people perceive things very differently than those who are not narcissists. They really believe things happened the way they are saying they did, and if you attempt to interject facts or proof here, you may be accused of gaslighting. This behavior may not technically fall under the traditional definition of gaslighting because most sources define gaslighting as deliberate, but the behavior of asserting a different reality is experienced by the people around the narcissist in the same way, whether it is intentional or not. The people around the narcissist have no way to know which is which and to be honest, it really doesn't matter, because the result is the same.

The way to defeat gaslighting in the moment is to know it's happening. Gaslighting that happens when someone can see through it is simply regarded as a childish, even ridiculous attempt to deny reality - as many of you already know. The only way gaslighting can work is if people do not trust themselves or their own perception. Working on building this up so that you are not vulnerable to gaslighting is the secret to defeating it long-term. But remember, no one can stay strong forever. A rock will erode from a single drip over hundreds of years. In this same way, being around someone who is constantly trying to force you into a different version of reality than what you are experiencing will wear on you eventually, no matter how strong you are. Even if it never causes you to doubt your reality or perception, it will affect you in other ways.

Splitting

Another very common behavior among narcissists is their reaction to splitting. Splitting is what it's called when narcissistic people change their opinion of something - including themselves - rapidly and completely. For example, one minute it is the greatest thing that ever happened to them and the next, the worst. These two opinions often seem completely unrelated; nothing good translates or is remembered when they see something as all-bad, and vice versa. This behavior is caused by their challenges with whole object relations. They are not able to see the whole picture of something. They can only see things and people in black and white terms. It's either good or it's bad and that's it. No grey area, no middle ground. If you're not up, you're down and that's that. Their reaction to a quick and complete change of opinion in the negative is often to behave abusively. Now that you are seen as bad, you do nothing but bad and you deserve nothing but bad things. The punishment for this fall from grace often has no limit and may go on for a very long time. In fact, the truth is, once you initially fall from grace in their eyes and reveal yourself as imperfect - often by simply witnessing a mistake on their part and realizing they are not perfect - the relationship has irrevocably changed and will never be the same again. Ever.

This is a sad reality for those who are still trying to get back to that initial good time and don't understand why they can't. Because you can never erase the fact that you are not perfect now, and that you know they are not, either. It's a done deal. They've been exposed as not the most perfect, valuable human that ever lived and by exposing them, you've revealed yourself for the evil monster or manipulative trickster that you really are. They will never forget it and many will never let you live it down. Now all the evidence stacks up on this side of things and even the good things you try to do are viewed suspiciously or seen as bad somehow. You will not trick them again. Interestingly, they often still want to stay in the relationship, even though all it really is now, is one long punishment for your failure to be perfect.

This doesn't always come out as rage or anger, either. They may simply abandon the relationship or run to other people instead, trying to distract their wounded ego. They may say they've become bored, or that you are not good enough for them any longer. No matter how it comes out, this behavior is upsetting and confusing, often because you don't realize what you've actually done wrong. They seem to have just changed their opinion of you for no reason and often will not even explain. The whole situation is hurtful, and it's hard not to take it personally. However, it's not personal. Their behavior and change of opinion is not about you. It's about themselves and the shame they are always trying to outrun.

If this sounds unfair, that's because it is. But these relationships are truly parasitic in nature, in that the organic vehicle the parasite is using to sustain its own life (meaning you) is only important for that reason and no other. You matter as far as what you can do for them and in no other way. Manipulation is the only means through which narcissists can interact with other people and this is not going to change.

The way to deal with splitting is to understand that it is not reality and it is not a reflection of who you are. It is a reflection of the narcissist's inability to realistically comprehend the whole personality instead of just polarized, overdramatized representations of parts of it. As with gaslighting, however, understand that it is not realistic to believe you can remain untouched by something like this. It's unrealistic to believe you can deal with someone saying horrible, terrible and untrue things about you on a regular basis without it eventually getting to you somehow.

With all of the things that narcissists do, it's important to remember that dealing with our own stuff, our own triggers and our own perspectives helps disempower and de-weaponize their toxic and abusive behaviors. However, it does not stop them and it will not protect you from being affected by it in some way if it continues. This behavior is an environmental toxin that must be removed if you are going to be healthy. Think of it like being in a room with poison gas. When you are in the room breathing in the gas, you feel ill. When you leave the room and breathe fresh air, you feel better and your sickness disappears. Even if you become used to it, it's still there and still affecting you. This author talks a lot about dealing with your own stuff, and dealing with your own stuff is absolutely imperative, on top of being very empowering but it does not, will not and cannot make a relationship with an abuser healthy.

While you are dealing with your stuff, they are not dealing with theirs, and no matter how healthy, empowered or strong you become, you simply cannot mitigate that fact.

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