The Other Side
Not all projections are harmful. For those who take the time to look at their reactions and interactions, Projection can be a helpful tool, as I wrote in Projecting Onto Others Isn’t All Bad. I am not a therapist, so perhaps the professionals would disagree, but I see it.
I grew up hiding how I felt, downplaying how much I hurt and how much I hated myself. I carried that into adulthood and am now working through all of those things. That is the truth of an adult survivor of childhood abuse and trauma. Having an abusive foundation is a life of conflict and self-doubt.
Projection is the tool that both of my parents used against me. It is the narcissist’s sharpest tool, and my parents wielded it with a surgeon’s precision.
“Projection is a defense mechanism commonly used by abusers, including people with narcissistic or borderline personality disorder and addicts. They’re saying, “It’s not me, it’s you!” When we project, we are defending ourselves against unconscious impulses or traits, either positive or negative, that we’ve denied in ourselves. Instead, we attribute them to others. Our thoughts or feelings about someone or something are too uncomfortable to acknowledge. In our mind, we believe that the thought or emotion originates from that other person.” 1
I remember more of my mother’s projection weapon because I was older and had begun to recognize what was happening. In addition, my father was a big part of tearing me down, making me more susceptible to what would happen to me for the years following his abandonment.
My father’s projections were more subtle, and I was younger. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. But my father was a big part of my abuse and trauma. I don’t write about it as much because I am still so conflicted, and I don’t have many memories.
I remember being so relieved, afraid and saddened by my father’s abrupt departure from my world. I was relieved that my sexual and physical abuser was gone. But, I was afraid because he left me with another emotional and verbal abuser. I was sad because he convinced me that he alone loved me and my mother never would.
My father used my mother’s narcissism to manipulate me. And she played right into that. She, too, was stuck in her narcissism, not that she could have helped herself. So she could not do anything or be anything different than what she was.
Writing that, I want to cry. My mother wasn’t what I needed, and she couldn’t be. That is another truth of childhood abuse. We are children stuck with someone who does not have the tools to be a parent. Hell, I don’t think my mother had the tools to be a good human being. She was so angry all of the time.
She would tell me I wouldn’t amount to anything that I was stupid and that my choices would lead to a miserable life. I should not get married. And on and on it went. I heard that throughout my whole life, no matter what choice I made. It was the wrong choice. I was the wrong choice.
The day I called to tell her I was engaged (May 2012). I dreaded telling her. Hubs didn’t understand why so he kept reminding me to call her. I finally did. She turned my happiness into a weapon. I felt like shit after that call. It was the last day I would talk with her.
If we had a mother with weak boundaries who reacted to us with anger or withdrawal, we absorbed our mother’s reaction, as if her reaction was a negative statement about our worth and lovability. We would shame ourselves and develop weak boundaries, too.1
Even then, I knew that those statements were more about her than they were about me. I saw it as self-hatred on her part. You can only hate yourself so much until you have to get that anger and hatred out onto someone else. I was that person.
It was a daily battle. She would belittle me (which is how she felt about herself), and I would fight against her. Usually, there is not much one can do to fight against narcissism in my head. At least I knew arguing would not get me anywhere. My mother used that against me. As in, ‘see, I keep telling you how horrible you are.’
A harmful consequence of continual Projection is when the trait becomes incorporated into one’s identity. Although it’s challenging to do so, individuals who experience this can try to remember that the critiques are about the other person and to be confident in who they are outside of that relationship.2
The psychological consequence of growing up with narcissistic parents is that I still have to fight. Except now I am fighting myself. Because what she told me became incorporated into my identity. It’s why I minimize my accomplishments.
Even in therapy, I am uncomfortable receiving accolades for my work. Because I don’t think I have. But I know I have. Then my brain tells me I haven’t. Do you see the continuous conflict as I try to change that old programming? Yeah. I have done a lot of work. PERIOD. I had to write the word ‘period’ to remind myself that I had done and am doing GOOD WORK.
- Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT. (March 6, 2019). How to Confront Narcissists’ Lethal Weapon: Projection Find out how to identify and confront projection and stop abuse. PsychologyToday.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/201903/how-confront-narcissists-lethal-weapon-projection
- PsychologyToday.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/projection