And there would be little tells that not everyone would notice – dog whistles in a way. For example, when we first started dating, he would say certain things when he flirted with me that may have sounded innocent if you didn’t know he was flirting. For example, when I would say, “I’m sorry,” he’d say, “You’re gonna be.”
Now if you didn’t know this was a flirt line, you might just think he was trying to be funny. But I knew what was really going on. And when I’d witness him playing this game with my friends or other random women, it caused a lot of conflict. I would not say anything in the moment, but would later confront him. At that point, I’d be told I was crazy and he’d start tearing me down, telling me I was always too jealous and that if I was going to accuse him of it, he might as well go ahead and do it. Of course, this only led me to feel less secure in the relationship and got me walking on eggshells – exactly where he wanted me.
During our relationship, I’d catch him in a lot of somewhat compromising situations, which he’d always explain away. It drove me insane.
I became so obsessed and jealous that I started watching his eyes to see what he was looking at all the time. In hindsight, I’m shocked that I allowed myself to act this way, but it was such a pervasive way to manipulate me that I almost couldn’t see past it. So much so that it followed me into my next relationship and caused drama that didn’t need to be happening. I was eventually able to move past it, thankfully, but it took much longer than I would’ve liked. Can you relate?
Did you have a narcissistic ex who always wanted to make you jealous? Did they seem to constantly have random “mysterious” people to text, or spend a little too much time watching or reading dicey stuff on the internet, or maybe have their eyes on your “competition” too often?
Something you should know: If the narcissist is purposely making you jealous, this is yet another form of abuse. But why do they do this? What in the world could they get out of making you feel jealous? You might be surprised that they get more than one benefit out of it. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about today – why narcissists seem to want to make you jealous and what you can do to stop feeling that way.
Examples: How Narcissists Try to Make You Jealous
First, let’s talk about some of the ways that narcissists might try to make you jealous, outside of the example I shared. Some common narcissist tactics to incite jealousy might include:
Choosing to spend time without you, doing whatever they like, and not telling you who they’re with, or telling you and not caring how you feel about the company they keep.
Blatant flirting with people of the opposite (or same) sex, whatever y’all are into.
Gawking at people who have certain qualities you don’t, and pointing them out to you, or just ignoring you while they look.
Making you feel invisible.
Constantly talking about their exes and how certain parts of their relationship were amazing, even getting into their intimate experiences in detail.
Sharing too many details about their new supply when your relationship does end, or about the person they’re cheating with this week.
Making sure to tell you and everyone else how much better their relationship is with the new supply than their relationship with you turned out to be.
Suddenly changing their appearance in some way – they lose weight or start dressing better, for example. You wonder who they’re trying to impress.
Where they used to give you all of their attention, they suddenly start to give attention to anyone and anything, while now totally ignoring you. This might be their phone or another human, or certain online people and websites that might bother you.
Ignoring your calls and texts when they’re not with you, leaving you to wonder what they are doing and who they are with.
These are just a few examples, of course. But why do they do this?
Why do narcissists want to make you jealous?
Let’s discuss the reasons that narcissists enjoy making you jealous.
1. The Narcissist Needs to Have Power Over You
You may already know how desperately narcissists feel the need to maintain control over you and other people in their lives. By intentionally making you jealous, they sort of gain control over your thoughts. You become obsessed with figuring out what they’re thinking about, what they’re looking at. You can think of nothing else. Now, the narcissist has exactly what they want: you, focused almost completely on them as you are attempting to be perfect for them. In the meantime, you’re torturing yourself and feeling threatened by everyone who seems to have whatever quality it is the narcissist seems to want but that you just don’t have. Plus, making you jealous is just a way to give them extra power to feed their ego.
2. The Narcissist Needs to Feel Secure in the Relationship
Your average narcissist might seem to exude confidence, but under all of that bravado is often a desperately insecure person. One thing they desperately seek is some level of security in their relationships. They want to know for sure that you want them and that you won’t leave them. So if they can make you feel and behave like you feel jealous, it is just one confirmation that you want them and that you are not going anywhere. This makes them feel secure in the relationship, which is ironic considering it leaves you feeling quite the opposite.
3. The Narcissist is Testing You
Narcissists have a way of wanting to test you constantly. Whether they’re trying to test their bond with you to see how strong it really is or they’re trying to see if you’ll retaliate (or something else), this is a common reason they want to make you feel jealous. They want to know if you REALLY love them, and often, if you don’t react strongly enough, they will up their game and push even harder to get the reaction they so strongly desire from you. Of course, once you do react, they get the confirmation they need – they feel that you really do want them and you have “passed their test.” Even so, they will never let you feel like you’ve passed. In fact, they’ll probably complain that you’re SO jealous and controlling that they can barely breathe. Manipulation at its finest.
4. The Narcissist Wants Revenge
Let’s say someone flirted with you at the checkout counter at the store, or the server gave you some free bread or something at the restaurant you went out to last week. Your narcissist, in their insecurity, most likely felt very threatened by this, even if you didn’t react. And God help you if you were even remotely friendly to the person in question – this would lead the narcissist to spiral into the need to get revenge on you. If they have any reason to feel jealous or threatened, then their first move would be to intentionally make you jealous in an effort to get some sort of revenge. Again, even if what you did was completely innocent, it would not matter. Even just by ignoring them when you have to work or by smiling at a stranger, you might be flirting or at least trying to make them jealous as far as they’re concerned. Remember: It does not take much to make the narcissist jealous. And this leads them to try to get you back by making you jealous, too.
5. Narcissists Need Narcissistic Supply
It is a known fact that beneath that grandiose front that most narcissists have that they are deeply insecure. They have very low self-esteem and they need a partner for approval. In fact, many narcissists feel invalid without a partner to prop them up. So, even if they’re not being faithful to you, they want to be sure you’ll be faithful to them. Since they don’t see you as a real person, they don’t see any reason to be faithful, ironically enough. And a sure way to confirm that you really do care about them is if they purposely make you jealous and you react as a result of it. Your jealous reaction feeds their ego and gives them a false sense of pride. This is what we call narcissistic supply, and the narcissist needs it like a vampire needs blood.
6. Narcissists Need to Tear You Down
A lot of us do our best to conform to the narcissist’s rules in these toxic relationships because we grow tired of fighting and begging them to understand us. So we kind of numb out and we do what we have to do to get through the days. This can reduce the level of drama in the relationship significantly, and the narcissist gets bored. They need something to tear you down about, so they will often use jealousy to incite conflict in the relationship. See, the feeling of being jealous of your partner paying attention to other people can be likened to an evolutionary behavior. Back in the caveman days, we needed our partners for safety, security and to be able to have children – all of which are very primal instincts and needs. The narcissist probably doesn’t realize it cognitively, but by making you jealous, not only are they playing on one of our biggest human fears (the fear of abandonment), but they are also giving themselves a sure-fire way to make us feel bad (or worse) about ourselves. Then we begin to obsess and research and figure out what is wrong with US – and that definitely takes our focus off what is wrong with them.
So how do you deal with this?
What can you do to stop feeling jealous when the narcissist is actively cultivating jealousy in your relationship?
Truthfully, the best option is to end the relationship and start over. But I know that isn’t always an immediate option. Still, outside of simply going no contact and trying not to feel connected to them in this way, anything else you do will simply be a bandaid that will only temporarily relieve your stress.
You’ve got to remember something really important here. Any narcissist in your life never has the best intentions for you. It is all about them, all the time.
So, in general, you can try to focus on building your own self-esteem, and on not reacting to the narcissist’s attempts to make you feel jealous. You can attempt to do a lot of things, but remember that you’re dealing with someone who just isn’t like a normal, healthy person.
Just think about it. In normal, healthy relationships, low self-esteem can affect how you feel about your partner, but in those relationships, the partner doesn’t foster your jealousy or attack you for it – instead, they will reassure you, and your jealousy will go away in time.
When your partner attacks and belittles you for feeling jealous, especially when they’ve actively fostered that jealousy in you, it should be a huge red flag for you – this is abuse. You have to recognize that the narcissist is doing this on purpose, and do your best to avoid taking it personally. With that being said, it can feel nearly impossible to stop feeling that way when you’re in the middle of it. So again, aside from becoming emotionless and just ignoring their behavior, you can work on your own self-esteem. And if you’re lucky in that process, you’ll recognize that you deserve SO much better than someone who would intentionally cause you to feel so small and insignificant.
I remember thinking I’d met my soulmate within a couple of weeks of meeting my ex. It was so crazy how much we had in common. He was an artist like me and even wrote dark, brooding poetry as I did at the time. We liked the same music and we both loved to dance – the list could go on and on. And while I didn’t think much of him when we first met, it wasn’t long before I was telling a girlfriend that while we seemed so different, I couldn’t believe how much we had in common.
Of course, I’d later understand that he was likely a toxic narcissist, and relationships with narcissists move quickly. So, within less than a year, we’d be living together and married with a baby on the way. It was around this time that I’d be smacked in the face with the fact that much of what he’d claimed we had in common was a complete fabrication. But why would he do this?
Narcissists have a way of copying you, or mimicking you or in some cases, nearly becoming you. And, when you think of narcissistic mirroring or copying, you think of the average narcissist who sort of takes on parts of the identities of other people. But what you may not know is that this behavior, as annoying as it can be, is often the result of an early childhood wound caused by a lack of mirroring. And while narcissists manifest this by imitating people around them, any of us could have been affected by the same childhood wound and could be manifesting it through our own codependency. Yes, I’m serious. Let’s talk about it.
What Is Mirroring?
Mirroring is the usually subconscious replication of another person’s nonverbal signals. In layman’s terms, mirroring is when you reflect back the mannerisms, behaviors, and other behaviors of other people. It causes us to adopt different facial expressions, body language, as well as tone and for some of us, will lead to empathy.
As adults, we may use mirroring subconsciously as a way to create rapport with others. And, despite what a lot of people will tell you, mirroring isn’t a narcissistic behavior, technically. In fact, mirroring is a normal part of the development of humans. It begins as early as the day you’re born and is a requirement for the normal development of babies, toddlers, and kindergarteners. It helps them to develop their identities. But what happens when a tiny human doesn’t experience this important connection during infancy and early childhood?
How Does a Lack of Mirroring in Early Childhood Affect You Long-Term?
As infants, humans will naturally adapt to whatever parenting we get. When our parent is depressed, anxious, stressed, or even distracted often, they don’t always give us the eye contact we need. In these cases, and in the case of a parent who might have narcissistic personality disorder, we are nearly doomed on a psychological level when we don’t get the kind of connection we need for our brains to develop normally.
For most people, the natural times to give this kind of eye contact would happen during feeding, diaper changing, and other kinds of physical care of their babies. And you would think that it’s a sort of natural thing for most people to look at their babies and talk to them or coo at them, right?
Good Enough Parents Vs. Toxic Parents
The thing is that most parents do this naturally, even parents who might not be considered “good” parents by the average person. And even when “good enough” parents do what comes naturally to them, babies and toddlers will reciprocate and even begin to initiate eye contact and connection over time.
But when our mothers have the problems I mentioned or any other issue that causes her to not focus while she’s feeding and caring for us, for example, she might not give us the eye contact that we’d so desperately have needed to properly attach to her. This leads to us losing not only our ability to develop our authentic selves, but it leaves us instinctively feeling that our needs haven’t been met.
That is because we are receiving an unconscious message that we don’t matter – and later, if our mother IS a narcissist, we learn that in order to have any value whatsoever, we must meet her needs (and the needs of others). This kind of perception can manifest in several ways, becoming a big part of the core self we develop. It will, in nearly every case, affect our relationships in adulthood as well.
Two Extreme Ways a Lack of Mirroring Can Affect Your Adult Relationships
Since the lack of mirroring in early childhood leads to you feeling unimportant and that your value comes from how you serve other people, you would naturally become more attractive to someone like a narcissist. You spend your life trying to make the people around you happy and take care of their needs in order to feel like you’re worthy.
While you and I might have developed the “disease to please,” if our mothers were unable to connect with us on this level, those who develop toxic narcissism or even narcissistic personality disorder are affected differently. See, when narcissism manifests, it is because those who develop that way have developed the trademark lack of empathy as a result of not having felt understood, appreciated or tuned in with their parent. So, unlike those of us who became people-pleasers, narcissists are unable to see others as whole people – they can’t understand or appreciate the autonomy of anyone else.
Worse, the lack of mirroring in infancy can lead to a very toxic legacy in your family. That’s because, for example, when a mother doesn’t naturally mirror her babies, chances are she didn’t receive mirroring in her own infancy and early childhood. As a result, unless she chooses to develop the awareness needed to overcome this and to intentionally change the pattern, she won’t be able to offer it to her kids either. This leads to her trauma being passed on to her children, and this can continue in families for generations.
How Does Mirroring Lead to Copycat Behavior in Narcissists?
Maybe you’ve noticed that the narcissist in your life picked up some of your hobbies or ideas – or even certain personality traits you have. Your reaction might have been to worry, and then you might have thought you were reading into it too much. Or maybe you thought it was an amazing bit of kismet and that you’d finally you met your soulmate, as I did initially with my ex.
But by now, you’ve realized you’re dealing with someone who might be a narcissist. And you are painfully aware that narcissists are manipulative. Mirroring can be used by narcissists as an almost unconscious manipulation tactic and it can be used consciously by sociopaths and psychopaths.
When adult narcissists use mirroring, they copy your behaviors, mannerisms, speech patterns, and personality traits – it can really be extreme and for some of us, a little disconcerting. Since narcissists feel like they have no substance, it is almost like they cannot exist without being a reflection of someone else – or more than one person. This, as I explained, is likely due to that early childhood wound of not getting the kind of nurturing they needed on an emotional level – their mothers often didn’t give them the eye contact and recognition that they needed to properly self-actualize.
When the Narcissist Suddenly Changes Their Personality or Behaviors
Often, when you’re in a long-term relationship with a narcissist, you’ll notice a shift in their personalities over the years. For the average narcissist, you might see a sudden shift in personality when they start spending time with a new person. Or, if they are your parent, they might take on some of your own qualities, habits, or hobbies as you develop them, and this might continue into adulthood.
What’s interesting about this is that it can be a “tell” if you think about it. Why? Because when they do suddenly change, you can often just look around at the people in their lives and figure out exactly what is going on. Chances are that they are either jealous of someone and taking on their qualities, mimicking them, or they’re obsessed with them and taking on their qualities, behaviors or mannerisms for that reason.
Why Do Narcissists Engage In Mirroring in Relationships?
As you know, narcissists are by nature very competitive, and when you’re in a relationship with them, it can feel like they want to take your identity in one way or another. In the case of mirroring, they will almost become you on some level. Ironically, they will often find you attractive for whatever quality they will eventually take on, and as the relationship progresses, you may actually lose that part of yourself. for a codependent, this can be devastating and have lifelong effects. But what is the psychology of the mirroring behavior for narcissists in adult relationships?
There are several reasons that narcissists engage in mirroring in adult relationships, including the following.
I’m not talking about the kind of identity theft in which criminals use your information to open up rogue bank accounts to hurt your credit – though narcissists aren’t above it. They never established a real sense of identity growing up, thanks to the lack of eye contact and human connection in early childhood. They might be literally attempting to adopt your identity.
A tactic to win you over
Mirroring in narcissists also happens when they really want to win you over. I like to call this a sort of “soulmate scam,” because they will pretend they like and dislike the same things that you do. For instance, if you love Fleetwood Mac but strongly dislike The Eagles, then ‘coincidentally’ they will too. Meeting someone who is so much like you might make you feel like they’re your soulmate and cause you to warm to them more quickly.
They pretend they are being intimate
Narcissists are not by nature able to express true empathy. Certainly, in some cases, they are able to fake it when they need to, but generally, they don’t have the skills or even the desire to have a connection that is real. But they need narcissistic supply, and in order to get that, they need relationships. They logically understand that intimacy is important. So, they pretend, and they learn to do this by watching your own behaviors. In other words, they fake intimacy by imitating you.
While narcissists will stop actively mirroring you after the love bombing or idealization phase, they’ll also continue to hold on to whatever qualities or traits they’ve picked up from you, unless and until they find someone else to imitate.
So, what do you think?
Question of the day: have you experienced a narcissist who copied your identity, and if so, were you surprised by the answers I shared today on why that happens? Do you agree or disagree with my theory? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.
Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today
One of my clients shared with me that her ex broke off their relationship in the most interesting way. She said that her ex told her he needed a little space, and abruptly moved out after 23 years together. He said that he wasn’t ending their long-term relationship, and in fact, that he wanted to start dating her again. He wanted to fall in love with her all over again, he claimed. He almost made it sound exciting and healthy.
He said he was in a rut and needed to shake things up – he needed to find himself. She was of course devastated, but she tried to play along.
Of course, what I haven’t mentioned about this situation is that this man spent the previous 23 years systematically manipulating and psychologically destroying my client. He had future-faked her for years – so much that they were literally engaged for two decades, but never actually married.
She confessed to me that she’d tried to leave him repeatedly, thanks to several episodes of cheating, but he’d always sucked her back in. In fact, they’d gotten engaged 20 years ago because of the first cheating episode. She told me that he’d showed up at her mom’s house, where she’d retreated to after finding him with another woman, with a ring and a big public proposal. He’d wooed her back into submission, and this pattern would continue, much to her chagrin.
Each time she tried to get him to set a wedding date over the years, he always had an excuse. They didn’t have the money. She was pregnant. Their dog died. He wasn’t sure if she REALLY loved him. He wasn’t sure if HE really loved HER. Then she was pregnant again. And now, after 23 years of not-wedded not-bliss and two children who were now a young adult and a teen, he was doing it yet again, and this time, she was sure it would stick.
But she couldn’t seem to let go of him, and she didn’t know why. She had become so enmeshed with him that she didn’t even recognize herself anymore. She knew she wanted to be done so she could finally move on with her life, but she couldn’t figure out how to even begin to do it. Why? Because, like all narcissists, he absolutely refused to give her the closure she needed to move forward and let him go.
Narcissists Don’t Do Closure!
Narcissists have a way of leaving you hanging, don’t they? They just don’t do closure. But why? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about, today: narcissists and closure – why they don’t give it, how you’re affected by the lack of closure, and how to create closure for yourself.
First, let’s discuss what I mean when I say closure. It’s a sense of resolution or a sort of “conclusion” at the end of any relationship. Unfortunately, this is often denied to survivors of narcissistic abuse. This leaves us feeling obsessed with figuring out the details and implications of our toxic relationships – we find ourselves stuck and spinning as a result of not getting closure. This leaves many of us feeling the need to either find our own closure or spending years trying in vain to emotionally heal after these toxic relationships, unable to move forward and not understanding exactly why.
Why don’t narcissists give you closure at the end of a toxic relationship?
There are so many reasons narcissists don’t give you closure. But for the most part, their reasoning (or lack thereof) probably falls into one of the following points.
1. Narcissists Only Care About Themselves.
You know that narcissists are not capable of being empathetic. They simply cannot put themselves into the shoes of anyone else. That is one reason that they won’t give closure. They will ghost you without a second thought, and the idea of wondering how it would make you feel when they do that is a completely foreign concept to them. All they know is that they had their reasons, and they don’t even consider your feelings. They may even seem shocked when you ask them why they’ve done what they’ve done. Truth? Teaching a narcissist empathy is like trying to teach a fish to ride a bike – a frustrating, impossible endeavor.
2. They Don’t Think You Deserve It.
Since narcissists don’t have empathy, they can’t imagine that you might even NEED closure, much less deserve it. That’s right. Despite the fact that you have spent a long time bending over backward to make sure they get what they need, now that it’s over, they don’t figure they owe you anything at all – and sadly, this includes closure. Plus, by not giving you closure they ensure that you’ll keep thinking about them – and what narcissist doesn’t want that?
3. They Don’t See You As a Whole Person.
This one is tough to hear, sometimes, but it’s the truth. Narcissists do not see you or anyone they’ve grown close to as real, whole people. Rather, you’re almost like an object to them – an object that they can use and consume at will, and toss aside when they’re done with you. And, they have no issue whatsoever coming along and picking you up and using you again, when they’re ready. They literally see you as less of a person than they are – which, if I’m being honest, is kind of ironic in a way, given their own shallow nature and the probability that you are a deep, thoughtful and compassionate person. How do I know that? Because narcissists can’t manage long-term relationships with anyone else – they need someone who will take care of their emotional needs (and often, all of their other needs as well).
4. Because You Want It.
Did you ever notice how, when you’re really stressed out or times are hard, narcissists have a way of sort of “kicking you when you’re down?” Narcissists can be real sadists, and part of them loves to see you squirming in emotional distress. And even though narcissists cannot empathize with you, they still get that you would appreciate closure and maybe that it would help you move on. And not only does knowing this gives them a bit of a power buzz, but it assures them that you won’t be able to move on when they need your supply again. Which brings me to my next point.
5. They Need Your Supply, Maybe.
Narcissists require narcissistic supply. You, as the narcissistic supply, are used by the narcissist for attention, validation, admiration – all the “supply” they need to feed their ego. On to of this, the narcissist often has a circle of supply or “narcissistic harem,” and like it or not, they’ve pegged you as one of them. Now, this circle or harem might include people they’re cheating with, their mothers or fathers, various friends, coworkers, neighbors and other family members. You might be (or have been) their primary source of supply for a long time. And since you’ve been such a good source of supply up to this point, the narcissist figures they might want to “use you” again at some point. So by leaving the door open, you’re left spinning and, if the narcissist has anything to say about it, you won’t be moving on with your life. This way, when they need you, they can wiggle their way back in again when it is convenient for them.
6. They’re Not Secure with New Supply Yet.
Speaking of narcissistic supply, there’s another possibility: the narcissist is actively trying to procure a new source of supply, and they’re not 100 percent sure yet that they’ve got it all locked down. The new supply still has the nerve to think that they are as important as the narcissist in the relationship, and so the narcissist might still need to dump on someone when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. And since they’re actively love-bombing and idealizing the new supply, they may not feel comfortable enough to take the mask off yet. So, if the narcissist can find a good reason to connect with you when they need to blow off some steam or get some comfort, they most certainly will do that. And even when the new supply is fully locked in, they may still want to keep you on standby, just in case. After all, as I mentioned, they don’t see you as an actual person, so why wouldn’t they use you when and how they can?
7. They Are Giving You a Message.
Throughout your relationship, regardless of the nature of it, the narcissist has been making a few things clear: they see you as powerless. They don’t want you to have any control whatsoever over the relationship, much less your own life. They want you to understand that, as far as they’re concerned, you don’t deserve any recognition for what you’ve done for them – no, not even for the years you spent trying to make them happy. And, sadly, they want you to believe that you are so unlovable, that you don’t even need to be acknowledged. This is all part of their cycle, part of the way they control you throughout the relationship.
Narcissists and Closure: What You Need to Know Now
This part is going to be a little tough, but you need to know that someone usually gives you closure because they actually care about you and the relationship you had. They give closure because they want peace and they care enough about you to want you to be happy. The narcissist knows that if you have closure, you’ll be able to find that peace and to move forward without them. By keeping you in their toxic loop, they keep you open for a hoover and they are able to keep taking, future faking and using you at will. It would require them to take personal responsibility for how they’ve treated you, and it would mean ending the lies and manipulation they’ve been using to keep you emotionally engaged. Just the idea of real, genuine closure is unthinkable to a narcissist.
So, what do you think? Question of the day: Have you struggled to find closure after a relationship with a toxic narcissist, and if so, how’d you deal with it? If not, are you worried that you won’t be able to get closure if and when you do end your relationship? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments below this video, and let’s talk about it.
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Resources
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
One of my clients told me a story that is all too familiar for anyone who has been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist. During her relationship, her ex would consistently accuse her of cheating and wanting to cheat on him. He had become so obsessed that he was secretly tracking her car with a hidden low-jack device he bought on the recommendation of a private eye friend of his, and he’d even put apps on her phone and computer that allowed him to watch her every move.
Later, she would learn that he was a self-proclaimed “love addict” who had been actively cheating on her for years, sneaking around and hiding everything. Turns out, while she’d been doing everything in her power to be transparent and to soothe his insecurities in the relationship, he’d been the one cheating and hiding the whole time. He was clearly projecting his own bad behavior on to her – a common way narcissists manipulate us in relationships. But was he doing it to distract her from his bad behavior, which it thoroughly did, or was something more at play here?
Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. It is part blame-shifting and part misdirection of a person’s inner insecurities, behaviors and issues.
Do Only Narcissists Use Projection?
Anyone can find themselves projecting – it isn’t just a narcissistic quality. The fact is that we all have insecurities. And even the most emotionally balanced among us can find ourselves subconsciously projecting our worries and insecurities on to the people in our lives. In most cases, we aren’t really even aware of it. But when we’re dealing with toxic narcissists in our relationships, whether they’re our partner, family member or friend, we are often actively being psychologically abused, and our self-esteem – if we ever had any – takes a nosedive.
So, when we project, it’s our subconscious sort of seeing qualities or issues within ourselves that we consciously deny. And then, without realizing it, we sort of attribute the feelings (or the issues) on to someone else. A lot of times, this is because the way we feel makes us uncomfortable and we don’t really know how to deal with it or can’t bring ourselves to do so.
For example, if we are stressing out and worried that our boss dislikes us, we might think, “Wow, she really hates me!”
But if we don’t have any actual evidence other than a general sense of negativity around her, we might ask ourselves how we really feel about the boss. The fact is that it’s possible that we’re just projecting our own stuff on to the boss. It’s possible that we don’t like her or feel somehow threatened by her.
In general, if you find yourself projecting, you can trace the trigger back to something that happened to you that made you feel insecure – and the situation you were in reminded you of that time. For example, during my pregnancy with my oldest child, my ex-husband made me feel like my changing body was grotesque. He was literally disgusted by me.
Eventually, I’d leave him and six years later, I’d find myself in a new relationship, pregnant with kid number two. And even though I would go on to have that baby and another four years later with my second husband, I struggled a lot during my second pregnancy with projection issues. I was triggered by my condition, and even though I logically knew that my husband loved my body during pregnancy, my thoughts raced and I struggled with doubting this and thinking he must be secretly disgusted as my ex had been.
I managed it, knowing logically what I was doing. But, boy, was it difficult!
Projection is a Primal, Reactive Behavior
Here’s where it gets interesting. Projection and our ability to resolve it within ourselves is all about emotional maturity. In fact, projection is considered a primitive defense because it preserves the ego by ignoring and/or distorting reality on some level.
In other words, projection is a primal, reactive behavior that is used by children and that eventually, most of us grow out of on our own, or at least we become aware of it and actively work to overcome it as I did with my pregnancies.
(For the record, my third pregnancy, though it was physically harder than the others since I was 32 years old by then, was far more emotionally satisfying as I had recognized that I was projecting old feelings onto my second husband, who didn’t, in fact, have the same issues as my ex, in the moment with my second and worked to get through it. That was because I had by that point developed enough emotional maturity to recognize the issue and deal with it.)
But narcissists tend to be emotional toddlers (or at best, emotional pre-teens) no matter how old they happen to be at any given moment. What I mean is that while they may appear to be a regular adult when you first meet them, narcissists are notoriously emotionally immature. In fact, on so many levels, their emotional maturity (or lack thereof) and manipulative behaviors can be compared to those of a toddler. But at least a toddler is cute. Narcissists can be downright ugly (on the inside at least) and while most of us begin to develop empathy as early as two years old, narcissists aren’t so lucky. They either never develop empathy or lose it during their own traumatic experiences in childhood. (In fact, if you have a minute later, take a look at the video I’ll leave right there and in the pinned comment for you – this is a literal comparison, not a figurative one. )
Narcissistic Projection vs. ‘Regular’ Projection
So, as you might imagine, narcissists are different when they use projection. While they may also be projecting due to their own insecurities, most of the time, projection acts as yet another manipulation tactic. This can become a serious issue, especially since it is often directed at people like us – people who are sensitive, empathic and who care too much about how they feel – at least until we recognize what they are.
And since many of us were also raised by narcissists or other toxic people, our own emotional struggles and lack of confidence can then be compounded by any narcissist we are in a relationship with, thanks to their extreme manipulation and gaslighting during our relationships. On the narcissist’s part, the goal is to divert your attention from what is really going on. By distracting you, not only do they get you to focus on yourself as the problem, but they also get you to take responsibility for the problem.
The Effects of Narcissistic Projection
When narcissists project their own issues on to us, we tend to actually personalize it and in some cases, we even accept the projections as true, or we worry that it could become true. Then, we might actively work to change something about ourselves that doesn’t need changing – or that isn’t even a quality or issue we have, but rather one of the narcissist’s projections of their own issues or qualities. Alternatively, we will spend our lives attempting to soothe their projected insecurities and ignore our own wellbeing in the process. In either case, it spells disaster for our core selves.
But on the plus side, if we can learn to recognize when the narcissist is doing this and identify it as projection, then we can label it and choose to see it for what it is and not internalize it.
So, how do you know if a narcissist is projecting on to you?
Since narcissists are well-known to lack self-awareness, it makes sense that they wouldn’t necessarily be consciously aware of their projecting thoughts and behaviors. And, since the narcissist’s ability to feel any self-esteem or self-worth is entirely dependent on how other people see and perceive them, they have a tendency to deny that they are in fact flawed humans who, like everyone else, have their own shortcomings or limitations. But rather than accept and recognize them, the way I did with my pregnancy issues, they will blame the people around them for anything about themselves they deem less than perfect.
So, in a way, you could almost say that narcissists tell on themselves through their projections. Using the example of the cheater who accuses his partner of cheating, we can see that projection is one way they reveal their own bad behaviors and ideologies on to us. It’s how they show us who they are and tell us what they’re doing.
When the narcissist projects on to you, they are essentially calling you by their own name, in a way. They’ll accuse you of doing whatever it is they are actually doing, or what they’re considering or planning to do. And since narcissists aren’t prone to feeling guilty for their behaviors, even when they should, they end up assigning that guilt to you through projection. Does that make sense? They unconsciously deny the existence of a feeling or action of their own and attribute it to you or someone else, thereby externalizing it.
Some people would call this intentional manipulation. Others would say it’s a subconscious way for them to avoid taking personal responsibility for their behavior. I say it’s a combination of those two things.
Examples of Narcissistic Projection in Toxic Relationships
Let me make this a little easier to understand by sharing a few examples of psychological projection in relationships.
1. The Narcissist Says You’re Something They Are.
This is where the narcissist has some insecurity about their personal selves and then they either call you that thing or they put a lot of pressure on you to change it. For example, if the narcissist is lazy around the house, they will accuse you of the same. Or they might constantly complain about the extra 10 pounds you’re carrying around, while they’re carrying an extra 50. They might even say something like, “You never put my needs first. You only care about yourself.” Sound familiar?
They do this because in fact THEY never put your needs first (or even second), and they care only about themselves. And think of the example I explained with my client in which she was constantly on-guard to stay transparent with her partner after being constantly accused of cheating or wanting to cheat, and later learned it was actually her ex who cheated.
And in some cases, they are projecting on to someone else in a similar way. Maybe they over-focus on the fact that a neighbor doesn’t keep their yard tidy enough, while their own yard leaves a lot to be desired.
2. The Narcissist Plays the Victim.
This is one of the most infuriating types of projection: when the narcissist plays the victim – also known as narcissistic injury. When the narcissistic person abuses or victimizes you in some way, they will act like you’re the one who did it to them, and they’ll twist everything you say and do to fit the narrative. For example, if you finally get fed up with the way they treat you and go no contact, they will tell everyone (including anyone they’re currently grooming to be their new source of supply) that you did everything they did. They play the victim, play up the sob story and get plenty of narcissistic supply out of the deal.
3. The Narcissist Flips Accusations Around.
When you call the narcissist out on something they’re doing or have done that upsets you, they will turn it all around on you and before you know it, you’re the one apologizing. So, for example, if you notice that your partner is paying too much attention to a particular person of the opposite sex (or same, or whatever y’all are into) and you call them out on it, rather than explaining and or acknowledging their behavior and trying to change it, they instead find something to poke at you about. In the case of this example, they might say you are overly jealous and have nothing to worry about – but that if you continue to bother them with your nonsense, they may as well go ahead and cheat on you anyway. I mean, after all, you’re accusing them of it. What is really going on here is that they’re once again deflecting their bad behavior on to you and getting you to focus on what they’re accusing you of instead – so you end up trying to stop being jealous and end up allowing them to do things that make you really uncomfortable in order to prove that you’re not. It’s crazymaking, to say the very least.
How do you deal with narcissistic projection?
It helps to first recognize the issue, and then to see it for what it is – just one more way the narcissist is manipulating you – consciously or otherwise. You should also realize that as someone who might be an empath and who is sensitive, kind and compassionate, you might have the unfortunate habit of projecting your GOOD qualities on to the narcissist, so be careful with that. Be sure you take off your rose-colored glasses and see the narcissist for what they really are.
Once you’ve done that, identify and focus on your boundaries. Be sure to stand firmly behind them and to be aware of what is true and what is a manipulated falsehood designed to push you down and boost the narcissist into the position of power. Take the power back by refusing to be convinced of something that isn’t true. If you need to, keep a journal of what actually happens so that you don’t doubt yourself. It can be a really helpful way to deal with both projection and gaslighting – which, of course, can be dealt with using the gray rock rule. If you aren’t familiar with the gray rock rule, take a look at the video I’m sharing with you right here, where you can learn everything you need to know about how to use and benefit from the gray rock method of dealing with manipulative narcissists.
Have you ever been friends with someone who made you feel terrible after spending time with them? Have you found yourself wondering if they were toxic, or whether they might be a narcissist? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today: narcissistic and toxic friends – how to identify them and what to do if you have one. (See video on YouTube)
A few months after I left my ex-husband and became a single mom, I got a job working in healthcare billing. The hours were good for a single mom, I got health insurance for my son and me, and the pay was better than I could do elsewhere at that time. After a couple of weeks on the job, I met a fellow single mom working in my department. Let’s call her Brenda.
I was so happy to meet Brenda because I really didn’t know anyone in the area (because my narcissist ex had isolated me quite thoroughly, and because I’d moved to be closer to my family when I left him). Plus, our kids were similar ages and we could hang out and have playdates outside of work. It seemed perfect.
At work, we started having lunch together every day. I was thrilled to have someone to hang out with and fully embraced the friendship. But after a few months, I noticed that every time I spent time with Brenda, I felt super-stressed and like I needed to calm down. I couldn’t figure out why at first, which I know sounds odd, but I wasn’t as self-aware back then as I am now.
I wrote about it in my journal a few times, and I realized that I must be missing something. There didn’t seem to be a logical reason that I’d feel the way I did – Brenda was a good friend, right?
Well, after that, I started to watch our conversations a little closer, and pretty soon, I realized that Brenda was a very negative person. If I had an idea or talked about trying something new, she’d instantly go into all the reasons I shouldn’t bother doing it, or why it wouldn’t work. If I bought my lunch, she’d make subtle jabs at me for not being more frugal – and if I brought my lunch, she’d pick it apart for any given reason. If I talked about a guy I was interested in, she’d do everything in her power to tear him down and divert my attention. And she NEVER liked it if I tried to bring another friend along to hang out – she’d tear that person apart verbally and refuse to participate in whatever we were doing.
She was SO negative! In fact, I struggled to find a time where she said anything positive. But when we’d first met, I had taken her negativity as sort of commiseration between two single moms – you know how it is.
Once I realized what was going on, I wondered if I should end the friendship. I mean, it wasn’t like I had a million friends at that point in my life, but should I really maintain a relationship with someone who was bringing me down so much?
After a few days, I realized that I wanted to still be her friend, and so I started trying to subtly turn our conversations toward the positive. I’d counter all of her negativity with phrases like “but on the plus side” and “now here’s the silver lining…”
But Brenda didn’t respond much to those things – except to occasionally roll her eyes and continue with her negativity.
Then, one day, I got moved to a new team within the department, and they all invited me to lunch. Brenda was annoyed when I invited her to go along. She refused and told me she’d rather eat lunch in her car than to put up with those people, and that we’d just resume our lunches the following day.
After spending my lunch break with this group, I felt a bit of an uplift in my spirits. And the next day, they invited me to join them again. Once again, I invited Brenda, and this time, she begrudgingly accepted. With all of these more positive people around, I felt better. Brenda’s negativity couldn’t quite infect me the way it usually did, and it was harder for her to dominate the conversation with so many of us at the table, But after a few days, she told me she was done with them. It was too much for her. And she gave me an ultimatum: her or the group.
Whether it was right or wrong, I chose the group. And while I told Brenda that it didn’t need to be this way, that we could all be friends – or at least that I could be friends with them and her as well, she disagreed and she gave me the silent treatment for the remainder of the time we worked together. I felt really bad about it, but I knew I’d made the right choice. Negativity is so difficult to deal with – and Brenda’s especially toxic version of it was infecting me like a disease. I knew that if I wanted to feel better, I had to move on.
Now, I can’t say for sure if Brenda was a narcissist or just a very broken woman. But either way, she had become toxic for me. So let me ask you – does any of this sound familiar to you?
Have you ever had an experience like that?
Have you had a toxic friend?
Before we dig into our discussion on narcissists and toxic people as friends, let’s talk about true friends. What is a true friend, in your opinion?
Everyone has a slightly different definition–but bottom line, a true friend is someone who is there for you when you need him or her, someone you trust, someone who makes you feel good.
Probably you have great conversations, share interests, and support one another in your every day lives. You help each other out. You have each other’s backs. You know.
But what happens when a friend turns out to be “not so good” for you – if the friendship becomes toxic? Worse, what if your friend is a toxic narcissist?
What is a toxic narcissist?
In case you’re new around here, let me quickly define the term “toxic narcissist.” Officially, this refers to a toxic, verbally abusive person who may have narcissistic personality disorder.
To avoid the whole “pop psychology” thing, let’s just put it this way. If we’re talking about a toxic narcissist, on the most basic level, we’re talking about someone who lacks empathy and who acts from that perspective. It’s someone who demonstrates toxic narcissism – as opposed to healthy narcissism, this is excessive self-focus that involves a marked lack of empathy for others.
So what does a toxic or narcissist friend look like?
In layman’s terms, that means someone who, after spending time with them, makes you feel bad about yourself instead of good. This person might have a tendency to be critical of you — sometimes subtly, and other times, not so subtly. They may also make you feel drained – emotionally, financially, and/or mentally. Ultimately, this is someone who you might recognize as not very good for you.
How do you truly identify a toxic friendship?
It can be difficult, especially if you have been close to a friend for a long time. If you suspect that a friend is (or has become) toxic, ask yourself the following questions:
How do you feel after spending time with or speaking to this person? Do you feel good and positive (for the most part) or do you find yourself worrying, stressing or obsessing about some aspect of the visit or call?
Are you afraid to tell your friend about some aspect of your life for fear of how they’ll react or fear of being judged harshly?
Do you sometimes find yourself avoiding contact with the person or ignoring their calls?
Does your friend consistently “forget” about your plans or cancel at the last minute?
Does your friend actively insult or offend you on a consistent basis?
Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable or bothered by your friend’s life choices, behavior or moral conduct?
Do you feel comfortable bringing up concerns about your friendship with this friend?
Does this friendship benefit you?
Do you trust this friend, really trust him or her?
These are just a few questions to get you started. In general, your friends should be an asset to your life, not a detriment.
How do you deal with a toxic friendship?
Does someone in your life seem to be more of a hindrance than a help in your life? If so, it may be time to reevaluate your choices. So, once we’ve figured out that a friend IS toxic, what can we do about it? How do we deal with a toxic friendship?
1. Recognize the Problem
When we start feeling bad about spending time with or talking to our friends, it’s time to take a look at the relationship. Identifying the friendship as a toxic one is the first step to dealing with the problem.
2. Own Up to It, People Pleaser
Friends of toxic types often have something in common. According to Charles Figley, a spokesman for the American Psychological Association, “It’s a pleaser personality — you want people to like you, you want to get along, and it’s hard to say no. But you can pay the price in one way by having toxic friends.”
The fact is that, whether you can see it or not, you’ve got some responsibility in this relationship too. Maybe you’ve allowed your friend to treat you negatively or to make you feel bad about yourself because you want them to like you, or because you don’t like confrontation.
3. Develop Strong Boundaries
Often, people pleasers aren’t good at setting boundaries. When your friendships become toxic, it’s time to stand up for yourself and let friends know what isn’t acceptable.
For example, I used to have a close friend in college who always did the “one-up” thing when I’d tell her about my problems or my accomplishments.
For example, when I told her about a promotion I had received at work, and she was like ‘oh yeah, I heard I might be getting a promotion at my job, too.’ Then she went on to tell me how much better her promotion would be than mine, and how much more money she’d be making than me. Another time, I told her about a problem I was having with a guy I was dating, and wouldn’t you know it? She launched into a big monologue about her problem with her boyfriend, which was, of course, far more serious and difficult than mine.
So, in that case, I could’ve set boundaries by explaining my concerns to my friend and asking her to avoid the “one-up-manship.” I never did, unfortunately. But hindsight is always 2020, right? Anyhoo…
4. Talk It Out
Talk to a trusted (non-toxic) friend or family member about your concerns if you can. Many times, it’s easier to figure out the problem when you’re “outside looking in”–that is, when you’re not the one with the problem, the solution to it can seem crystal clear.
If you can’t find an “objective” third party, it’s a good idea to seek outside counseling. By employing the skills of a trained coach or therapist, not only do you get the objectivity you need, but you may also get answers or learn coping techniques you wouldn’t on your own. If not, talk to a support group like my SPANily group on Facebook.
You could also journal or blog about the problem. Personally, I have worked through almost literally every problem in my life this way – including toxic friendships. Sometimes, just putting our thoughts into words and getting them out of our heads can be enough to help us figure out our issues.
5. If All Else Fails, Walk Away and Go No Contact
If you’ve tried setting boundaries and discussing the problem with your toxic friend and have not been able to resolve the issues, it may be time to consider limiting contact or ending the friendship. It’s not an easy choice and certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly, but when it comes down to it, your sanity and mental health are more important than any toxic friendship. Take care of yourself first, and then you can take care of others. People pleasers often forget this little piece of wisdom.
There are many ways you can do this: email, phone call – you can just stop talking to the person. But in an ideal world, you’d do it in person. Maybe you’d invite the person to coffee or lunch. Before meeting them think about why it is you don’t want them in your life anymore and figure out how to phrase it in non-judgmental ways.
Try using “I Statements” – meaning, make an assertive statement without putting your friend on the defensive.
Explain clearly (but kindly) how their behavior makes you feel. Say something like ‘Brenda, I feel upset when you ask me for advice and then tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.’ Or “Brenda, I feel stressed out after having lunch with you each day because it feels like you rarely have anything positive to say.”
Be clear and assertive. Let your friend know that you do care about them; but that you don’t feel like you can be involved in a friendship with them any longer. Give the person a chance to respond, they may not even be aware of their behavior and the idea of losing a friend might give them a good reason to think about their own behavior. If the conversation turns towards the negative, you can just end it there and walk away.
Of course, this is always much easier said than done. But I promise you, when you have the weight of a toxic friend lifted off your shoulders, you’ll feel so much better and be able to heal that much faster.