“I know you better than you know yourself.” was one of my father’s favorite phrases*. He used it to shape my perceptions of him – and also what I projected onto him. In this article we need to look at the various aspects of projection – that is the transfer of desires, beliefs and emotions – and how projection may be affecting you in more ways than you know.
“Why would they even say that unless it was true?”
Because my father told me, throughout my young life, that he knew me better than I knew myself such total certainty, I believed him. After all, why on earth would he even say that unless it were true? He was my father, wasn’t he? Over the years, he used those words to preface any number of unpleasant “home truths” about me that he felt I needed to hear. More correctly, he used those words to foist any number of negative, damaging projections onto me. His projections.
In theory, projection is an unconscious process. In the case of Narcissists and abusers, I would not be so sure. Projection is a powerful tool that an abuser uses to keep you in your “place” – a place of fear and subservience. Projection is a great way to burst your bubble.
How they use projection to burst your bubble
Here is how my ex-husband did it. We were driving home from a family celebration of our daughter’s birthday. To all intents and purposes, we were a happy family returning from a fun day out. But then my daughter said something nice to me. I responded affectionately and, out of a clear blue sky, the wasband went on the rampage, “You are destroying that child!” he exploded.
The atmosphere in the car changed in a moment. I was submerged by shock and self-doubt, while my daughter felt intimidated and guilty for somehow causing the outburst. The wasband, on the other hand, felt great. After all, he had just established himself as the most knowledgeable, powerful and righteous person in the car – thanks to his rush to judgement. Thanks to a deft use of projection.
What was he actually projecting?
In retrospect, I believe that he was essentially vomiting his bile on me. He was resentful about not being the centre of attention and not feeling special enough. Seemingly, he felt that his rightful status as The Better Parent had been undermined.
How toxic people exorcise their bad feelings
In the end, it is not hugely important to dissect his bad feelings. The simple fact is, toxic people have their own demons. However, unlike the people who try to love them, toxic people use attack as the best form of defence. Projection is their way of exorcising their bad feelings by dumpling them on others.
Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that “Hell is other people”. Not for the abuser. For an abuser, not having another person around to attack, demean and dump their toxic emotional waste on is the true hell. Dragging another person down into their hell is the abuser’s paradise.
Your issue with projection
But let’s shift our focus now from the abuser back to you. The problem that you face with projection is twofold. First off – through no fault of your own – such boundaries as you do have are horribly porous. The toxic words that an abuser says to you seep through your defences and corrode your sense of self.
If someone who loves you sees you that way, they must be telling the truth, right? Otherwise, why would they come out with such hurtful stuff? So you end up hanging your head in shame and hiding from the outside world.
That leads us to second aspect of the problem lies in your own projection. You see, you have not just internalized their own negative projection of you. You have swallowed their belief that they are entitled to speak to you that way. Plus, you have internalized their self-aggrandizing opinion of themselves.
What makes them so wonderful?
Most abusers put a lot of effort into telling you how wonderful they are. If you bother to break down for yourself what it is that makes them so wonderful, you probably won’t find too much proof beyond their good opinion.
They are “wonderful” people yet their own family walk in fear of them. They are superior human beings yet they may have a problematic history of mediocrity or failure. They are so outstanding that they are meet with hostility rather than acclaim. They are so outstanding that they meet with universal jealousy. They exert an irresistible animal magnetism over the opposite sex (despite all evidence to the contrary) .
Some do enjoy admiration, it is true. But it is usually the admiration of superficial people who you do not admire (even if, given your people-pleasing tendencies, you would rather that said people admired you, too). Others are the kind who lead those who love you to shake their heads in despair and wonder what you could possibly see in them.
What did you see in them?
And that brings us right back to the question, what do you see – or did you see – in them?
Now, unlike my father, I would not presume to say that I know you better than you know yourself. Perish the thought. However, there are a few things that I believe I do know about you. Despite our differences as individuals, I believe that we share significant similarities as regards our emotionally deprived upbringing, our lack of self-worth and the abusers we fell in love with. Plus, unlike my father, I base my claim on evidence – the evidence that so many hundreds of women have shared with me.
So, let’s start the reply to the question, what did you see in them from another place. Let’s ask instead, “What did – and didn’t – you see in yourself?”
The representative answer goes approximately, “I didn’t feel very good about myself. I didn’t feel very loveable. I needed someone to make me feel loved and special. I needed to belong somewhere, with someone. I was looking for more than I had ever had from my family.”
The rules of abusive engagement
The abuser who encountered into this scenario, did a quick assessment of your use-value. Then he or she simply played their hand, in accordance with the rules of engagement in The Abusers’ Handbook. These state.
- Feed them some good stuff about themselves to get them hooked.
- Set yourself up as a high prestige individual. (Interestingly, in some cases, abusers paint themselves as sad, needy individuals – in which case their prestige comes from being a “cause” for the most chronic people-pleasers.)
- Speed-woo until your target is heavily emotionally – and likely legally – committed.
Once an abuser has done that, it is – abusive – game on.
The “game” remains on for as long as you remain ensnared in the projection of them as being somehow wonderful/loving/special/a soulmate. It is that projection that makes you overlook the painful reality. Sure, they may still have occasional moments when they remind you of the dream that you bought into but, increasingly, all the evidence points to their toxicity.
Projection can blind you to the butt ugly truth for the longest time. But projection is just a mirage. Don’t blame yourself for projecting. Your projection grew out of a very real hunger and a totally justified desire to rectify that hunger. Accept it for what it was, an attempt to get what you need and deserve that failed. Accept and let it go. Failures are just stepping-stones on the path to your fulfilment. Only after you let go of your toxic partner and your projection will you start to find the validation you deserve. If this all makes sense but you struggle with letting go of harmful projection, get in touch.
* Needless to say, my narcissistic father did not know me better than I knew myself. However it is typical of the toxic lies that abusers use to make their victims feel controlled and disempowered.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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