Narcissistic Projection

Narcissistic Projection

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

What is Narcissistic Projection?

Narcissistic personality disorder is one of the many types of personality disorders. Individuals suffering from narcissistic personality disorder experience a mental condition that causes the sufferer to create an inflated sense of their own self-importance. Narcissistic personality disorder causes an individual to form a deep need for attention and it must be received excessively and fully focused on them. Individuals also experience troubled relationships and lack empathy toward others. While people with narcissistic personality disorder look cool and confident, behind the facade is a fragile person with self-esteem issues. Their low self-esteem often causes them to crumble at the smallest criticism.

One of the main areas in which narcissistic personality disorder causes problems is relationships. Although problems can arise at work, school, or in financial instances, it is relationship with other people – romantic, platonic, familial – that individuals really have issues. People with narcissistic personality disorder can struggle to find a satisfying relationship as each feels unfulfilling. In addition, others may not like being around the person exhibiting narcissistic traits and Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome has been well documented.

Relationships are a major issue for narcissistic individuals and projection is one of the major tools they use that causes problems in romantic or friendship scenarios. Narcissistic projection is a major defensive mechanism that narcissistic personality disorder sufferers use. Narcissistic projection isn’t only used by sufferers of the mental health disorder as abusers, addicts and individuals with personality disorders also rely on the defense mechanism.1

Projection is used to defend the actions and words of a person. A person may use it to defend themselves against impulses and traits they do unconsciously. People who project put thoughts and feelings onto someone else rather than themselves. It is a way to feel better about certain aspects of life or decisions made.

How does narcissistic projection work?

One example of narcissistic projection is when a man claims that his girlfriend hates him. In this situation, he is actually projecting the hate he feels for the girlfriend onto her. Narcissistic projection is commonly used by drug and alcohol addicts who blame others for their addictions. A heroin addict may blame their parents for their drug addiction while an alcoholic may claim it is their coworkers that are the reason they cannot stop drinking.

Experts consider narcissistic projection as a primitive defensive strategy. The use of it distorts reality and ignores the facts of the situation. This allows a person to function and feeds their ego despite the reality of the situation not aligning with the false narrative.

When narcissistic projection is used by adults, it shows a lack of maturity and poor emotional development.2 This is because it is a defensive tactic that children often use.

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder

There are a number of signs and symptoms associated with narcissistic personality disorder. These signs and symptoms include:

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Require constant admiration/praise
  • A need to be recognized as superior without reason
  • Exaggerate their achievements and talents
  • Preoccupied with fantasies related to success, power, brilliance, looks or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior
  • Claim they can only associate with people equal to them
  • Dominate conversations and belittle or look down on people they believe are inferior
  • Expect special favors
  • Demand unquestioned compliance with their expectations
  • Take advantage of others to get their way
  • Possess an inability and unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of other people
  • Envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Act in an arrogant manner, come across as conceited and boastful
  • Insist on having the best of everything and brag about it


Projecting onto others

Individuals who project onto others have low self-esteem and can be sensitive about a certain issue. For example, an alcoholic who is sensitive about their drinking and projects blame onto a spouse who urges them to stop drinking. When self-esteem is low or sensitivity is high, a person can be vulnerable to believe a projection to be true.

By projecting these ideas onto others and accepting them as facts, a person complicates their relationship, building problems. When an individual projects a belief onto their partner, the projection is validated when the significant other accepts the idea. An abuser gains control of the relationship when their projection is accepted by the other person. In turn, it can send the significant other’s self-esteem plummeting down when the projection is accepted further compounding the relationship.

A person in an adult relationship with an addict and/or abuser, may self-sacrifice to avoid conflict. At the same time, their self-esteem may be lowering do to accepting the projections put upon them. A person that is a narcissistic projector can easily abuse, exploit, and manipulate a partner.

How does a narcissist project and attack another person?

Since most narcissists lack self-awareness, it is easy for them to attack others using multiple tactics. A narcissist denies the flaws that exist in them and blames shortcomings on others. There are five very distinct ways that a person can project onto someone else.

  • Calling you names/making assumptions/accusing
  • Mimicking and exaggerating
  • Project their own views of themselves on others
  • Play the victim
  • Turn the tables/the ‘it’s you’ defense


Set boundaries

When a person projects, it can be difficult to know what to do in response. The easiest reaction is to set a boundary3 which simply send the projection back to the other person. Experts state that the boundary creates a defensive wall that protects a person against the projector.

Examples of a boundaries include phrases like:

  • “I don’t see it that way.”
  • “I disagree.”
  • “I don’t take responsibility for that.”
  • “That’s your opinion.”


One of the most important responses to a narcissistic projection is not to argue with the person and not to become defensive. This only adds fuel to the fire and validates the projectors feelings in their own mind. By simply leaving the conversation, the narcissist is left to deal with their own emotions.


References: Narcissistic Projection

1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4. Washington, DC: Author; 1994. []

2. Back MD, Egloff B, Schmukle SC. Why are narcissists so charming at first sight? Decoding the narcissism–popularity link at zero acquaintance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2010;98:132–145. [PubMed] []

3. Bradlee PM, Emmons RA. Locating narcissism within the interpersonal circumplex and the five-factor model. Personality and Individual Differences. 1991;13:821–830. []

4. Farwell L, Wohlwend-Lloyd R. Narcissistic processes: Optimistic expectations, favorable self-evaluations, and self-enhancing attributions. Journal of Personality. 1998;66:65–83. [PubMed] []

5. Gabriel MT, Critelli JW, Ee JS. Narcissistic illusions in self-evaluations of intelligence and attractiveness. Journal of Personality. 1994;62:143–155. []

6. Holtzman NS, Strube MJ. Narcissism and attractiveness. Journal of Research in Personality. 2010;44:113–136. []

7. Kenny DA, DePaulo BM. Do people know how others view them? An empirical and theoretical account. Psychological Bulletin. 1993;114:145–161. [PubMed] []

8. Miller JD, Campbell WK. Comparing clinical and social-personality conceptualizations of narcissism. Journal of Personality. 2008;76:449–476. [PubMed] []

9. Paulhus DL. Interpersonal and intrapsychic adaptiveness of trait self-enhancement: A mixed blessing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1998;74:1197–1208. [PubMed] []

10. Vazire S. Who knows what about a person? The Self-Other Knowledge Asymmetry (SOKA) model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2010;98:281–300. [PubMed] []

11. Vazire S, Funder DC. Impulsivity and the self-defeating behavior of narcissists. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 2006;10:154–165. [PubMed] []

12. Tracy JL, Robins RW. The psychological structure of pride: A tale of two facets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2007;92:506–525. [PubMed] []

Narcissistic Projection
Article Name
Narcissistic Projection
Experts consider narcissistic projection as a primitive defensive strategy. The use of it distorts reality and ignores the facts of the situation. This allows a person to function and feeds their ego despite the reality of the situation not aligning with the false narrative.
Publisher Name
Worlds Best Rehab
Publisher Logo
At Worlds Best Rehab, we strive to provide the most up-to-date and accurate medical information on the web so our readers can make informed decisions about their healthcare.
Our reviewers are credentialed medical providers specializing in addiction treatment and behavioral healthcare. We follow strict guidelines when fact-checking information and only use credible sources when citing statistics and medical information. Look for the medically reviewed badge Worlds Best Rehab on our articles for the most up-to-date and accurate information.
If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate or out-of-date, please let us know via our Contact Page