By Linda Hartoonian Almas, M.S. Ed
We may not be wearing socks on our heads and our shirts may not be on backwards, but when psychopaths project their traits and behaviors on to us, things may seem as strange as if we were. Unfortunately, at first, what they are doing to us is far from obvious. We have no idea that they are taking their own shortcomings and reprehensible traits and behaviors and trying to make us believe that they are ours. Who would do that? Since the thought seems incredibly ridiculous to us and is the last thing we would consider doing, the possibility usually fails to cross our minds.
As a result, we are almost always confused and defensive until we come to understand what is actually occurring. Once we do, we realize that their words are not accurately describing us in the least. In fact, we discover that things are quite the opposite; they are describing themselves. We are then able to stop defending ourselves against their fabrications and misdirected allegations. We can also accept that this is simply something they do. In turn, this acceptance frees us from the burden of taking their words personally. We learn not to be surprised or devastated by their hurtful, mean spirited utterances because, in actuality, they have nothing to do with us at all.
Does this sound familiar?
I am guessing that many readers will be able to relate to at least one or two of the following scenarios. Have you even been called “crazy” or “negative” for disagreeing with a psychopath? Have you ever been told you were “lazy” after working, possibly in a variety of capacities, from morning until night? Perhaps you were called “cheap” or “no fun” simply because you felt you needed to save a little money or slow your pace. If the psychopath in your life cheated, were you miraculously the “cheater?” If the psychopath was your parent, were you ignored, mistreated, or used and then blamed when you did not respond with love and trust? Did you endure abuse, while being called “abusive?” Have you been accused of being a mean, arrogant, selfish, evil, liar? How about a control freak, with no discipline or integrity, who can’t take a joke? Maybe you were referred to as an “alienator” who “hears voices.”
The possibilities are almost endless. The exact accusations are inconsequential when it comes to illustrating how projection presents. The words may change, but the stories stay the same. Stay calm. You are fine. This is not about you. This is the nature of projection.
Once we are accused of such things, however, we tend to be confused and sad. How could anyone make horrible, untrue statements about us? Initially, we are frustrated and wonder why they can’t see that they are wrong. Eventually, we come to suspect that they are aware, and probably know exactly what they are doing. Nonetheless, until we are convinced, we hurry to defend ourselves. When we do this, we play into their hands, giving them exactly what they hoped for. Unknowingly and unintentionally, we bring them satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and control because we engaged.
What, when, and why do they project?
Their projection can occur at any point in time and can consist of whatever words or behaviors they choose to highlight. They will do so, pressing any buttons available to them. They may utilize projection in an effort to erode our self confidence or sense of worth. However, it often happens as a direct attempt to initiate arguments, impression manage, or weaken us during a conflict.
Psychopaths like when we choose a defensive stance because we can’t “win” if we are constantly playing “catch up” or merely trying to survive their attacks. We cannot have the upper hand if we are weak, struggling to maintain our positions, or repeatedly explaining ourselves. What better way for them to attempt to dominate, than to say things about us that are not true? Naturally, we will defend ourselves, expending energies that should be otherwise directed.
Since most of us do not have an inherent understanding of projection, it takes time for us to realize and then come to terms with what is occurring. It’s difficult to grasp that this goes on and is usually an extremely frustrating journey. We are frequently blindsided, as psychopaths’ accusations seem to come out of nowhere, or in context with some minor aspect of a conversation or scenario. Very quickly, we can find ourselves in full fledged arguments, set in motion over something ludicrous, that we know could have been handled completely differently. We are in states of upset, while they seem strangely at peace. Why are they so calm? They just took all that is wrong with them and placed it on us. They, effectively cleansed themselves. We find this upsetting. If we are in emotional turmoil, they’re “winning,” and they like that.
Topic shifts and more projection
However, things do not always work as they’d like. Our personalities tend to be strong and we tend to be reasonably intelligent. Even though we want to work through, fix, resolve matters, be understood, and well regarded, we can hold our ground and maintain composure. We sense the manipulation, but know that we are capable. At this point, we may attempt to reason with them.
When we do, they don’t like it. They must work harder to unsettle us. When this happens, they may rush off topic, shifting gears completely, in an effort to further confuse or anger us. It is not uncommon for them to project “harder,” regarding something more serious, in order to throw us off balance and re-gain control.
Did you ever notice that nothing actually gets accomplished in a conversation with a psychopath?
Did you ever wonder why discussions tend to escalate, and include violent topic shifts when you are calm or the conversation is not going “their way?” Concurrently, did you notice an increase in negative comments? Did you find it unusual that most of the comments were completely unrelated to the issues at hand? If they are unable to successfully control the issues, they change them. This usually involves an attack tainted with projection. Eventually, we get caught up in defending ourselves, once again.
Why this matters
Independently, this is a tiresome nuisance. However, if the scenario involves other people, as in a legal situation, their words and accusations have the ability to take on lives of their own. Before long, the critical players may also begin addressing their off topic statements. If this happens, it is essential that we successfully re-focus everyone and direct them back to the pertinent, original issues. If we do not, we may end up unjustly defeated and left wondering what just happened to us. Meanwhile, the psychopaths walk away basking and smirking over their “victories.” Your devastation is of no concern to them.
The lesson we must learn is not to engage. We must simply stay vigilant and use our knowledge. We must work to understand and accept that psychopaths employ projection skillfully, but that it is nothing more than misdirected name calling. It comes naturally to them and they are good at it. Take comfort in the fact that when they speak ill of you, it is really about them; it’s opposite day.
Additionally, we must accept that psychopaths will try, try again, and then try some more to get us to react. We are all creatures of habit, to some degree, and as we recover and grow stronger, it is they who may be confused (for once.) Remember, there was a time when they were successful at getting us to go “head to head” with them. As a result, getting them to stop will not be an overnight process.
We need to stay strong, sharp, and save our breath for someone worthy of our explanations. We need to save our energy and focus for those who matter. We must conserve our words for those who do not twist them and use them against us. Lastly, their projections are mere words. As cutting as they may be, they are coming from very real places of disorder.