Projection: What is it? Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own deeply ingrained impulses or qualities (both positive or negative) by denying the behaviours exist within themselves, while attributing them to other people. For example, a person who feels bad about themselves may accuse other people of being bad. Or an angry ex prone to stalking, may tell friends and family that they have to leave town because their emotionally healthy partner will stalk them if they stay. In actual fact, the narcissist is the stalker and has moved away so as not to give into his or her own temptations to stalk the ex partner.
Projecting onto children
Projecting a parent’s own deeply ingrained behaviour, or thoughts about self, onto a small child is one of the most disgusting things an adult can do. The parent who does this treats their child as an extension of themselves, and has poor boundaries. Devaluing phrases, projections of self onto a child, or constant criticism in childhood creates a false sense of self within the child – a bad, defective sense of self. Projection can be the difference between a successful or an unsuccessful life, a drug addicted young adult who is self-medicating to heal the pain of shame, and an adult whom is confident, self assured and can handle the things life throws at them.
Lives can be destroyed because of projection, and it is not unusual to read in the news that yet another bullied teenager has committed suicide, all because a pack of children projected their shortcomings onto somebody else. Narcissism is dangerous, bullying is dangerous, and projection can end lives.
Projection as an insidious form of rejection
A child is a canvas, and the adults’ in that child’s life are contributing to the state of their child’s psyche (the artwork) through their perception of the child, which will become accepted by the child as the child’s reality of who they are. Like paint, comments stick, and ruminate deeply within the psyche. These comments will either enhance the soul, and help the child grow into an emotionally healthy adult, or, these comments will eat away at the child’s soul like termites to a house.
Projection is rejection- and projection and rejection create shame. The narcissist is an angry volatile person, who can’t handle their own shame. So they accuse other people of being exactly like they are, in an effort to feel better about themselves when feeling inadequate.
What happens to the child’s reality?
The narcissist becomes the child’s reality of who they are, and the narcissist’s reality of who is the child is, is incorrect, because what the child doesn’t know, and won’t realise until adulthood is that the narcissist is crazy. So, the child accepts the narcissist’s reality of who they are. This false persona that they’ve accepted as belonging to them, affects their decision making, their ability to be assertive, their choice of friends, and often results in chronic hyper vigilance.
The story of a scapegoated child:
I have heard many tragic stories about the detrimental affects of projection from many an emotionally destroyed scapegoat. Recently, a very close friend of mine confided in me about her experience with projection from her narcissistic caregiver. My friend was told ridiculous lies about herself, and believed up until the age of 24 (up until she entered therapy) that she was dirty, evil, would push everybody away in her adult life, and was doomed to become exactly like the narcissistic parent’s vile caregivers.
Her narcissist still believes that she is a bad seed. These beliefs were the catalyst for years of suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-hatred, and deliberate isolation from friends and prospective partners through an innate fear that she was evil.
The above accusations absolutely destroyed this adult child, whom of course succumbed to drug use in adulthood, and acted out on the badness projected onto her.
The above example is a classic example of projection. The narcissist in this scenario was renowned for creating havoc in their own relationships, and projected their faults onto their own child, by predicting that their child would push everybody away in their adult life, by becoming a rendition of the narcissist’s defective caregivers.
”If I can convince you that you are like me, I will feel better about myself. And, if I can convince you that you are bad, you will do as I please.’
Common projections onto children of narcissists:
What is the problem with projection?
Children are sponges for information, and they require the approval of the adults around them. When they’re disapproved of, they persist and try to please the parent, to gain their approval. The adult is the child’s reality, and the adult’s perception of the child also becomes the child’s reality. If the parent projects negative traits onto a child, than the child ends up with a deep open wound filled with shame.
A child told that they are an angry person, will most likely suppress their anger, will see anger as a negative emotion, and will learn not to express anger. They may even stuff their anger, and could very well become passive aggressive as a result.
A child told that they are bad will believe that they are bad, and will most likely act out on that deep seated feeling of badness.
Instead of going to uni, getting a great job, and attracting lovely partners, the child projected onto loses themselves in their shame, in their self hatred, and in their pain, which can either temporarily, or permanently hold them back, sometimes for their entire life.
”One of the hardest realities to come to terms with for the adult child of a narcissist is that their entire childhood was a lie; and all they were to their parent was narcissistic supply. An object to be toyed with, manipulated, goaded, and provoked.”
The wisdom of fairy tales
I often wonder if the author’s of ‘Snow White,’ ‘Hansel and Gretal’ and ‘Cinderella’ had once been victims’ of narcissism. As children, we are warned through folk tales, and fairy tales alike, about the cruelty of parents. What I have recently come to realise is that the simple children’s fairy tale, is actually many a child’s normal.
I applaud the author of ‘Snow White’ for planting a seed in the minds of our children, and forewarning little children about the cruelty of the world, and the most malignant of hoovers. ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is an eye opener for children with an enabling parent, and ‘Cinderella’s’ story describes a typical narcissistic setup – where siblings sell each other down the river for their narcissistic parent’s approval. Luckily for the reader, all fairytales have a happy ending.
However, for the child of the narcissist, there is no happy ending. Their parent cannot change, and will always play mind games with their child.
The malignant hoover as a unique design – and mental damage to a child’s psyche
A Child of a narcissist does not have the ability to realise that they are being love bombed, idealised, devalued and discarded over and over again. A little child gives their narcissistic parent all of their trust willingly, and with love – only to endure the most horrific psychological abuse one can suffer from. Kids don’t have the ability to comprehend why their narcissistic parent is kind, caring , loving, giving and supportive one minute – only to punish them moments later for reasons which don’t make sense.
Children living out the cycle of idealise, devalue, discard, come out of their childhoods believing that they are inherently bad, and deserve to be punished, discarded, and denounced over and over again. This pattern of abuse most likely will not be understood by the child of a narcissist until adulthood, if they make the choice to go in search of answers. The scapegoat will most likely be the first child to endeavour to look behind their parent’s false self.
The most mistreated child, the scapegoat, will most definitely be the first of the children to put two and two together.
The three stage phase
Common discards for children of narcissists
What does it mean to be hoovered?
The ‘hoover’ is a well- known tactic utilised by the narcissist after they have worked their way through each phase of a three stage process; idealisation, devalue and discard. After the discard stage has been utilised, and the victim retreats, the narcissist will than exercise a hoover of sorts to draw the person back into their life.
Idealisation, devaluation, and the discard are not phases of the three stage process just limited to adults. Small children go through these stages daily, only to be hoovered again shortly after.
Example hoovers for children
Discarding a small child – how is it done?
The narcissistic parent will deploy a number of techniques to distress their small children. Children as young as four will be idealised, devalued and discarded, as well as love bombed, all in a matter of hours.
Scenario: A child decides to go shopping with mummy instead of spending time with daddy and the other siblings. Daddy decides to buy the child that went with him, a toy – and deliberately decides not to buy the other child a toy. When the child comes home, they ask if daddy bought them a toy too. The narcissistic father informs the child that it is in fact their fault that they did not receive a toy, because they refused to spend time with their father.
The child will become momentarily dumbfounded and confused as they blubber away in the corner. However, the confusion will soon subside when the narcissist hoovers the child with a cupcake hours later.
Buying a child’s love
Narcissists’ love to buy children gifts, and to use their artistic talents, and abilities, to love bomb and hoover small children. To receive a gift from a narcissist, a home cooked meal, a batch of cookies, or a hand drawn get well card, signifies to the victim that they they have the narcissist’s approval. Children, in particular begin to think that these manipulative tactics are gestures of love, an apology, and an expression of accountability. The confusion is exhausting for the child, because their narcissistic parent is hot, cold, and calculating. They could lash out and initiate a mentally damaging payback at the smallest slight.
The wisdom of fairytales:
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately (I am yet to come to either conclusion) I now know that fairytales are not tales about fortune; but rather misfortune, and the harsh realities about the cruelty of both parents, and step parents. Fairy tales are confirmation for small children that not all parents can be trusted, and not all parent’s will protect their children from abusive behaviour.
Narcissism brings out the worst in people, and shows the true colours of everybody around the narcissist. Siblings readily sell out the family scapegoat to stay in good rapport with the narcissistic mother or father, or to ensure their human right to a tidy sum once the narcissist dies. Enablers’ often choose the narcissist over the children a million times over; and the list of offences towards good human beings and small children goes on.
Lets take a look at poor Hansel and Gretel, shall we? Hansel and Gretel’s own father took Hansel and Gretel out into the woods, only to discard his children at the step mother’s request. Cinderella’s stepsisters sold her down the river, and triangulated against her time and time again to keep in favour of their vile mother, Cinderella’s stepmother – and Snow White was nearly murdered by her stepmother in the name of jealousy. Fairytales can teach us a lot about narcissism.
Triangulation is defined as indirect communication where one person (usually the narcissist) acts as a messenger between two others, often fabricating the message to suit the talebearer’s objective. Triangulation is commonly used by narcissists’, and it ties in with gas lighting and projection. In narcissistic families the narcissist will avoid discussing any issues they have with a targeted individual in the family unit. Instead, they will communicate with a third family member, or a few family members at one time, in regard to a problem, which normal healthy adults would be able to resolve by themselves without involving other people. The narcissist’s minions often feel compelled to become a part of the triangle in a bid to resolve the narcissist’s problems with targeted individuals. Usually, this solution to the problem ends in triangulation, anger and passive aggression.
The personality disordered mother or father is without an interpersonal tool box. They do not know how to resolve conflict, do not want to resolve conflict, enjoy drama, and will often create drama by deliberately becoming upset over trivial things which normal people simply do not become upset about. Vengeance will often be taken out against a target (which is usually one of the narcissist’s children) for trivial slights, via triangulation.
In normal families the parents act as leaders. They do not involve other people in their problems, and they deal with any problems they have with their children directly. Healthy parents do not discuss issues they have with one child, with the other children in the family. Healthy parents want their children to grow into assertive, authentic human beings who know how to handle problems head on without involving friends or family in their issues with other people.
How does the narcissistic family handle conflict?
The narcissist is no stranger to divide and conquer. With this strategy, the narcissist will sow seeds of instability between the family members, in the hope of creating havoc, and to eventually turn the entire family against a target of choice (usually the scapegoat). For this strategy to work, the narcissist must share information, or mean spirited comments (real or not), that the target has mentioned in confidence to the narcissist about their siblings. The narcissist thrives on telling each sibling how unhappy their other siblings are with them.
The narcissist uses divide and conquer day in, day out to create conflict. The narcissist is constantly twisting the words of their allies around to suit their own agenda, in the hope of emotionally harming their target. There is always a slither of truth added to the lies the narcissist tells each individual party that the other party has said about them.
Question: What happens in family situations where there is divide and conquer?
Answer: If all of the siblings feel offended by the target’s mean words, they will feel more compelled to triangulate against the target, in the hope of resolving what is now a family problem with the target.
In the narcissist’s mind, they honestly believe that if they can secure allies’ against another family member, than this family member will have no choice but to become submissive to the narcissist, and behave as the narcissist would like them to.
The narcissist doesn’t want to solve their problems directly with the many people they have a problem with. To do so would be to resolve the problem, and narcissist’s do not want to resolve problems. Instead, a narcissist will often create a problem with one of their children, the next door neighbour, or the enabling parent, just to gain attention, adoration, and sympathy from their many allies’. The narcissist feigns victimhood so well, and the narcissist’s allies’ (who are under the spell of mind control, and honestly believe they are helping) often take the problem on as though its their own, and try to fix the problem for the narcissist.
If one sibling can make the other sibling behave appropriately, (usually through aggression or anger) than the narcissist will be happy. However, all that happens here is that the attacked sibling, or enabling parent simply becomes resentful of the narcissist’s ally (usually a brother or sister, or son or daughter) because they have become involved in something that has absolutely nothing to do with them.
The narcissist’s children learn from the narcissist first hand, that the only way to handle a problem with a sibling, or parent is to gossip about this person to another family member, and to try to draw this person into the triangle.
Over time, the gossip spread about each family member behind their backs, is fed back to them through another family member. This becomes the family’s pattern of communication. Confrontation becomes something to be afraid of, which of course, results in a fear based system of communication. This fear based system of communication becomes the catalyst for passive aggressive communication which results in rage.
Where does the problem lie?
The narcissist has the emotional capacity of a three year old, which means that the leader in this family leads the children down the garden path, and ends up passing skills down to their children which will destroy the children’s future relationships. The ‘leader’ in this family is nothing more than a perpetrator, which is why this family often falls apart.
What is the problem with indirectness? Tools of the unskilled
Indirect communication between family members often leads to resentment and discontent in the narcissist’s children. When siblings find out indirectly about a problem another family member has with them through a ‘Chinese whispers’ type style of communication, the affected family member feels hurt, which is often the reason why relationships between siblings often fizzle out. Triangulation makes the narcissistic family unit an unpredictable, and frightening place to be.
Many adult children of narcissist’s eventually grow tired of the chaos that triangulation causes. They eventually realise that they cannot solve the narcissist’s problems, become tired of their own part in the dysfunction, and often walk away from an entire family, deciding that they will no longer have triangulation in their lives.
The narcissistic family’s values and belief systems are topsy turvy. In the narcissistic family set up, the children quickly learn that it is not ok to put up boundaries, behave assertively, or to resolve a problem through direct communication. Yet it is ok triangulate against loved ones, including friends and family.
It is very likely that at least one of the narcissist’s children will take on some of the trouble making behaviours passed down from the narcissist.
Venting or triangulation?
Venting to a trusted friend about an issue with another person can be very helpful, if the intent is to gain advice about resolving the problem. This is a very effective way of handling conflict resolution, and will often lead to the person enquiring, to take their friends advice, and to use it to help to resolve an ongoing problem.
However, involving other people in your problem with another person in the hope that this person will take on the problem and try to resolve it for you is called triangulation, and is one of the narcissist’s favourite tactics.
Confrontation in the narcissistic family
Confrontation is a big no no in the narcissistic family system. The narcissist’s anxiety ridden, petrified children become immune to triangulation, and will often resort to this learned behaviour through fear of confrontation. However, instead of resolving the problem, this fear of confrontation perpetuates the problem and exacerbates the issue even further.
When confronted, narcissist’s can become verbally or physically aggressive, may turn against the victim by implementing allies, and will most likely use the silent treatment to pay the victim back.
The assertive child, teenager, or adult child of the narcissist who dares to assert their needs, says no to the narcissist about an agreed upon arrangement, or challenges the narcissist’s poor behaviour will most definitely be shamed. Authentic children who speak their mind are the narcissist’s biggest fear. Hence, the reason why authentic children are almost always scapegoated, and emotionally crushed beyond belief.
The rule of thumb in this family is that you never ever confront anybody in this family unit. Children in the narcissistic family do not come out unscathed, and often suffer with some big emotional issues of their own. After all, these children have spent their entire childhoods with a narcissistic parent who exhibits a complete lack of accountability, a sense of entitlement, and who refuses at all costs to be wrong. Often the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the narcissist’s non-narcissistic children often struggle with some of these issues in adulthood themselves.
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t
Children of narcissist’s often hand over their power, back down, and accept mistreatment, in order to stay safe from potentially harmful caregivers, or an angry, aggressive golden child.
However, the problem with backing down, and forgoing the right to assert ones needs is that this ‘child like survival mechanism’ is merely a temporary solution to a very big problem. Not discussing problems with the person concerned, and turning on them instead through triangulation is like stepping on a grenade. Inappropriate aggression, venting, and resentment from the narcissist’s minions towards those triangulated against, is the consequence of an innate fear of confrontation.
Adult children of narcissist’s often refuse to assert themselves around their peers through fear that the people they associate with will react to their assertiveness with the same outrageous response the narcissistic parent once did.
Emotionally healthy families
In emotionally healthy families, parent’s do not recruit third parties (the other siblings), or use messengers to help to settle their differences with their children. Instead, they have face to face discussions with their child, teenager, or adult child.
Emotionally healthy parent’s encourage their children to discuss their issues with one another openly and honestly. These parent’s do not gossip about their children behind their backs with the other children. Instead, they guide their children in conflict resolution.
I have often grappled over ‘the sensitive child’ conundrum. To be a sensitive child is a dilemma of sorts. Children with heightened sensitivity to their environment view the world as an overwhelming place – filled with bright lights, and daunting situations. Everything within the sensitive child’s environment gets to them, and pokes at their hyper alert, highly aware nervous system, which of course, makes them quick to react to particular situations.
The sensitive child is overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others. An estimated 15% – 20% of children are afflicted with hypersensitivity issues. As a result, hypersensitive children can feel suffocated by life itself.
How does a child become sensitive?
Nobody really knows how a child becomes hypersensitive. However, the general consensus is that they are born that way. Of course, environmental factors can play into this as well.
In 2014, psychologists’ from ‘Stony Brook University,’ Arthur and Elaine Aron, conducted studies on the brains of hypersensitive people, whom the Aron’s believe are naturally predisposed to empathy. Drs’ Aron, and colleagues from three universities, including University of California, Albert Einstein College of medicine, and Monmouth University confirmed that Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) scans conducted on the brains of hypersensitive people provides evidence that the ”highly sensitive” brain responds well to emotional images.
In the study ‘The Highly Sensitive Brain: ‘An FRMI study of Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Response to Other’s Emotions,’ FRMI brain scans were used to compare HSPS with low SPS individuals. The brains of 18 married couples (some with high, and some with low SPS) had their brains scanned while they looked at photos of both happy and sad faces. Some photos included photos of strangers, and the other photos were of husbands and their wives. This, Drs’ Aron confirmed was physical evidence from inside of the brain, that highly sensitive individuals respond strongly to situations that trigger emotions.
The HSP participants examining the photographs within the 12 second time frame, experienced substantially greater blood flow in the areas of the brain which process awareness and emotion, contributing to feelings of empathy, compared to participants low in sensitivity.
Previous research suggests that sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is a trait associated with greater sensitivity, or responsiveness to environmental stimuli. According to doctor Arthur Aron, hypersensitivity is becoming more and more associated with behaviour, genes, and patterns of brain activation.
Hypersensitive people tend to show a heightened awareness to subtle stimulation, process information more thoroughly, and become reactive to both positive and negative stimuli. In contrast, the majority of people have comparatively low SPS, and pay less attention to subtle stimuli, approach situations more quickly, and are not as emotionally reactive.
A day in the life of a sensitive child
Everything affects the sensitive child. A change in tone, a filthy look, a nasty word, an emotionally unavailable teacher, or a cranky friend can send a sensitive child into a traumatised state where they feel pummelled by the event which took place. A change in tone can arouse the child to a state of hyper alertness, and may even set off patterns of overthinking.
The child may ruminate over the event for a week, internalise it, and break it down into a thousand pieces. They may even cry during the process.
In interpersonal situations, the pressure builds when confrontation takes place, and the sensitive child cries. This can be used against them, and may even cause the sensitive child to refrain from boundary setting in the future.
Why does this sensory issue become a problem?
Hypersensitivity is often misunderstood and judged harshly by adults and other children, which results in feelings of inadequacy and defectiveness for the child concerned. Sensitive children tend to feel more deeply, which makes them vulnerable in the company of people who don’t have the ability to feel as deeply, or who just so happen to behave insensitively to the sensitive child’s needs.
The sensory issues associated with sensitivity become a problem for the child when they begin to form close relationships with other children, and when the adults’ in the child’s life look upon the child’s sensitivity with ill judgement.
Close relationships with other children will be difficult for the sensitive child when they begin to assert their rights, wants and needs. Assertion and conflict hyper arouse this child’s nervous system. Hypersensitive children find it very difficult to hold their own without crying, and to believe in themselves enough to stand their ground with people.
Hypersensitivity particularly becomes a problem when people use the child’s hypersensitivity against them, to manipulate them, to shame them, and to control them.
Sensitive souls in a hard world
I believe that everyone struggles with sensitivity to some degree. However, these sensitivities aren’t as pronounced as the sensitivities within the hypersensitive child.
Sensitivity is looked down upon in today’s world, and is associated with having a thin skin. I have witnessed many situations where the sensitive child bursts into tears over an insult, and suddenly becomes the problem. To draw this conclusion isn’t really fair, especially when the comment towards the child was in actual fact, insensitive.
Children do need to be able to accept criticism, learn not to cry at the slightest remark, accept their own shortcomings, walk away without becoming reactive, and to believe in who they are. At the same time adults need to accept that children are little humans who are entitled to have their feelings.
Is your child too sensitive? Or are people simply being judgemental?
Simply put, a lot of people don’t want to deal with the emotions of others, especially little children. A child that cries a lot over insults, every scrape or scratch, or smirky comments is going to be told at some point that they are too sensitive.
Why shouldn’t a child cry when they’re hurt, or when somebody is being mean to them? Why does someone else get to decide whether or not we’re too sensitive? Our children do need to work towards building a thick skin to be able to function adequately in our cruel world. However, isn’t it insensitive to name call, and behave in spiteful ways? Don’t the feelings of our children matter, sensitive or not?
If a child cries because they have been deeply insulted, are they too sensitive? No, I don’t think so. Its natural to be hurt when people say nasty things to us. However, the difference between the sensitive child and the self assured child, is that the sensitive child will cry, whilst the self-assured child will handle the situation head on, assert themselves, or walk away. The self-assured child believes in their own worth.
The urge to cry at every perceived threat is the reason behind the hypersensitive child’s vulnerability, why they are often blamed for their own distress, and why they could very well become labelled as a ‘sensitive child.’
‘You’re just too sensitive!’
In my view, telling a child they are too sensitive is not ok. This is one example of how caregivers can shame the child’s entire being. Sensitive children already feel defective as it is, and deeply internalise everything said to them.
The child’s interpretation of the ‘your so sensitive’ comment will be:
‘I can’t be hurt by what other people say to me, and I must let people say and do as they please.’
In actual fact, this is not what is being said to them at all. The aim of the ‘your too sensitive’ comment is to bring to the child’s attention that they do cry a lot over things which other people perceive as trivial. The sensitive child would benefit more from being taught skills in resiliency, than by being told they are too sensitive.
What are the consequences of such invalidation?
Telling a child they are too sensitive will make them feel defective. If the giver of bad news doesn’t take the time to articulate and explain the terminology behind the insult, than the child will internalise this comment as clarification of their own badness. The child may also begin to believe that they do not have the right to feel hurt when people treat them badly. This could lead to adverse consequences in adulthood. The sensitive adult child may stay in toxic friendships or relationships for far too long, fearing that the problems they have in their relationships are due to their hypersensitivity, rather than the constant put downs and nastiness from the other party.
Highlighting a child’s heightened sensitivity is a very shaming experience for the sensitive child, whom of course suddenly feels unmasked, and as though all of their weaknesses are out in the open for all to see.
I believe that the only reason an adult would tell a sensitive child that they are too sensitive is if they wanted the child to change, to stop the child from reacting tearfully, to take control of the situation, or because they the adult doesn’t want to take responsibility for their own insensitive behaviour.
Sensitive child as over thinker:
What happens when an adult tells the sensitive child they are far too sensitive?
The sensitive child does not just say to themselves, ‘thank goodness I was told I am too sensitive. This has solved all of my problems, and I will now develop a thick skin.’ Instead, the child shames themselves, and develops a nasty, overactive inner critic.
‘If I didn’t cry all the time I’d be able to handle the bully, and they wouldn’t pick on me so much.’
‘Maybe that person isn’t horrible. I think I just need to toughen up.’
‘I’ll stick it out with this difficult person, because I’m the one with the problem, not them.’
What happens when you discuss the benefits of resilience to children?
I have a hypersensitive child, and I have had to find a way to speak to my child about these issues with sensitivity in a way that won’t cause shame.
‘Everybody has something.’
When adults sit down and explain to their child the consequences of crying at the drop of a hat in front of other children, the child generally listens.Teaching your sensitive child how to work with their sensitivity is far more proactive than telling them that they are too sensitive.
Hypersensitivity can be worked with, especially when there is ongoing support from loving caregivers. Firstly, the child must believe in themselves, and their human right to assert themselves before they can begin to work with their sensitivity.
Children need to know that not everybody is going to like them, and that resilience is key in these situations. Children like to be guided, and they like talking about their lives, their struggles, and the best way to handle other people. Once you have a good communicative relationship with your child, and show your child that you are emotionally available to them, you will be able to talk to them about what goes on in their internal world. This is when you will be able to support them in becoming more resilient.