narcissistic abuse, scapegoating, recovery, narcissistic parenting
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.
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.
Cognitive dissonance is an abuse tactic utilised by the narcissistic abuser to confuse the victim of abuse. To be in a state of cognitive dissonance, is to hold conflicting beliefs about the narcissistic abuser. In this state, the victim struggles to make a decision in regard to whether or not the abusive person is ok.
An abused child will experience cognitive dissonance when their abuser says one thing and does the opposite.
To be cognitively dissonant is to have two inconsistent thoughts ruminating within the mind about the person; often consistent with an overall, whole body, negative feeling about something or someone.
Why do abused children of narcissists often become afflicted with cognitive dissonance?
Children of narcissists are continually told one thing, only to experience the opposite. They may be told how loved they are, only to be abandoned when sick. They may be promised a special gift, only to be told when the gift is asked after, that they were never promised the gift.
The child becomes confused and anxious about the parent. They begin to suffer from cognitive dissonance; a very uncomfortable, whole body feeling, which completely takes over the child’s mind and body. Of course, the child often turns the feeling back onto themselves, and blames themselves for the abuse, in an effort to remain attached to their abusive parent.
‘Are they nice? Or are they cruel? Why do they do such lovely amazing things for me, and than hit me? Oh, it must be me that brings the worst out in my parents. Why else would they hit me, than provide for me so well?’
Who is vulnerable to cognitive dissonance?
Small children are especially vulnerable to cognitive dissonance because their minds are not yet developed enough to put two and two together. In fact, anyone, no matter what their age, can be vulnerable to cognitive dissonance abuse tactics. Unless of course, they are extremely intuitive, and knowledgable about narcissistic abuse.
Cognitive dissonance abuse examples:
What does cognitive dissonance feel like?
Cognitive dissonance is a horrible feeling for children to endure, because it leaves them in a state of confusion, limbo, and discomfort. They don’t know which way to turn, or what to do. Do they dismiss the behaviour, and travel on? Or do they accept that their parent is sick, and make plans to leave as soon as they are of age?
Victims of cognitive dissonance often feel as though they are going crazy, turn the cognitive dissonance back onto themselves, blame themselves for it, and believe it is just one more factor which proves that they are the crazy, unstable person.
Researchers believe that the awful feelings associated with cognitive dissonance are the very reason why abuse victims continue to stay in the relationship with the abuser.
How do children of narcissists soothe cognitive dissonance?
Abused children often make excuses for the abusive parent in order to release the anxiety they feel due to cognitive dissonance; all so as they can stay in the relationship with the parent.
The decision the victim often takes is the pathway offering less emotional pain. For victims of abuse, its all about safety; emotional and physical. If they can do everything within their power to please the abuser, instead of angering the abuser, they will be safe. So, they often turn a blind eye to the abuse, deny what they believe could be the truth, convince themselves that its all in their head, and make the decision to believe that their abusive parent really does love them.
The enabling mother or father of a narcissistic parent is also personality disordered, and in fact, a secondary abuser, because they keep their child in an absolute torture chamber. The failure of the parent to support the child when in desperate need of release from the narcissistic situation, suggests that the enabling parent’s needs mean more to the parent, than the needs of the child.
The sad reality about enablers’ is that many enabling parents are in actual fact, the kinder parent to the scapegoat child, and to the other children as well. However, the true enabler is a mixed bag; and sometimes this parent can be downright horrible to their children.
How does the scapegoat child feel about the enabling parent?
In adult – hood, the scapegoat child doesn’t know how to feel about the enabling parent. They know that the parent appeared to care for them more-so than the narcissist, and even attempted to protect them from severe abuse at times. However, in the scapegoat child’s eyes the enabler didn’t do enough; and much of the time, gaining support from the enabling parent was like playing a game of lotto. It may happen, or it may not. Support from enabler’s can often depend on their emotions at the time.
For the scapegoat, the scenario goes something like this: the parent may support them today when the narcissist calls them a ‘bitch’ for no reason, or they may not.
The hardest issue for the scapegoated adult – child in this mess fueled by narcissism, is the reality that the enabler also scapegoated their own child at times too, when they decided to side with the narcissist, and to engage in blaming the scapegoat for absolutely everything that was going wrong in the family.
The enabling parent enhances the scapegoat’s fear that they are crazy. Instead of validating the child, and telling them they are not the crazy one, they often unconsciously support the narcissist by defending their sick perception of the scapegoat, which is not real, was never real, and will never be real.
The confusion for the children of the enabler
The adult – children with an enabling parent want to love this parent. After all, they did pay for the private school fees, organise braces, dental appointments and swimming lessons; things that otherwise would most likely not have happened if the child was left in the narcissist’s care without the enabling parent. They want to love this parent that often asked the narcissist to stop calling the child names, hugged and held the child, told them they loved them, and appeared to honestly cherish this child here and there.
However, the emotional conflict the scapegoat child goes through in relation to the enabling parent, is pure mental anguish, because yes, the enabling parent really was the only parent to the child, this is true. However,ultimately they decided not to protect this child when deciding to stay in the situation with the child, instead of leaving the parent with the child.
Where it becomes very complex for children with an enabling parent, is that the enabler is often the kindest parent, the most placid, and the reason why the child wasn’t ultimately destroyed by the narcissist. The enabling parent showed the child some love, which may very well be the reason they came out the other side. However, this parent is also the reason why the child became destroyed in so many other ways, and now struggles terribly in adulthood.
The scapegoat’s overall analysis of the enabler is that they were part of the abuse, and did the wrong thing.
The enabler panders to the narcissist
The enabler panders to the narcissist, tries to keep them happy, and will even become a part of the abuse of the children, if it means the narcissist will get off the enabling parents back. At the end of the day, they are the narcissist’s sidekick, soldier in the narcissist’s army, and thoroughly perpetuate the bullying epidemic even further.
Enabling parents tend to expect support from the children to help to contain the difficult situation, and the narcissist’s rage. They expect the child to make the narcissist happy, to keep them content, and to make sure the narcissist feels admired, special and cared about all the time. In situations such as these, the enabler will perpetuate the abuse by having unusually high standards of the child; and will expect the child to show the narcissist the utmost respect, even when the narcissist is not respecting the child.
The enabling parent will not meet the child on their own emotional level, validate the child, and walk away from the narcissist.
The enabler’s view of the situation
However, the enabler is not going to see it this way. The enabler can be very kind, is terribly loyal to the narcissist, and has an extreme amount of empathy for the damaged person that the narcissist has become. So they dismiss the narcissist’s behaviour, apologise for their abuse, and downplay the abuse for reasons of self-preservation.
The enabler often feels reliant on the narcissist, isolated in their abuse, and as though they are going crazy.
We must not forget that in all of this mess, the enabler has also been incredibly mentally damaged, manipulated, and brainwashed by the narcissist. Sometimes they simply shut down.
The enabler’s favourite phrase: forgive and forget
A lot of enablers’ play down the abuse, tell the children to toughen up, and to forgive the narcissist.
This reality questions the enabler’s ability to access real empathy. Is the enabler truly empathetic at all? After-all, while their child is being denigrated, the enabler watches, says ‘don’t be so sensitive now, forgive and forget,’ and continues on.
To have empathy is to be able to see, and to feel through the eyes, and heart of another.
The enabler is stuck in the vortex with the narcissist and their children. They allow horrific emotional abuse to occur, and become a flying monkey to the narcissist instead of supporting the child. Enablers are renowned for pushing the child to maintain their relationship with the abusive parent later on in life, even after the child realises that they have been the victim of serious mental abuse.
The enabler as the perfect victim for the narcissist
The enabler is the perfect victim for the narcissist. Enabler’s are often quiet, easy to talk to, very placid, and appear to have a lot of empathy. They also lack confidence, second guess themselves, don’t listen to their gut, and don’t believe in themselves.
What keeps the enabler in the home with the narcissist?
The enabler may be acting out on family patterns. They may have had an enabling parent, and a narcissistic parent.
The enabler may believe that there is no point in leaving because if they do leave, the narcissist will make their life a living hell. It is very likely the enabler would need to get an AVO out on their narcissist if they left.
Some enablers’ are not concerned in the slightest about the abuse of the children, and are happy to stay with an abuser for the sake of their comfort pleasures, and the financial growth that has been achieved while with the narcissist.