The Art Of Projection


Some people with BPD or NPD who act out may use a more complicated type of defense mechanism — we’ve named it “Tag, You’re It”- to relieve their anxiety, pain, and feelings of shame. It’s more complex because it combines shame, splitting, denial, and projection.

People with BPD (and some with NPD) usually lack a clear sense of who they are, and feel empty and inherently defective. Others seem to run away from them, which is lonely and excruciatingly painful. So borderlines cope by trying to “tag” or “put” these feelings onto someone else. This is called projection.

Projection is denying one’s own unpleasant traits, behaviors, or feelings by attributing them (often in an accusing way) to someone else. Projection is like gazing at yourself in a hand-held mirror. When you think you look ugly, you turn the mirror around. Voila! Now the homely face in the mirror belongs to somebody else.

Sometimes the projection is an exaggeration of something that has a basis in reality. For example, the borderline may accuse you of “hating” them when you just feel irritated. Sometimes the projection may come entirely from their imagination: for example, they accuse you of flirting with a salesclerk when you were just asking for directions to the shoe department.

The BP’s unconscious hope is that by projecting this unpleasant stuff onto another person-by tagging someone else and making them “it” like a game of Tag — the person with BPD will feel better about themselves. And they do feel better, for a little while. But the pain comes back. So the game is played again and again.

Projection also has another purpose: your loved one unconsciously fears that if you find out they’re not perfect, you will abandon them. Like in the Wizard of Oz, they live in constant terror that you’ll discover the person behind the curtain. Projecting the negative traits and feelings onto you is a way to keep the curtain closed and redirect your attention on the perfect image they’ve tried to create for themselves.

How can people with BPD and NPD deny that they are projecting when it is so obvious to everyone else? The answer is that shame and splitting may combine with projection and denial to make the “Tag, You’re It” defense mechanism a more powerful way of denying ownership of unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

Some adults who enter into relationships with borderlines feel brainwashed by the BP’s accusations and criticisms. The techniques of brainwashing are simple: isolate the victim, expose them to inconsistent messages, mix with sleep deprivation, add some form of abuse, get the person to doubt what they know and feel, keep them on their toes, wear them down, and stir well.

Everything Is Your Fault

Continual blame and criticism is another defense mechanism that some people with BPD and NPD who act out use as a survival tool. The criticism may be based on a real issue that the person has exaggerated, or it may be a pure fantasy.

Family members have been raged at and castigated for such things as carrying a grocery bag the wrong way, having bed sheets that weighed too heavily on the BP’s toes, and reading a book the BP demanded they read. One exasperated non-BP said that if by some chance he didn’t make an unforgivable error one day, his wife would probably rage at him for being too perfect.

If you object to the criticism or try to defend yourself, your loved one may accuse you of being defensive, too sensitive, or unable to accept constructive criticism. Since their very survival seems to be at stake, they may defend themselves with the ferociousness of a mother bear protecting her cubs. When the crisis has passed and the person with BPD seems to have won, they may act surprised that you’re still upset.

In my personal experience of this, I was told by my abuser that an ex had seduced him and was ‘sex mad’. She claims it was the other way round. I was told that another two exes stalked him. Guess what!! They both say it was he who stalked them.  He is now saying I abused him (!!) and that he was often scared to come back to his own home;-).

I remember telling him daily how I felt like I was walking on eggshells. He once went mad because I had had a bad dream, and so I was ‘intent on ruining his day’. I came home once, knowing that he was in a bad mood, and in an effort to appease the situation, bought a nice dinner and a DVD on the way home. He was having none of it, and insisted on a huge argument over nothing, which resulted in his usual mimicking, goading, name-calling and eventually stone-walling me. I laughed at how grown men ran around a field after a ball once, during a ‘normal’ conversation and he actually bullied me for three days after because of this comment. I fought tirelessly to appease him and to try to calm him down, never realising that he had treated so many before me in the same way, and still believing it was because he had been treated so badly that he acted this way.

He would shout in my face for over ten minutes and as soon as I said “Listen” to try to calm him down, he yelled that I was “still shouting in his face”. I learnt not to say “listen” or “uh-huh”, not to pull the wrong face (I tried desperately not to move my face at all), and especially not to cry. And yet somehow, I am the one who abused him.

Every story he told me about his past relationships was a lie. I have since seen photos and letters to prove this. On the day I left, I was broken hearted and I filled his fridge with food. If this is abuse, I would love to have gone through this instead of the torture I was put through on a daily basis at his hands. Somebody paying for all, feeding me, massaging my feet, worrying, caring, and trying so hard. Organising a surprise party for me, taking me on holidays and to the theatre. PLEASE let me be abused like this one day!!