Narcissistic Abuser as Slanderer
by Kathy Krajco
On their way through life, narcissists leave a trail of trashed good names in their wake. This is a serious problem in the workplace, for narcissists often destroy the careers of their betters. Narcissistic managers and administrators often are serial bullies, who destroy the career and credibility of anyone who doesn’t participate in a lynching and therefore is a threat to blow the whistle.
The narcissist is a slanderer partly to get attention. But he is a slanderer mainly because he must be one to create his phony image. He makes himself look good by making others look bad.
Yet narcissists are not the only people who create a false image of themselves. If you want to call it close, virtually everybody does, even that paragon of honesty, Prince Hamlet. In a world that surrounds us with the prying eyes of fault-finders, we would be traitors to ourselves if we were not at least modest about the things we should be ashamed of. Especially insofar as they are none of anybody else’s business. In fact, it’s a virtue to keep what’s private private. It is the moral equivalent of wearing clothes.
Yet narcissists are different: they are hypocrites = for looks only. They think a thing ain’t wrong if they get away with it. In other words, they confuse appearances with reality. Consequently, they have no conscience — just an unconscience. That is, they repress their conscience. Hence, what they do in the dark is shockingly different than what they do in the light of day. These are the people who put make-up on their image a little too thick in spots.
Since it’s all about their image, as Hamlet’s mother said, they view sin as some kind of taint instead of as moral illness, or spiritual dis-ease. This is what gives them the notion that it can be “washed away” or smeared off. No wonder that, to get rid of it, they project instead of repent.
Projection is the Oldest Trick in the Book.
Magicians call it “misdirection.” The Serpent pulled it on Eve when he accused God of being the liar. (“God told you THAT?”) Stupid Eve should have looked at the other end of that pointed finger for the liar. As St. Paul does when he says that if somebody condemns others of being [fill in the blank], you can bet your bippy that he is one himself. Sometimes in a different way, but always at least the moral equivalent of one.* Paul was in line with the ancient Hebrew scriptures. Their name for the spirit in which people do this is satan, which means the “finger-pointer,” the “name-slayer” (slanderer), the “prosecutor/persecutor,” or the “accuser.” In some places (e.g., the Book of Job) they also call him “the policer of the world.” Which makes me wonder why religious leaders think that condemning these and those for this and that all the time is a good deed. This trick still works great today: I know of one narcissist who was a pedophile and for many years kept people from noticing the glaring warning signs in his own behavior by spreading rumors about one single teacher after another at his school. (He, of course, was married.)
* An example of what I mean by moral equivalence: Mr. Self-Righteous union-busts to keep the workers in his shoe factory so poor they go barefoot — and shows moral indignation in loudly condemning his neighbor for “muzzling an ox trampling the grain.”
The rules about projection are in the Book of Leviticus, prescribed in the ritual for the Day of Atonement. Christianity has inherited them. The scapegoat must be the cleanest, most perfect potential victim available, the one with the most potential to do well in the world. (Sloppy thinking has twisted the meaning a full 180 degrees: these ugly demonstrations of the human race in action, symbolically performed by abominable cruelty to an animal, were intended to shame us. Not to prescribe this travesty of justice as the way to purify ourselves and win salvation from justice.)
I’m sure that people who do this think they’re clever, but it’s childsplay. Send a muddy child into an unsupervised school yard and wait to see what happens. He will rub himself off on every cleaner, smaller child he can find, till they are all crying and he looks good by comparison.
Looks good by comparison. Those are the all-important words. The hypocrite makes himself look good by comparison with others. He does that the easy way — by making others look bad. This is the root of envy. Which is not a rare motive for what people say about others. It’s a common motive.
In a moment of self awareness, the hypocrite says, “Well, I may not be perfect, but I’m not as bad as others are.” Then he instantly looks for somebody to make himself look better than = somebody to rub himself off on. And he’s certainly smart enough to pick somebody pretty good to look better than!
So, narcissists are by no means alone in doing this. It’s just that they invest so much energy in doing it. They are fixated on their image to the point that it is uppermost in their mind 100% of the time. In contrast, normal people project only when on the defensive. And then they’re likely to shake themselves off on whoever happens to be near at the moment. So, their aim is poor, and sometimes they project a flaw off onto somebody who actually has it. But a narcissist’s aim is impeccable.
For example, whom does he call a liar? The most honest person around.
Who does he say is dangerous? The savior of the group.
Every single time. His talent for farce is so great that you could mistake him for astute.
Also, normal people have normal, human and loving relationships. So they don’t smear themselves off on just anybody. They wouldn’t dream of harming those near and dear. And they stick to slander (which has at least some degree of truth in it), rarely engaging in calumny (lies). When they do calumniate somebody, he or she is an enemy. Even then they don’t go hog-wild and calumniate somebody so badly and so widely as to destroy them and ruin their lives. Not so with the narcissist. He is a child with no sense of measure or moderation. He loves only himself. He has no normal human relationships. He relates to people as objects. So he will smear himself off on his own children as thoughtlessly as we smear ourselves off on a towel. In fact, he is most likely to smear off on somebody he owes gratitude, because needing help damages his image. So he repays help as though it were an insult. He must devalue it by devaluing the giver of it, as if such a contemptible person is incapable of really helping somebody as grand as he.
Since he is a little child, the only reign on a narcissist’s behavior is what he feels he can get away with. So, the more he gets away with, the more repressed guilt he has to purge himself of. The bad thing about repressed guilt is that it is an unconscious puppet master. Scripture calls it “the demon lurking at the door.” The door being the way out, the escape, through repentance.
This could be why narcissists get worse with age. The load of repressed guilt they keep trying to purge themselves of (in a way that only dirties them more) gets so heavy that the wild accusations they make get viciouser and viciouser. It’s as though they get drunk on blood.
They become living, breathing Projection Machines. Projection becomes such a knee-jerk reflex that a narcissist accuses his victim of doing to him the very thing (or essentially the same thing) as he is in the very act of doing to the victim. This creates bizarre scenes that make you wonder whether the narcissist is hallucinating or tripping out on psychedelic drugs. You feel like Alice in Wonderland. You have to pinch yourself and wonder whether “it’s me or him that is crazy.”
If you’ve ever thought that, congratulations. It means you’re not. The narcissist never thinks that: he just accuses whoever he abuses of being the crazy one. (I said “crazy,” not “insane.” There’s a difference.)
Another big difference between narcissists and normal people when they’re projecting on you is that narcissists expect you to share their delusion. Yes! You cannot help but perceive this as gaslighting. Narcissists try to make you be what they say you are because, like a psychopath, they view you as an object, not as a human person with perceptions and a mind of your own.* They view you as an extension of themselves (like a tool) to control. It is the moral equivalent of the control a rapist thinks he has over the body of another, whom he views as but an object, an extension of himself, an executioner of HIS will. Psychologists call this bizarre behavior projective identification, a defense mechanism. The narcissist wants you to identify with the image he projects on you. You are a mirror to reflect his fantasy, so he pressures you to behave as though it is real.
* A narcissist’s need to conform you to his or her specifications can go to bizarre extremes. For example, I know of one female narcissist who, during an assault on her sister, habitually forced her up against a wall and then spent a long time moving and twisting her sister’s arms about to position them grotesquely — thus forcing her sister into different “shapes.”
Behave is the key word. Narcissists do not connect with reality: appearances are all that matter in their world. So, you can lay out your grievances to a narcissist in a letter to let him know what you think, but if tomorrow you encounter him and act as though none of it happened, he is perfectly satisfied.
So, though the narcissist’s projective identification seems like gaslighting and affects the victim like gaslighting, it is not gaslighting in the strictest sense of the word. For the narcissist only cares how you behave; he does not care what you think. He doesn’t think at all about what you think. In fact, you can crash his brain by asking, “What do you think I think about you?” The question does not even compute.
Bottom Line: Anyone who outshines a narcissist diminishes the glow of his glory. So, that person had better be somebody with power that he fears or had better lay low and get away.