The Series: Tools of the Narcissist – Projection, Deflection, & Word Salad

~Author’s note:  This is Part I in the series:  “Tools of the Narcissist”. The various behaviors of a narcissist (narc), someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), often have well-known names and identifiers.  As we discuss this behavior you may in fact be familiar with some of these terms, or they may be altogether new to you. Either way, we will be naming and explaining these behaviors in a series of articles for further education and awareness about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  While not an exhaustive list, this series will address many common behaviors, their names / identifiers, as well as explanations of what the behavior ‘looks and sounds like’, and the driving narcissistic motivation behind the behavior.  This is the Part I, the first installment of the series, discussing Projection, Deflection, and Word Salad.~ 

As we delve deeper into the education and understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), it is helpful to know and learn about the strategies and techniques narcissists (narcs) use.  Truthfully, no debate is needed about how much they recognize their own actions, how much is done purposefully, or what they may not even realize they are doing.  The end result is the same; abuse.  Perhaps you think I’m cynical in my view but research, brain studies, psychiatric longitudinal studies, etc., all conclude similarly; those with a personality disorder typically do not change, and likely get worse over time.  It may be beneficial for and to you to pull your own research done on NPD, or Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD), to read these conclusions on your own. The recognition or non-recognition of their own personality traits need not matter to us as their victims, when hope of change is absent.  Abuse is abuse.  There can be a debate if narcissists are able to recognize their own bad behavior, but that debate does not change the behavior.  The personality disorder is still front and center, ruling how the narc processes, views, and interacts in the world and with the people in their lives.

*There needs to be a distinction between personality and mood disorders: mood disorders such as bi-polar, depression, seasonal affective disorder, and the like can be well managed and treated through a variety of therapeutic modalities, including but not limited to talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication,  and self-monitoring.   In some cases, mood disorders DO resolve favorably for the patient.   This is not the case with a personality disorder.  While some of the outward symptoms may be able to be managed superficially and temporarily, the personality disorder does not go away.  Often, we’ll see a ‘pretense’ at positive change, only to find further abuse to a deeper and more dangerous degree is the ‘payback’ to victims.

“Personality disorders are not mood disorders.  Personality disorders are the core of who the person is, and are borne from early childhood neglect and abuse, congenital and developmental brain function, structure, and communication abnormalities, genetics, faulty early childhood attachment styles, to name just a few important factors. Mood disorders are largely accepted as being ‘treatable’ whereas it is the opposite for personality disorders.” L.A. Gilliam

Let’s take a look at the behavior you can expect from someone with NPD:

  • Projection:  It is common for the narcissist (narc) to accuse you of what they themselves are doing.  Your outrage at the accusations are turned against you, focus placed on your (rightful) anger at having been accused. The narc does this to take attention away from what they may be doing behind your back.  Unfortunately, this is common, and rational conversations are not effective.  The narc is largely incapable of rational conversations regarding their bad behavior.  Projection is very common, and it needs to be recognized for what it is.  When you are unjustly accused of cheating, lying, or other ‘bad behavior’, you can nearly be assured the narc is doing just what they are accusing YOU of.  It pays to remember the motivation BEHIND this behavior; the narcissist will never want to admit, or take responsibility for their own bad behavior, and overcompensation for this behavior is common.  In its way, Projection (onto you, the victim) is the way the narc moves the focus AWAY from their bad behavior, onto YOU, causing a reaction from you, which will likely result in their astonishment that you ARE reacting to their accusations in the first place.  A narc caught in a lie or caught cheating, will project anything and everything under the sun onto YOU, to MOVE the focus away from their bad behavior.  Their goal is to place the focus on to you, often with fantastical stories that are NOT true. You might liken this to a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar, who then turns to Mom or Dad saying, “But Sally just painted the walls with markers!”  Sally most likely didn’t paint the walls with markers, but the child wants the focus OFF their hand in the cookie jar and will make something up to MOVE the focus to another person.  Narcs do this exact same thing.  
  • Deflection: When something needs to be discussed, the narc is very likely to bring up everything ELSE under the sun, as an avoidance technique.  Catch them in a lie and bring it up?  You will likely be bombarded with every little thing you have ever done and said that has nothing to do with anything – the narc is DEFLECTING the focus from their bad behavior, and attempting to create confusion and manipulate the situation.  No need to argue; recognize this for what it is, and do not respond to their statements of deflection.  Instead, calmly repeat the statement you have made about the topic you want to discuss – ignore everything else the narc may throw your way.  Keep your footing; keep your power and balance.  You will be lied to and the conversation will make you feel even worse afterward.  Narcs work hard at keeping their victims unbalanced; not discussing the topic at hand is one way to do just that.  A Narc wants to keep you unsure, unsettled, and this communication deficit achieves that goal. It is not normal for someone to not be able to discuss a topic that is brought up: A narc will work hard at DEFLECTING what it is that YOU want to discuss.  This again, is to keep you off balance, in hopes that you will drop the initial topic for discussion altogether.  Do NOT drop the topic; simply restate your very first question or statement and ignore everything else thrown your way.
  • Word Salad: This is one type of the nonsensical conversation style of a narc.  In short, word salad is a mish-mash of blathering statements, questions, sentences, that have nothing to do with anything you are trying to discuss. You bring up or ask a question about something specific, say plans for later in the day, yet the narc starts answering and discussing something that happened last week.  You may need to discuss something very specific related to an event, or situation, yet when broached, the narc starts talking about a totally unrelated topic.  This is also known as circular conversation.  This keeps the victim off balance, and working harder and harder to get straight answers.  While the victim is feeling more and more unbalanced, it is likely the narc is gaining power, feeling superior, for making the victim work just that hard to have a normal conversation.  Again, even if the narc is not fully aware of their own part in this twisted dynamic, the result is the same; “word salad’. It is common for the narc to talk about things that are not remotely related to the topic at hand, similar to ‘deflection’ discussed above – leaving the victim feeling like, “What in the world is happening here?”  If you have a narcissist in your life, I would hasten to bet you have heard plenty of this ‘word salad’.

In closing, the narcissist(s) in your life bring a multitude of behaviors with them, used for a variety of reasons – either consciously or subconsciously – but the result to YOU is the same; confusion, frustration, anger at the lies, anger at being accused of falsehoods, exhaustion for having tried to figure ‘it’ out for so long, exhaustion at trying to make the relationship better.  It needs to be restated here that this is who the narcissist IS.  The sooner you are able to understand this very difficult personality disorder, all it entails, how YOU are affected, and ultimately start making decisions and choices that eliminate, or strictly limit, being affected, the sooner you will bring peace, calm, and a sense of relief into your life.  Having a narc in your life is difficult, but it is not permanent, unless YOU make it so.  Adjust your life so that YOUR life is unaffected by narc abuse.  So many have done it, so many have reached the other side of healing …. that of now living in peace, living in calm, enjoying mental and emotional stability, because we no longer will tolerate abuse.  Best, L.A.

The next installment in this series, “Tools of the Narcissist” Part II, will address Manipulation and Gaslighting.  Stay tuned!


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