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First described by Sigmund Freud, defense mechanisms are unconscious processes that people use to reduce stress in their psychological environment, even if the stress is triggered by an external environment.

In this article, we will focus on the three most used and available mechanisms to people with narcissistic tendencies – projection, deflection, and denial.

It’s important to keep in mind that non-narcissists and narcissists alike use these ego-protection methods. In normal human development, these defenses are fairly innocuous and meant to protect against insecurity, a lack of self-awareness, and vulnerabilities. But when a narcissist uses these defenses, they deny flaws in themselves and blame others for their shortcomings, mistakes, and misfortunes.


  • Projection: maintaining a positive self-image is critical to a healthy ego. Self-doubt, over-emphasis on weakness, devaluation of strength, and general insecurity may lead a person to assign these flaws to friends and family to avoid acknowledging them as their own.
  • Deflection: considered a form of psychological manipulation, deflection is a defense mechanism frequently used by narcissists to distract people from their misbehaviors.
  • Denial: to avoid facing uncomfortable truths that could damage their self-esteem or expose their vulnerabilities, denial helps the narcissist shield themselves from feelings of shame, guilt, or inadequacy.

Keep in mind that defense mechanisms are designed to maintain a person’s self-image. When narcissism is factored into the equation, it combines with grandiosity, entitlement, hostility, and lack of empathy – leading the narcissist to establish their superiority over those who love them. 

How Narcissists Use Projection

Projection is a common defense mechanism that many people use to cope with challenging emotions, beliefs, and situations. Many individuals, not just narcissists, engage in projection as a means of self-preservation and emotional regulation.

However, when individuals with narcissistic traits use projection, it becomes a dominant and maladaptive pattern of behavior. Projection serves several purposes for narcissists, including:

  • Avoiding Responsibilities. Rather than acknowledging their shortcomings, narcissists project them onto others. This allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and behaviors and to maintain the illusion of being faultless.

Narcissists often see themselves as superior and flawless. Projection helps reinforce this self-image by attributing negative qualities onto others to make themselves seem perfect in comparison.

For example, if a narcissist is dishonest, they might accuse others of lying. If a narcissist is envious of someone’s success, they may accuse that person of being jealous of them. Or if a narcissist is controlling, they might accuse others of being controlling to deflect attention from their controlling tendencies.

  • Shifting Blame. When confronted about their actions, behaviors, or mistakes, narcissists often shift blame onto others. This allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, control how others perceive them, and maintain power and control in relationships.

When narcissists engage in blame-shifting, they are projecting their negative qualities, mistakes, or behaviors onto others as a way to avoid acknowledging their shortcomings. Their grandiose protective shell does not allow them to see themselves as less than perfect.

How Narcissists Use Deflection

Rather than accepting criticism or blame, the narcissist will blame someone else for weaknesses, flaws, and shortcomings. The narcissist takes this route to preserve their distorted self-image. They honestly believe they know everything, do not make mistakes, and are beyond reproach.

Regardless of why they do it, deflection has negative effects on their relationships and the mental health of those on the receiving end of the toxic behavior.

How Narcissists Use Denial

Narcissists often deny things that happened due to several underlying psychological factors. Understanding these reasons can illuminate their behavior and help us navigate such situations. Let’s explore why narcissists engage in denial.

  • Self-preservation. Narcissists have an intense need to protect their fragile self-image. Admitting their mistakes, flaws, or negative actions threatens their carefully-constructed façade of superiority and perfection. Denial allows them to maintain the illusion of being faultless and untouchable.

Denial helps in avoiding facing uncomfortable truths that could damage self-esteem or expose vulnerabilities. By denying the reality of certain events or actions, they shield themselves from feelings of shame, guilt, or inadequacy.

  • Control and manipulation. Narcissists thrive on power and control over others. Denying the truth allows them to manipulate situations to their advantage. By distorting or denying past events, they can rewrite history in their favor, manipulate perceptions, and gaslight those around them. This behavior enables them to maintain dominance and undermine the credibility of anyone who challenges their version of events.

What Can You Do?

  • Remember – it’s not about you. The defense mechanisms that protect a narcissist’s ego from shame and anxiety. Much of what a narcissist projects, deflects, and denies is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. Understand that the accusations may not accurately reflect your actions or character. Their words and actions can often be used as a way to understand them better.
  • Practice self-awareness. Take time to reflect on the situation. If someone accuses you of having certain feelings or behaving in a certain way, consider whether there might be any truth in the accusations, even if they’re being projected onto you.

Be sure to maintain your self-esteem and confidence. Remind yourself of your true qualities and strengths. Consider talking with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist as they can provide validation, insights, and emotional support. 

Work on your recovery and resilience. TAR Network™ encourages you to practice self-love this month and focus on your well-being. The first toxic relationship we tend to have is with ourselves – it’s time to change that! Please join our weekly TAR Live Meetings on every Monday at 7:00 PM ET and learn more about the malicious techniques of projection, deflection, and denial. Learn new coping skills to protect yourself and respond healthily.


TAR Network™ is a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to bringing worldwide awareness and treatment to those whose emotional reality has been distorted by narcissistic abuse. The mission of TAR Network is to support men, women, the LGBTQ+ community, tweens & teens, families, parents who are alienated from their children, workers, and caregivers going through or emerging from TAR. With subject matter experts, affiliates, organizations with supportive resources, and our individual donor community our programs will help you out of the fog and into the light. TAR Network is currently developing several innovative projects: TAR Tales – a safe place to share your truth TAR Centers – a safe place to get vital CPTSD treatment TAR Anon – a safe and nonjudgmental worldwide support network. There is strength in numbers. We’ve all suffered from trauma and abuse at the hands of someone close. Please join us in this worldwide effort toward recovery.

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