Sometimes, despite your good intentions and clear communication, you can still get blamed for something that isn’t your fault. Once you’ve reflected on your possible role in the situation, it’s important not to take on emotional baggage that isn’t yours, lest it weigh you down.
For a variety of self-protective reasons, some people are simply too scared to take responsibility for their problems. Maybe they learned as children that it was unsafe or unacceptable to make a mistake, be vulnerable, apologize, or forgive. Or maybe they were traumatized or emotionally neglected in ways that make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to empathize with another person’s experience and point of view. Such is the case for people with personality disorders, especially borderline and narcissistic types.
For such perpetual victims, projection is a way of protecting themselves from deep internal pain—for example, feeling unloved, unwanted, worthless, and invisible—that is locked away behind a fortress of defenses. In other words, they can’t distinguish “bad” behavior from feeling that they are inherently bad people. Blaming thus becomes their way of protecting their fragile egos from the shock of deep, overwhelming emotions that are too much to handle.
Disagreements with perpetual victims can be extremely stressful because it is always your fault and never theirs. If you have a good sense of self-esteem, you should be able to sift the truth from the projections—for example, I know I’m a generous, caring person no matter how much my sister tells me I’m selfish. Still, such altercations will feel extremely draining and will naturally make you want to distance yourself from the person, which you may or may not be able to do, depending on the relationship (for example if it’s your ex-spouse, and you have shared custody).
But if you have a tendency to get confused or doubt yourself or think everything is your fault, taking the blame can actually be toxic, eroding your energy, self-esteem, and sanity. I’ve experienced this phenomenon frequently in my work with adult children, siblings, and spouses of people with personality disorders.
As adults, these over-apologizers are especially susceptible to gas-lighting—a form of manipulation in which the manipulator uses denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying to make the other person question their own memory, perception, and sanity.
Sifting and setting boundaries
Navigating these relationships can be tricky and extremely painful. If the person is verbally abusive, the best course of action may be to walk away from the relationship altogether. Of course, this may be difficult if the blamer is your parent or the parent of your children. But some courageous, emotionally exhausted, broken-hearted people do make this choice as a matter of self-preservation and find that it’s for the best. You don’t have to tolerate toxicity.article continues after advertisement
Otherwise, limiting contact and setting boundaries are some helpful strategies to ensure that you don’t end up being their emotional punching bag. For example, you might say, “I’m not going to listen to you until you lower your voice and speak to me in a respectful manner,” or even, “Ouch. That hurts. It’s not OK to speak to me this way.” If they continue, you can protect yourself by walking away.
Of course, whether or not you successfully protect yourself in an interaction, you may still need to sift through the accusations lobbed at you—why you’re a lazy, selfish person, why you’re weak and spineless. If you know your strengths and shortcomings well, it will be much easier to shake it off. But if there are any parts of you that believe what the person is saying, you may need to do some inner work to parse fact from fiction while ensuring their poison doesn’t pollute you.
How to deal with projections
Here are some tips that can help. Continue here