I was once in a relationship with a man who’d figured out a great way to come out of every argument on top.
All he did was accuse ME of what HE was doing…
Or thinking about doing.
So, if he’d been lying to me, the very first thing he’d do is accuse me of lying.
If he’d been angry at me, he would accuse me of being angry with him.
It’s an exceptionally effective strategy.
Because the minute he accuses you, you’re on the back foot.
Suddenly this argument is about YOU. It’s about something wrong YOU did—even though you didn’t do it.
You’re confused. You can’t figure out why he’s saying that.
Your first instinct is to defend yourself. Of course you wouldn’t do that. Why would he think you would?
He’s figured out how to silence you and win the argument, all in one. The best defense is a good offense, right?
What you’ve experienced is a form of projection known as a pre-emptive strike.
It’s used in toxic relationships to maintain an unequal balance of power.
Let’s find out why he’s doing it and how you can protect yourself.
It’s Not Me – It’s You
My daughter came to me last week and told me about an incident she’d had at school.
A girl had been whispering and passing notes during class with another girl. My daughter was sitting nearby, and it was making it hard to hear the teacher.
So she asked them to stop. “We’re not supposed to talk during class,” she reminded them.
What did the other girl do?
She made the “quiet coyote” sign.
(Now, maybe you don’t have a school-age kid in your life who can explain to you what the quiet coyote sign means. It’s a hand signal that teachers use to tell kids to quiet down.)
You’ve got to hand it to this girl.
Already, she’s figured it out.
If another kid asks you to quiet down, what do you do? You tell THEM to quiet down! Win for you!
When you’re on the receiving end of this twisted logic, it’s crazy-making. You’re like, Hold on a moment… She was the one talking, not me!
Projection catches us off guard. We don’t hold our ground. We take the bait.
When I asked my daughter how she’d respond if the teacher came up and said, “What’s going on here? You guys are talking,” she said she would defend herself and explain to the teacher exactly what happened.
Which could work.
But those of you who went through 12 years of public education know that not a lot of teachers are going to hang around for a lengthy explanation.
One kid is accusing another kid of talking, the other kid is accusing that kid of talking first… and it’s easier just to give them all a warning.
By a very early age, kids learn to project, and they learn that it works.
Maybe it doesn’t get them off the hook, but it gets the other kid in trouble, too, which is almost as good.
Why You Fall for It
These kids grow up to be co-workers, partners, friends…
And they still get away with bad behavior.
The minute they’re accused of anything, or they THINK they’re going to be accused of something, they accuse someone else of doing the same thing.
Or, if they sense that you’re not going to buy it, they accuse you of doing something else that’s even worse.
And it’s a form of manipulation that’s especially effective on good people.
If someone accuses you of doing something, and you’re a good person, of course you’re going to take a moment to think about the accusation. Did you do something wrong without realizing it?
You might even apologize, even if you don’t quite understand what happened, because apologies cost nothing.
What you SHOULD be doing is holding up a mirror.
How to Block Projection
The secret to seeing through projection is to hold up a mirror every time someone accuses you of something.
Did someone accuse you of being selfish and lazy? Hold up a mirror. It’s a sure bet that they’re accusing you because it’s something they know to be true about themselves.
Sometimes that mirror can reveal very uncomfortable things.
One time, an ex accused me of having an affair. Actually, he did it twice. Had he been cheating on me? I’ll never know, but I’m sure the thought of having an affair had crossed his mind.
Another guy used to call other people “fat.” He’d make fun of anyone who was overweight. Why?
Well, it’s probably because he struggled with his own weight. By focusing on people heavier than himself, he cultivated the perception that they were overweight, not him.
Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall
Now you’re probably thinking, Wait a second… What do I accuse other people of?
What would your mirror reveal?
Well, if you’re a good person, I can make a guess about you.
I would guess that if you have a problem with someone’s behavior, you go to them and you talk about the behavior.
You don’t throw labels at them. You don’t make blanket assertions about their character. You don’t accuse them of being a liar or manipulating you.
(By the way, if someone accuses you of manipulating them? It’s a sure bet they’re doing that to you.)
Good people talk about what happened and how they felt about it. They don’t accuse.
So the next time someone accuses you of something, ask yourself if it’s something they might already be doing to you. And don’t take the bait.
No matter how much you want to, don’t stoop to defending yourself. You don’t need to defend yourself. You’re not on trial here.
You can even say:
This isn’t about me. This is about what happened. Let’s stay focused on that for now.”
If your guy does this to you a lot, you might be in a verbally abusive relationship.
I recently interviewed the expert on verbally abusive relationships, Patricia Evans, on my show. Check it out here.