15 Behaviors That Reveal Someone Is Projecting Their Insecurities Onto You

15 Behaviors That Reveal Someone Is Projecting Their Insecurities Onto You iStock/GaudiLab

Have you ever been on the receiving end of unwarranted criticism or hostility from someone and it felt out of the blue? Chances are, they might have been projecting their insecurities onto you. When people do this, it’s often a subconscious coping mechanism, allowing them to deal with uncomfortable feelings about their own flaws while preserving their self-image. By acting superior, they can avoid facing their vulnerabilities. Here are 15 signs that someone is projecting onto you.

1. They find ways to criticize you about everything.

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Someone who wants to bring you down will always point out your flaws or mistakes, but the thing is, those “flaws” are really just their own insecurities. For example, if they feel like they’re having a bad hair day, they might tell you that a haircut would better enhance your features. Or, if they feel self-conscious about their body, they might tell you not to wear a certain dress because it’s unflattering.

2. They blame you for their mistakes.

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A common strategy used by someone who’s projecting their insecurities is to shift blame onto you so you feel bad for their mistakes. By doing this, they feel better while causing you to feel inadequate. For example, someone who feels insecure about their leadership abilities might deflect blame onto you, stating a job wasn’t completed because you were delayed, not because they were unclear about the task. By doing this, they fail to acknowledge their role in the issue and protect themselves from criticism.

3. They display jealousy.

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When you experience success, the insecure person might express feelings of jealousy. They might compare themselves to you, feeling like they don’t measure up, and comment something like, “I wish I had the resources you have so I could also succeed.” This type of feedback displays that they’re allowing their negative feelings to get in the way of congratulating you. They want you to feel bad for their lack of success while undermining yours.

4.  They compete with you.

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Someone who feels insecure might try to engage in excessive competition with you, trying to overshadow you so that they feel better about themselves. They might say something like, “Oh, you got an A on the exam? That’s awesome. I got an A+ and finished it a bit earlier than you did.” It might feel like you can’t do anything without the person trying to one-up you at every turn.

5. They become defensive.

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To show concern, you might bring attention to the person’s insecurities. For example, you might ask your friend how they’re doing with their anxiety issues or ask if they’re coping better with their parenting struggles. Instead of answering you, they might become hostile. This could be confusing, but this is common with insecure people—they deflect attention away from themselves and draw attention onto you by criticizing. They might call you nosy or tell you that you’re mistaken because they’re fine, in an attempt to protect their fragile egos.

6. They dismiss feedback.

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It can be difficult to give constructive criticism to someone who’s insecure and projects their vulnerabilities onto you. Even when it’s done in a kind way, they take it personally because they don’t want you to shine a light on their issues. Accepting feedback would mean acknowledging their shortcomings and failures, which is emotionally distressing for them. So, instead of accepting and learning from it, they’re dismissive.

7. They brag about their abilities.

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Someone who boasts about their success is highlighting their achievements to hide their insecurities. It creates a facade of confidence and high self-esteem. But, underlying this is a deep-seated need for control. Bragging helps an insecure person to assert power in their interactions with you. It also helps them feel superior and gives them a higher sense of self-worth, even if it’s not permanent or authentic.

8. They tell you what to do.

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If someone in your life is always trying to dictate your choices, you might find them annoying or arrogant. But, they might be doing this to project their insecurities onto you. Perhaps they feel helpless in their own life, which is why they’re trying to gain some power in yours. Or, they’re imposing their preferences onto you because this makes them feel validated. It helps them to alleviate their insecurities by asserting dominance.

9. They downplay your happiness.

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Instead of being happy when you’re all smiles about your new relationship or career, someone who’s projecting their insecurity might downplay your joy. They could do this in various ways, like ignoring what you have to say or shutting down whenever you express your happiness. What this does is make you less joyous, which helps them avoid dealing with their own feelings of inferiority.

10. They dump their negative traits on you.

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An insecure person might try to attribute their negative behaviors or traits to you, which helps them feel better about themselves. For example, if they’re insecure about how they lie to their partner, they might accuse you of being deceitful. Or, if they’ve cheated on you in the relationship, they might accuse you of betraying them. This behavior helps them drag you down and make you feel bad, preventing them from taking responsibility for their actions.

11. They fish for compliments.

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If someone’s feeling insecure about themselves, they might try to get validation from you to boost their self-confidence. They might seek reassurance about their abilities, appearance, or choices, hoping that positive feedback from others will reduce their self-doubts. They might fish for compliments regularly by making self-deprecating remarks so that you contradict them. For example, they might say, “I’m such a terrible driver!” or “I’m always so clumsy,” in the hope that you’ll tell them how great they are instead.

12. They make you feel fearful.

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Someone who’s struggling with severe insecurities might try to project their fears onto you. For example, if they’re stressed out about their financial stability, they might show concern about your spending habits. Or, they might try to discourage you from taking risks because they’re afraid to fail. While it might seem like they don’t want you to chase your goals because you’re not capable of doing so, the truth is they’re motivated by their own fears. That’s why it’s so important not to take it personally.

13. They blame you for other people’s behavior.

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If someone’s projecting their insecurities onto you, they might not see you as an individual with your own special traits. Instead, they see you as a combination of other people they’ve known in the past who made them feel inferior. Common examples of this are people you date who tell you that “All men/women cheat” or “All men/women are bossy.” You might be triggering unresolved emotions from their past, causing them to react to you based on those hurtful experiences instead of your present actions.

14. They make you the center of attention.

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It’s common for people with severe insecurity to avoid sharing their feelings or problems with others because they don’t want to be seen as vulnerable. So, they might give you vague answers when you ask them about their feelings, or they might ask you about issues you’re going through instead, as a way to make you the center of attention. They might display strong emotional reactions to your feelings or problems as a way to divert attention away from themselves. This helps them keep their low self-worth under wraps.

15. They experience dramatic mood swings.

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If someone around you tends to swing from being cheerful to angry without any reason, this could be a sign that they’re projecting their inner conflicts onto you. Although witnessing this might feel uncomfortable because it makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong, it’s not about you! They might be struggling with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, which can manifest as unpredictable mood swings.

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Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.