Malignant narcissists are filled with pathological envy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, narcissists are said to be envious of others and believe others to be envious of them. It is not at all surprising that a narcissist would believe others to be envious of them, either – they are masters of projection, spewing their issues onto others in order to avoid the truth about themselves. As an author who specializes in toxic relationships, I’ve corresponded with thousands of survivors who have been with narcissistic partners and many of them have been on the receiving end of this destructive envy as well as malignant projections. This is part of the emotional torment they subject their victims to.

Dr. Martinez-Lewi, a clinical expert in narcissism, eloquently describes the impact of these heinous attacks and insults. She writes, “With constant ugly primitive projections of volcanic rage, humiliations, withering criticisms, the covert narcissist creates a horrendous, nightmarish environment for his {or her} spouse. The partner or spouse of the covert narcissist survives in a state of constant psychological and emotional siege.”

And it is no wonder why. In the twisted world of the narcissist’s distorted insults, it is always “opposite day.” Narcissists call intelligent and successful people lazy, moronic, or accuse them of being full of themselves (quite an ironic projection given the narcissist’s own egocentrism and cockiness). They verbally abuse their partners and call beautiful, successful people unattractive and unappealing. They claim loving, compassionate and empathic people are monsters. They accuse loyal people of deception and infidelity. They will often try to convince you that you are the opposite of what you really are – a kind, beautiful, intelligent, successful, and compassionate human being. A narcissists malignant projections have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Listen closely – what they see in you is really what they fail to notice about themselves in the mirror.

Why? Because it is a malignant projection of the narcissist’s own contempt, lack of merit, and darkness which they choose to dump on their victims. This is psychological violence – when the narcissist attempts to rewrite reality and present a perversion of what is true to instill a sense of worthlessness in their targets. When faced with a projection like this, remember that the insults the narcissist uses to attack you better describes them.

Here are five ways you can constructively handle a narcissist’s pathological envy and malignant projections after you’ve exited the toxic relationship, on your own:

1. Collect evidence which says otherwise and, use this habitually as a reminder of the facts.

Our brains are tricky in that they tend to hang onto, ruminate over, and react more strongly to negative events far more than positive feedback and events. Why? Because it’s our “survival system” at work – we have evolved to spot danger and notice things that induce our fear, rage, anxiety, more readily than those that bring joy because it caters to our ability to notice and respond to potential threats in our environment. As Dr. Roy F. Baumeister (2001), professor of social psychology at Florida State University, writes, Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones…Put another way, you are more upset about losing $50 than you are happy about gaining $50.”

This is one of the many reasons why a narcissist’s insults tend to weigh us down like tar while compliments tend to be fleeting as if they were bouncing off of Teflon. In order to balance out the emotional seesaw, “collect” the evidence which refutes the narcissist’s claim and keep a list. Get creative; you can even create a video, an art piece, or a whole essay which examines the alternative. If, for example, the narcissist claimed you were unintelligent, you might recall all the academic and professional accomplishments which say otherwise.

Keep documentation of this evidence at hand to refer to for whenever you find yourself ruminating or doubting yourself. Repetitively remembering positive feedback grounds you in the reality that the narcissist is a lone wolf attempting to derail you. There is likely far more evidence to the contrary that you are not considering because your “survival brain” is latching onto the narcissist’s negativity as truth.

2. Remember the feedback from empathic people you’ve received as well.

When we’ve been in a toxic, damaging relationship like this, it is always advised to remember that there are empathic people out there who have supported you and told you the truth about yourself, rather than abused you and tried to hurt you with falsehoods. These are healthy, empathic, grounded human beings who praised you, loved you, comforted you, and reminded you of what you are truly worthy of and deserve. They are far more accurate in their assessments of you because they themselves come from a place of security, self-esteem, and sanity.

Again, document this feedback so you can “retrain” your brain into remembering all the positivity you’ve encountered, rather than dwelling on the narcissist’s alienating, biting remarks. As researchers Newberg and Waldman (2013) note, even a single negative word can increase activity in the amygdala, the center for fear and anxiety. Meanwhile, positive words have the opposite effect. As they note in their book Words Can Change Your Brain, “By holding a positive and optimistic thought in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. This area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for moving you into action. And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain…our own brain-scan research shows that concentrating and meditating on positive thoughts, feelings, and outcomes can be more powerful than any drug in the world, especially when it comes to changing old habits, behaviors, and beliefs.”

Knowing this powerful effect of positive words, make a list of compliments you’ve received, take screenshots of sweet e-mails, texts, or social media comments, record an audiotape about the lovely comments you’ve heard about yourself, and/or make a bulletin board capturing happy, celebratory moments which anchor you back into states of confidence and healthy pride.

3. See the projection for what it is and figuratively hand it back when you begin ruminating over their insults.

While it can be difficult not to internalize verbal abuse, it’s important to see the narcissist’s malignant projections for what they are: a rage attack revealing their own issues and shortcomings. Work with a therapist to mindfully observe which projections are still affecting you, and how that better represents the narcissist’s true self, rather than anything having to do with you. Then, when the rumination comes up, you can replace the projection with the fact that it is the narcissist who embodies the quality or behavior they have assigned to you.The more frequently you are able to mentally hand over the projection back to where it rightfully belongs – to the narcissist, the less likely you’ll be burdened by the shame, guilt,and worthlessness which you never deserved to feel in the first place.

4. Mentally translate what the narcissist is really saying, especially if they are pathologically envious and jealous of you.

It’s easy to get hung up on the actual language that narcissists wield like a weapon. However, on the recovery journey, it’s essential to be able to decode their twisted language so that you can understand that you cannot trust the source of those insults. For example, if a narcissist insults your work ethic or belittles your success, you can essentially “translate” this to something like the following: “I am jealous because I have not achieved the same level of success you have. I feel threatened by you and I have to undermine you in order to feel superior again. How dare you surpass me?” This translation is in fact what they are actually saying when they hurl verbal assaults. Translating what a narcissist claims to what they’re really saying is vital to defusing the power of their projections.

5. Retrain your subconscious mind so you can self-validate and channel your pain into success.

Of course, self-validation is important too.There has been much research on the effectiveness of hypnosis, meditationandaffirmations on self-worth, emotional self-regulation, self-perception, and easing anxiety (Lazar et al., 2000; Cascio et al., 2015; Jiang et al., 2016; Kaiser et al., 2018).Using positive affirmations, meditation, and/or enlisting the help of a hypnotherapist can work wonders for your self-esteem and your ability to self-validate when you are hit by painful memories or emotional flashbacks.

In addition, use these self-care healing modalities to help motivate you to refocus on rebuilding your life. The narcissist’s insults can actually act as an incentive for you to succeed,prove them wrong, and transcend their bullying tactics even more than you already have. Give purpose to the pain: channel their insults into the greater good and your highest good by allowing them to motivate you to live your best life and showcase your best self.

If you’ve experienced cruel bullying beginning in childhood, it’s even more important to shower yourself with the positive and loving words you always deserved to hear. Replace your ruminations with the affirmations of what you would like to believe about yourself, and you will realize that such a mindset is far closer to reality than the biased accusations of a pathologically envious narcissist.