A Bear and a Fox agreed to live together over the winter; the Bear would have someone to watch his store of honey while he hibernated, and the Fox would gain the protection of sleeping in the Bear’s cave.

After a month, the Fox started feeling hungry. But as he neared the entrance to the cave and felt the sharp wind bite his nose, he decided not to hunt for his own food: instead, he tiptoed past the Bear to a small tunnel in the cave where the honey-pots were stored. The Fox greedily ate up a quarter of the Bear’s honey, and, coming back, carefully smeared a few drops on the Bear’s fur.

In another month, the Fox was hungry again, and the weather was even worse. Again, he snuck to the honey-pots and ate another portion of honey, leaving about half of the Bear’s original store, again smearing a bit of honey on the Bear’s fur.

Twice more that winter, the Fox repeated the same theft, eating a quarter of the honey each time; the Bear awoke for Spring, ravenously hungry, only to find his food stores depleted. Furious, he confronted the Fox, only to be told: “You ate the honey yourself, when you were asleep. Look, there’s still some stuck to your fur.”

The Bear had no answer to this, and as he now had to hunt for his breakfast, he lumbered off, muttering curses under his breath. But even though he could not prove any wrongdoing, he never trusted the Fox again.

This old Hungarian folktale (a charming re-telling of which may be found here) showcases a regular feature of many predators, sometimes known as projection: they will turn the accusation of wrongdoing onto those they have hurt. So, the adulterous wife will accuse her husband of having an affair, the controlling boss will chide his employees for wanting to have everything “their” way, and the cyber-bully will tell all of Facebook that she is the injured party.

Manipulative groups and individuals will use this form of gaslighting not only as a pre-emptive strike, but also to confuse the issue: if both parties in a conflict are claiming that the other person hurt them, a bystander will not know who to believe and will often dismiss the whole case as “he said, she said” without looking deeper – the victim’s reputation is tarnished, and the predator escapes unpunished.

Skilled predators may even go one step further, and, telling everyone that they are the injured party, will weaponize a fleet of empaths to attack their victims, and so good people will end up attacking other good people, unaware that they are doing the work of a predatory individual – or, if they cannot be made to attack, they will simply give the predator un-deserved credit, believing the abuser to be “misunderstood” at best, or a victim of some conspiracy at worst. Destructive groups with a religious background will insist that those who criticize them for abuses are really being “directed by Satan” or some other evil force, while abusive therapy groups will label their critics as “sick” or “damaged”.

However, there is a way to cut through the fog of accusations and counter-accusations to determine who is the injured party and who is the perpetrator: while an abuser will be careful to keep their accusations vague and general, harping on the person’s perceived motives and engaging in ad hominem attacks, those who truly have been injured will relate specific incidents of abuse, and offer concrete evidence. An abuser will beg you not to look at the “pack of lies” their accuser wants you to read, while honest people will want you to research both sides of the story.

If you are on the receiving end of such predatory projection, resist the impulse to fight fire with fire – no matter what insults might be thrown, if you refrain from mudslinging, it will be harder for the predator to paint you as vicious or vindictive. Keep your head and document all that is said and done: although a lie can indeed make its way around the world before the truth can tie up its boots, hard facts – and the predator’s own words – can help dispel many nasty rumors, if stated calmly and bolstered with evidence.

When dealing with a predator’s projection, it is best to use every ounce of healthy skepticism and research the problem from many different angles, asking not only who has been injured, but what has been done, when, and how. Separate facts from opinions, remembering that even the best of us can sometimes be fooled by a sufficiently glib lie.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Spike’s dystopian novel? Do you have a story about predatory projection that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!