The Narcissist's Grandiose Fantasies
Frequently Asked question # 3
The grandiose fantasies of the narcissist support his inflated sense of self, regulate his sense of self-worth, and buttress his False Self.
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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What happens to a narcissist who lacks even the basic potential and skills to realise some of his grandiose fantasies?
Such a narcissist resorts to deferred Narcissistic Supply which generates an effect of deferred grandiosity. He forgoes his grandiose schemes and gives up on the present. He defers the fulfilment of his fantasies – which support his inflated Ego – to the (indefinite) future.
Such narcissists engage in activities (or in daydreaming), which they fervently believe, will make them famous, powerful, influential, or superior in some unspecified future time. They keep their minds occupied and off their failures.
Such frustrated and bitter narcissists hold themselves answerable only to History, God, Eternity, Future Generations, Art, science, the Church, the Country, the Nation and so on. They entertain notions of grandeur which are dependent upon the judgement or assessment of a fuzzily defined collective in an ambiguous time frame. Thus, these narcissists find solace in the embrace of Chronos.
Deferred grandiosity is an adaptive mechanism which ameliorates dysphorias and grandiosity gaps.
It is healthy to daydream and fantasise. It is the antechamber of life and often anticipates its circumstances. It is a process of preparing for eventualities. But healthy daydreaming is different from grandiosity.
Grandiosity can be conceived of as a set of cognitive biases constructed on an edifice of cognitive deficits which emanate from a profoundly flawed reality test.
The narcissist’s grandiosity has four components.
The narcissist believes in his omnipotence. "Believe" in this context is a weak word. He knows. It is a cellular certainty, almost biological, it flows in his blood and permeates every niche of his being. The narcissist "knows" that he can do anything he chooses to do and excel in it. What the narcissist does, what he excels at, what he achieves, depends only on his volition. To his mind, there is no other determinant.
Hence his rage when confronted with disagreement or opposition – not only because of the audacity of his, evidently inferior, adversaries. But because it threatens his world view, it endangers his feeling of omnipotence. The narcissist is often fatuously daring, adventurous, experimentative and curious precisely due to this hidden assumption of "can-do". He is genuinely surprised and devastated when he fails, when the "universe" does not arrange itself, magically, to accommodate his unbounded fantasies, when it (and people in it) does not comply with his whims and wishes.
He often denies away such discrepancies, deletes them from his memory. As a result, he remembers his life as a patchy quilt of unrelated events and people.
The narcissist often pretends to know everything, in every field of human knowledge and endeavour. He lies and prevaricates to avoid the exposure of his ignorance. He resorts to numerous subterfuges to support his God-like omniscience.
Where his knowledge fails him – he feigns authority, fakes superiority, quotes from non-existent sources, embeds threads of truth in a canvass of falsehoods. He transforms himself into an artist of intellectual prestidigitation. As he gets older, this invidious quality may recede, or, rather, metamorphose. He may now claim more confined expertise.
He may no longer be ashamed to admit his ignorance and his need to learn things outside the fields of his real or self-proclaimed expertise. But this "improvement" is merely optical. Within his "territory", the narcissist is still as fiercely defensive and possessive as ever.
Many narcissists are avowed autodidacts, unwilling to subject their knowledge and insights to peer scrutiny, or, for that matter, to any scrutiny. The narcissist keeps re-inventing himself, adding new fields of knowledge as he goes. This creeping intellectual annexation is a roundabout way of reverting to his erstwhile image as the erudite "Renaissance man".
The narcissist believes that he does not need to refer to reality as the last arbiter: he only has to tap his own superior intelligence in order to derive universally-applicable and invariable rules. Regardless of the paucity of his own experience and knowledge, the narcissist holds himself to be a supreme authority on almost every issue and topic. Indeed, the narcissist is emotionally-invested (cathexed) in his self-imputed omniscience and infallibility and regards any challenge to them as a narcissistic injury which threatens to undermine the very foundations of his precariously-balanced personality.
Narcissists exhibit the cognitive bias known as the “Dunning-Kruger effect”: they are deluded about the true level of their abilities, knowledge, and skills. But, they tend to sustain this delusion also by devaluing and underestimating others.
Even the narcissist cannot pretend to actually be everywhere at once in the PHYSICAL sense. Instead, he feels that he is the centre and the axis of his "universe", that all things and happenstances revolve around him and that cosmic disintegration would ensue if he were to disappear or to lose interest in someone or in something.
He is convinced, for instance, that he is the main, if not the only, topic of discussion in his absence. He is often surprised and offended to learn that he was not even mentioned. When invited to a meeting with many participants, he assumes the position of the sage, the guru, or the teacher/guide whose words carry a special weight. His creations (books, articles, works of art) are extensions of his presence and, in this restricted sense, he does seem to exist everywhere. In other words, he "stamps" his environment. He "leaves his mark" upon it. He "stigmatises" it.
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Narcissist the Omnivore (Perfectionism and Completeness)
There is another "omni" component in grandiosity. The narcissist is an omnivore. He devours and digests experiences and people, sights and smells, bodies and words, books and films, sounds and achievements, his work and his leisure, his pleasure and his possessions. The narcissist is incapable of ENJOYING anything because he is in constant pursuit of perfection and completeness.
Classic narcissists interact with the world as predators do with their prey. They want to own it all, be everywhere, experience everything. They cannot delay gratification. They do not take "no" for an answer. And they settle for nothing less than the ideal, the sublime, the perfect, the all-inclusive, the all-encompassing, the engulfing, the all-pervasive, the most beautiful, the cleverest, the richest, and the most brilliant.
The narcissist is shattered when he discovers that a collection he possesses is incomplete, that his colleague's wife is more glamorous, that his son is better than he is in math, that his neighbour has a new, flashy car, that his roommate got promoted, that the "love of his life" signed a recording contract. It is not plain old jealousy, not even pathological envy (though it is definitely a part of the psychological make-up of the narcissist). It is the discovery that the narcissist is NOT perfect, or ideal, or complete that does him in.
Ask anyone who shared a life with a narcissist, or knew one and they are likely to sigh: "What a waste". Waste of potential, waste of opportunities, waste of emotions, a wasteland of arid addiction and futile pursuit.
Narcissists are as gifted as they come. The problem is to disentangle their tales of fantastic grandiosity from the reality of their talents and skills. They always either over-estimate or devalue their potency. They often emphasise the wrong traits and invest in their mediocre or less than average capacities at the expense of their true and promising potential. Thus, they squander their advantages and under-rate their natural gifts.
The narcissist decides which aspects of his self to nurture and which to neglect. He gravitates towards activities commensurate with his pompous auto-portrait. He suppresses these tendencies and aptitudes in him which don't conform to his inflated view of his uniqueness, brilliance, might, sexual prowess, or standing in society. He cultivates these flairs and predilections which he regards as befitting his overweening self-image and ultimate grandeur.
But, the narcissist, no matter how self-aware and well-meaning, is accursed. His grandiosity, his fantasies, the compelling, overriding urge to feel unique, invested with some cosmic significance, unprecedentedly bestowed – these thwart his best intentions. These structures of obsession and compulsion, these deposits of insecurity and pain, the stalactites and stalagmites of years of abuse and then abandonment – they all conspire to frustrate the gratification, however circumspect, of the narcissist's true nature.
An utter lack of self-awareness is typical of the narcissist. He is intimate only with his False Self, constructed meticulously from years of lying and deceit. The narcissist's True Self is stashed, dilapidated and dysfunctional, in the furthest recesses of his mind. The False Self is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, creative, ingenious, irresistible, and glowing. The narcissist often isn't.
Add combustible paranoia to the narcissist's divorce from himself – and his constant and recurrent failure to assess reality fairly is more understandable. The narcissist overpowering sense of entitlement is rarely commensurate with his accomplishments in his real life or with his traits. When the world fails to comply with his demands and to support his grandiose fantasies, the narcissist suspects a plot against him by his inferiors.
The narcissist rarely admits to a weakness, ignorance, or deficiency. He filters out information to the contrary – a cognitive impairment with serious consequences. Narcissistic are likely to unflinchingly make inflated and inane claims about their sexual prowess, wealth, connections, history, or achievements.
All this is mighty embarrassing to the narcissist's nearest, dearest, colleagues, friends, neighbours, or even mere on-lookers. The narcissist's tales are so patently absurd that he often catches people off-guard. Behind his back, the narcissist is derided and mockingly imitated. He fast makes a nuisance and an imposition of himself in every company.
But the narcissist's failure of the reality test can have more serious and irreversible consequences. Narcissists, unqualified to make life-and-death decisions often insist on rendering them. Narcissists pretend to be economists, engineers, or medical doctors – when they are not. But they are not con-artists in the classic, premeditated sense. They firmly believe that, though self-taught at best, they are more qualified than even the properly accredited sort. Narcissists believe in magic and in fantasy. They are no longer with us.
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