The Narcissist's Confabulated Life
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By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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Confabulations are an important part of life. They serve to heal emotional wounds or to prevent ones from being inflicted in the first place. They prop-up the confabulator's self-esteem, regulate his (or her) sense of self-worth, and buttress his (or her) self-image. They serve as organizing principles in social interactions.
Father's wartime heroism, mother's youthful good looks, one's oft-recounted exploits, erstwhile alleged brilliance, and past purported sexual irresistibility - are typical examples of white, fuzzy, heart-warming lies wrapped around a shriveled kernel of truth.
But the distinction between reality and fantasy is rarely completely lost. Deep inside, the healthy confabulator knows where facts end and wishful thinking takes over. Father acknowledges he was no war hero, though he did his share of fighting. Mother understands she was no ravishing beauty, though she may have been attractive. The confabulator realizes that his recounted exploits are overblown, his brilliance exaggerated, and his sexual irresistibility a myth.
Such distinctions never rise to the surface because everyone - the confabulator and his audience alike - have a common interest to maintain the confabulation. To challenge the integrity of the confabulator or the veracity of his confabulations is to threaten the very fabric of family and society. Human intercourse is built around such entertaining deviations from the truth.
This is where the narcissist differs from others (from "normal" people): his very self is a piece of fiction concocted to fend off hurt and to nurture the narcissist's grandiosity. He fails in his "reality test" - the ability to distinguish the actual from the imagined. The narcissist fervently believes in his own infallibility, brilliance, omnipotence, heroism, and perfection. He doesn't dare confront the truth and admit it even to himself.
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Moreover, he imposes his personal mythology on his nearest and dearest. Spouse, children, colleagues, friends, neighbors - sometimes even perfect strangers - must abide by the narcissist's narrative or face his wrath. The narcissist countenances no disagreement, alternative points of view, or criticism. To him, confabulation IS reality.
The coherence of the narcissist's dysfunctional and precariously-balanced personality depends on the plausibility of his stories and on their acceptance by his Sources of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist invests an inordinate time in substantiating his tales, collecting "evidence", defending his version of events, and in re-interpreting reality to fit his scenario. As a result, most narcissists are self-delusional, obstinate, opinionated, and argumentative.
The narcissist's lies are not goal-orientated. This is what makes his constant dishonesty both disconcerting and incomprehensible. The narcissist lies at the drop of a hat, needlessly, and almost ceaselessly. He lies in order to avoid the Grandiosity Gap: when the abyss between fact and (narcissistic) fiction becomes too gaping to ignore. For instance: he would plagiarize, pilfer, and purloin in order to appear original, brilliant, a genius.
The narcissist lies in order to preserve appearances, uphold fantasies, support the tall (and impossible) tales of his False Self and extract Narcissistic Supply from unsuspecting sources, who are not yet on to him. To the narcissist, confabulation is not merely a way of life - but life itself.
We are all conditioned to let other indulge in pet delusions and get away with white, not too egregious, lies. The narcissist makes use of our socialization. We dare not confront or expose him, despite the outlandishness of his claims, the improbability of his stories, the implausibility of his alleged accomplishments and conquests. We simply turn the other cheek, or meekly avert our eyes, often embarrassed.
Moreover, the narcissist makes clear, from the very beginning, that it is his way or the highway. His aggression - even violent streak - are close to the surface. He may be charming in a first encounter - but even then there are telltale signs of pent-up abuse. His interlocutors sense this impending threat and avoid conflict by acquiescing with the narcissist's fairy tales. Thus he imposes his private universe and virtual reality on his milieu - sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Dissociative Gaps and Confabulation
Narcissists and psychopaths
dissociate (erase memories) a lot (are amnesiac) because their contact with the
world and with others is via a fictitious construct: the False Self.
Narcissists never experience reality directly but through a distorting lens
darkly. They get rid of any information that challenges their grandiose
self-perception and the narrative they had constructed to explicate, excuse,
and legitimize their antisocial, self-centred, and exploitative behaviors,
choices, and idiosyncrasies.
In an attempt to compensate for the yawning gaps in memory, narcissists and psychopaths confabulate: they invent plausible "plug ins" and scenarios of how things might, could, or should have plausibly occurred. To outsiders, these fictional stopgaps appear as lies. But the narcissist fervently believes in their reality: he may not actually remember what had happened - but surely it could not have happened any other way!
These tenuous concocted fillers are subject to frequent revision as the narcissist's inner world and external circumstances evolve. This is why narcissists and psychopaths often contradict themselves. Tomorrow's confabulation often negates yesterday's. The narcissist and psychopath do not remember their previous tales because they are not invested with the emotions and cognitions that are integral parts of real memories.
People with severe dissociation
(memory lapses and "lost time") are often misunderstood and perceived
Frequently they appear to be lying - but they are actually not prevaricating.
It is just that because of their extreme dissociation, these people have learned to NOT FORGET. They hoard memories, they never discard even the tiniest detail. They memorize dates and numerous trivial data as "handles", some things to hang on to in their hole-ridden minds.
Consequently, dissociative people often have CONTRADICTORY memories about the SAME OBJECT, EVENT, or PERSON AT THE SAME TIME!
A dissociative man can regard the same woman as irresistible AND as repulsive; the same building as prestigious and as decrepit; the same person as someone who makes him feel good and bad.
Such gaping discrepancies make dissociative people appear inconsistent and deceitful. But it is NOT LYING or deception! It is simply their archaeological memory: they maintain access to ALL the conflicting layers and strata AT ONCE.
But why would they have radically differing viewpoints about the same person, event, or object?
Precisely because of the way their struggle to maintain their unruly memory and cling to it. They never DELETE a memory because they CHERISH their memories like treasures. And they cherish their memories like treasures because they have SO FEW OF THEM. Where there is a troubling gap & their memory fails them, such patients CONFABULATE: they invent a plausible narrative or scenario that must - or may - have happened.
So, they never get rid of a memory, replace it with another, or modify it. They simply ADD to it another memory even if the 2 memories are diametrically opposed.
Dissociation is typical in Borderline Personality Disorder. Borderlines are LABILE. The changes in their internal states (cognitions, emotions, moods) are so abrupt and violent that they disrupt any personal continuity and sense of coherent identity. This discontinuity also makes them APPEAR to be lying - but they are not! They are just struggling with their fragmented memories and excruciating lability.
False “Recovered” Memories
are two types of recovered
1. Denying, altering, or minimizing personal involvement in and contribution to the abuse or the abuser's role or the abuse itself;
2. Recalling false incidents, typology, or pattern of abuse.
Double whammy of gaslighting and confabulation encourages disorientation, dissociation, and formation of false memories, some of them compensatory (confabulations).
Confabulation is a memory error defined as the production of fabricated, distorted, or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intention to deceive.
False memory refers to cases in which people remember events differently from the way they happened or, in the most dramatic case, remember events that never happened at all.
False memories can be very vivid and held with high confidence, and it can be difficult to convince someone that the memory in question is wrong.
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