Is Fantasy Good for You? Fantasy vs. Lies vs. Delusion vs. Confabulation

Uploaded 8/20/2022, approx. 23 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, who else, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love and of Narcissism Revisited, and I am also a professor of psychology for reasons which shall remain unknown.

Today's topic is fantasy.

Why do we need fantasies? What role do they play in mental life? And how do some fantasies become malignant and all-consuming?

And we are going to divide the lecture to an introduction, and then those of you who are not faint at heart will continue to the rest of it.

Many of the things I'm going to tell you today are counterintuitive, some of them may shock you and surprise you. And is this not the aim of coming to listen to my channel?

So let us deal with writing.

I believe that science, enlightenment, progressivism, liberalism are failed experiments. They have led us to unsavory outcomes. They have led us to a nuclear extinction, potentially. They have definitely led us to gender wars. They have led us to world wars. They have led us to fascism and Nazism and other isms, communism and so on and so forth. It didn't go well on this.

Science itself, it brought us big blessings, modern medicine, the eradication or control of famine on the one hand, but on the other hand, it had many, many negative effects. Coupled with money and capitalism, this has been a total failure.

And now what we are all doing is we are reverting to the Middle Ages. The enlightenment and the scientific age were controlled by the reality principle. The Middle Ages were controlled by the principle of fantasy. The Middle Ages were deeply embedded in and reified the very concept of fantasy.

It was a fantastic age where people believed in fantasies, lived in fantasies and for fantasies, sacrificed their lives for fantasy and codified fantasies into, for example, religions.

So we are back big time to the age of fantasy.

But we should make a distinction between fantasies, lies, delusions and confabulations. And who else is better equipped and better positioned to help you with this than Sam Vaknin.

Let's start with fantasy.

Fantasy is about one's oneself. Fantasy rarely applies to reality. That's why it's called fantasy. It creates an impaired reality testing. It is a withdrawal from reality. In a way, it's a rejection of life.

And fantasy casts the fantasizer in a specific role and then impairs or damages the fantasizer's ability to properly gauge himself.

There is a wrong self-perception, a wrong self-image in fantasy. Fantasy creates a safe space within a firewall and is focused on the person doing the fantasy.

This is distinct from delusions. Clinically and psychodynamically, fantasy is a delusion. It is a psychological defense mechanism that can go awry and become a delusion.

But delusions are outward oriented. Delusions pertain and relate and discuss the world. We become delusional when it comes to other people, to circumstances, to institutions, to history. We become delusional about the outside, about externalities, about others, about objects out there. We become fantastic.

We adopt fantasy when it comes to ourselves.

So one could say that a delusion is an outward directed fantasy, a public facing fantasy, whereas a fantasy is an inward process.

These two should be distinguished from lies and confabulations. Lies are deliberate distortions of information about reality intended to elicit favorable outcomes. In other words, lies are forms of manipulation and control.

Gaslighting is a subspecies of lying. Narcissists engage in fantasy, not in lying and not in gaslighting. Psychopaths engage in lying, pathological lying, and gaslighting as a variant of lying.

So lying is about manipulating someone else to do your bidding, about extracting some benefit from someone else. It's about changing the environment. Fantasy is about changing your self-perception.

A delusion is about changing your perception of reality. They're both perception-centered. Lyingcentered.

Lying is about changing actual reality. And it should be distinguished from confabulation. Confabulation is a clinical mechanism which is very common in schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders and also among narcissists.

One more reason to consider narcissism a form of psychotic disorder, a form of psychosis. Confabulation is a desperate attempt to bridge memory gaps, dissociative gaps.

The person who engages in confabulation, the confabulator, tries to make sense of his lack of memory, of his amnesia. And he creates plausible, probable, likely scenarios as to what might have happened. And then he grows to believe in these scenarios. He adopts them as reality.

So confabulation is simply creating fiction intended to bridge memory gaps and then getting emotionally invested in the fiction as if it were reality.

Okay, what about lies before we go into fantasy?

Because many people would tell you that many people would have it that fantasy is actually a lie and that all these delusions, confabulation are forms of lie. People would say, what do I care? What is the psychodynamic process? I care about the outcome and the outcome is that I'm getting wrong information.

There is a pragmatic, amoral reason to never lie. When we deceive other people, we cause them to interact with our deception, not with us and not with reality. By deceiving other people, we divert their resources and their energy and their contributions into the wrong place. When we deceive, we cause people to interact with our deception. We therefore keep getting the wrong inaccurate information from other people and we end up deceiving ourselves.

This does not happen in fantasy. I repeat, fantasy is not about other people, is not about reality, does not involve deception, is not a form of lie. Fantasy is simply reframing. It's a defense mechanism intended to render reality in one's own internal reality, palatable, acceptable, to allow the fantasizer to countenance his essence and the essence of his interactions with the world.

There are two types of fantasy, person-centered fantasy, fantasy centered around another person, another human being, and process-centered fantasy.

As you listen to the rest of this video, I will give you a full treatment of this distinction. This taxonomy, this classification between person-centered and process-centered is very similar to the way we classify addictions. We have substance-centered addictions, for example, alcoholism or drug addiction, and we have process-centered addictions, for example, love addiction or sex addiction.

So similarly, we have person-centered and process-centered fantasies.

The person, a dissenter of a person-centered fantasy, the individual, the human being upon whom the fantasizer fantasizes is very similar to the addictive substance at the core of a substance-centered fantasy.

To remind you, there are person-centered fantasies and process-centered fantasies exactly the same way there are substance-centered fantasies versus process-centered fantasies. So you could easily say that the person at the core of the person-centered fantasy is exactly like the substance at the core of the substance-centered fantasy.

We are talking about an addiction, addiction to the person. You could be addicted to alcohol. You could be addicted to crack or heroin. You could be addicted to numerous substances.

You can also get addicted to another person, to an intimate partner, to a spouse, to a role model, to a boss, to a neighbor, to a lover. You can be addicted, and this addiction is in the form of a fantasy.

Now, generally speaking, process-centered fantasies revolve around a narrative, revolve around the story, a movie, a piece of fiction. Fantasy is focused on maintaining the coherence, the cohesion of the storyline, kind of safeguarding the narrative from external attacks and from internal cracks. Fantasy is focused on keeping the narrative alive.

And so one could say that a process-centered fantasy is much more healthy, much more viable than a person-centered fantasy.

In a person-centered fantasy, you depend on another person. For example, in borderline personality disorder, the fantasy is focused on the intimate partner. The intimate partner regulates and stabilizes the borderline patient, so she develops a fantasy about him or her.

But this fantasy is fickle, is fragile, is brittle. The intimate partner is a human being. He evolves, he changes, he goes away, he returns. He is not a fully controllable object.

The narcissist solves this issue by supplanting, replacing the real intimate partner out there with an internal object that represents the intimate partner.

But generally speaking, a fantasy that is focused on a human being, another human being, is unsafe because you can't control other people fully, even if and when you convert them to an internal object, as narcissists discover.

So it's safe to say, and it's correct to say, that process-centered fantasies are much healthier than person-centered fantasies.

But this is not always true. Not all process-centered fantasies are healthy.

Narcissists and psychopaths, for example, they are lazy, they're indolent, and they are lazy because of their fantasies. Their fantasies render them actually unable to pursue a goal in a way that involves effort. They don't persist and persevere in any career, in any line of action, in any decision they make. They are laid back kind of big Lebowski types, but not because of a philosophy of life, not because of an ideology, but they're laid back because of a fantasy.

So here we have a process-centered fantasy, a fantasy that revolves around the narrative and which has detrimental impacts on the ability of narcissists and psychopaths to engage with life, to accomplish things, to get further.

What are the fantasies that cause narcissists and psychopaths to be lazy?

Narcissists and psychopaths pursue shortcuts because they feel entitled, they feel grandiose, they feel they should be the recipients of recognition and awe and admiration and adulation, even if they have not commensurate accomplishments, even if they hadn't invested anything in studying or working or doing anything. They think that just by virtue of existing, just by virtue of being there, they deserve accolades and applause.

And this is of course the fantasy of entitlement or the fantasy of grandiosity. It is imbued with magical thinking. Fake it till you make it is kind of the ruling principle in these fantasies.

So this is an example of a process-centered fantasy which leads to bad, undesirable outcomes.

But of course, many other process-centered fantasies can lead to even more egregious results, can lead the person away from reality and into a never-never land, a lala land.

So narcissists, for example, are grandiose. Because they're grandiose, they hold everyone in contempt.

Grandiosity is a cognitive distortion, which is essentially a fantasy defense.

And then the narcissist is unable to engage with other people. Because he holds them, he regards them as inferior. And he needs to do so to uphold his process fantasy.

These are only two examples, laziness and contempt.

But I can give you a very, very long list of the outcomes of process fantasies when they go awry, when they go malignant, when they take over the personality.

So fantasy in general is a dangerous thing.

Whether it's person-based or process-based, it's still a dangerous thing. It's a pathology. It needs to be somehow treated, ameliorated, mitigated, contained. Fantasies are not fungible.

In other words, you can't replace one fantasy with another very easily and efficaciously. They are rigid. That's why fantasies are at the core of many mental health disorders and illnesses.

And so now I'm going to delve deep into why.

Why do we need fantasies? Why do we have fantasies?

And when we say we, I am using the word judiciously. Everyone engages in daydreaming. Daydreaming and fantasizing.

The difference between malignant fantasies, fantasy defenses writ large, for example, narcissism, and healthy people is that healthy people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. And they limit fantasies to specific times of the day or to specific number of hours or to specific locations. They indulge in fantasies, but they are in full control of the fantasy. The narcissist is controlled by his fantasy. He is subservient. He is submissive to the fantasy. And he cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

And now I invite you to take the grand tour of the fantasy palace with me, Sam Vaknin, the fantasy master.

Today, we are going to discuss fantasy.

Fantasy is a defense mechanism, psychological defense mechanism, like every other defense mechanism.

The aim of fantasy is to fend off reality, to change it, to reframe it, to prevent the inevitable pain and hurt and harm and sometimes agony that tag along with reality.

It is impossible to have any contact with reality without paying some kind of emotional price. And the price can be extreme, especially if the person is fragile, vulnerable, broken, or damaged.

And so fantasy is probably the strongest defense there is against reality, because what it does, it provides an alternative reality. It provides a refuge, a sanctuary, an imaginary place, a paracosm where one can live his or her life without having to resort to reality at all, a life of the mind, if you wish.

This is why I'm so dead set against the metaverse, because the metaverse is fantasy writ large, fantasy reified in technology, an extremely dangerous idea.

Any psychologist will tell you that fantasy is potentially addictive and attenuate. It impairs reality testing and self efficacy, the ability to function in reality in a way that will allow you to extract favorable outcomes from it.

But there are still many misconceptions and misunderstandings about fantasy, and I'm going to deal with one or two of them today.

I'm also going to disambiguate the very concept of fantasy and demonstrate to you that there are several types of fantasy and they should not be confused with each other.

But before we get to today's topic, a few service announcements as usual.

So to remind you, September 19th, September 25, free as in no payment, no fee, no charge, nada, ryan, nothing, clum, seminar in Romania, seven days of free scuba diving into cluster B personality disorders, and my new technique, my new treatment modality called therapy.

You will have, however, to travel to Toun or Sevevin, find accommodation and so on and so forth. If you're interested, write to me at sanvaknin at That's sanvaknin at

So this was service announcement number one. Service announcement number two, my old friend and colleague, Dr. Joanne Lachkar, the mother of the field of borderline narcissistic couple dynamics, the woman who had written the book, the seminal tome on the topic in the early 1980s. She just came out with a new book titled How to talk to an obsessive compulsive personality. It is a third in a series. Another book is titled how to talk to a narcissist. And the middle book is titled how to talk to a borderline.

Anyhow, the difference between this book and the previous two is you can download it for free. It's available for free through the International Psychotherapy Institute. It's available as an e-book.

And here's what the author has to say about her book.

The major thrust of this book is to help therapists, patients and others who interact not only with those who have a personality disorder like OCPD, but also for those living in an interpersonal world, for example, dealing with a disgruntled neighbor throughout these days, including the cases.

There are examples of how the specific communication styles of the language of empathology and the language of dialectics have applicability to the obsessive compulsive in order to meet and match their repetitive behaviors and paranoid anxiety regarding cleanliness and perfection. Highly recommended.

Head over to, and download the book How to talk to an obsessive compulsive personality by Joanne LaChaire. I posted a link, the download link on all my social media with exception of Instagram. I posted it on Facebook, on YouTube community, etc.

If you're really interested, you will have a way to find out.

And finally, one of my correspondence sent me a song, a poem, actually, and it's titled, No.

It was written by Lady Ki no Washika in Japan in the eighth century. That's a little before I was born. It's translated from the Japanese by Graham Wilson. And it's a very short poem and amazingly modern.

It says, it's not because I'm now too old, more wisened than you guess. If I say no, it's only because I fear that yes, would bring me nothing in the end, but a fiercer loneliness.

The book is included in, the poem is included in the book, 99 Poems in Translation, selected by Harold Pinter, Anthony Astbury, and Jeffrey Goddard. It was published by Grove, 1994.

Can you believe this song? It sounds like an absolutely postmodern woman in today's world, eighth century Japan, plus a charge.

The more it changes, the more it stays the same.

And now to fantasy. All fantasies, as I said, are psychological defenses, but we defend against something. What is this particular defense aimed at? What does it intend to buffer you from? What psychological defenses generally try to put some distance between you and reality, try to mold reality and change it in a way which would be palatable to you, will not harm you and hurt you and will not challenge hard-worn beliefs, values and convictions.

All fantasies are psychological defenses against an unbearable reality.

But where is this reality? And what kind of reality and what renders the world so intolerable, the threatening nature of the world?

Defenses and especially fantasy are kind of panic reactions.

It's the realization that reality is harmful and can be dangerous. Fantasy is no exception. It is intended to cope with threat.

In other words, in many ways, it's an anxiety reaction.

An undergirding all fantasies, underlying all fantasies, is a must of delusion. I'm fragile. I'm at risk of losing my mind. I'm falling apart at the seams. I'm an ideal victim of certain people or circumstances. I'm an unworthy person. I'm inadequate. I'm a bad object. I'm insufficient. I'm a failure. I'm a loser. I'm doomed to fail.

This is the must of delusion which gave rise to fantasy as a defense.

No one can survive with this kind of automatic negative thoughts. No one can regard himself as ugly, stupid, bad, unworthy, a failure, a loser, inadequate, a fragile, vulnerable, at risk of going crazy, falling apart, disintegrating. No one can cope with this avalanche of negativity without some kind of help.

And fantasy is the first aid of this kind of inner internal bad object.

So this must of delusion, because it's a delusion, it's counterfactual.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, we bring these sentences out to the surface and we demonstrate to the patient that they're all utterly wrong.

And yet many people live their entire lives exposed to this constant harangue and diatribe, internal, internalized kind of voice, disparaging, hateful, self-loathing, and they don't know how to cope with it.

They develop anxiety. They become depressive. Or they become aggressive and reactant, defiant and reckless.

And so the fantasy or the fantasy defense guarantee some kind of functioning at the expense of being in touch with this internal reality. The whole process is known as bad object internalization.

You've been told probably in childhood, probably by parental figures, parents, or by meaningful others, teachers, peers, you've been told that you're bad, inadequate, unworthy, and so on and so forth.

And then you chose to believe these words. You chose to internalize them. They became a voice or an introject inside your head.

And fantasy comes to the rescue. What gives rise to such self-negating and catastrophizing scenarios of precarity is usually these internalized voices. They become so internalized, so introjected, so integrated that they're hard to tell apart.

There's a total synthesis and you tend to regard these voices, these negative voices, as yours. You appropriate them.

Parental over-protectiveness or its opposite, parental neglect, bring on these voices.

Both types of caregiving are forms of misconduct. In both cases, we're talking about bad parents, dead parents, not good enough parents. And they imbue the child, they immerse the child in negativity.

And this yields an all-pervasive mistrust of life and of the very possibility of happiness and justice, patterned order and stable structure.

These voices challenge life itself. They cause you to reject life and to embrace inner death. You become dead inside.

These voices tell you that you're not worthy of love, happiness and life. You're not lovable.

And this gives rise to the fantasy defense.

There's a way to silence these voices, to transition from a reality where these voices are vehement and vociferous to transition from such a reality to another alternative reality, virtual reality, where these voices have no purview and to which they have no access.

And there are two types of fantasy, person-centered and process-centered. Fantasies are intended to provide safe spaces. They're intended to afford outlets for aggressive and self-destructive impulses involved in the civil war between the need to be seen, a form of grandiosity, and the internalized bad object that I've mentioned before.

I'm inadequate, I'm unworthy, I'm an imposter, I'm a failure.

So there are two forces and these two forces compete in every human being.

The need to be noticed, the need to be seen, the need to be attended to, the need to be appreciated, the need to be socially contextualized. This is the need to be seen, the need to be positioned relatively and absolutely. This is one need, one urge, I would even say a drive.

And on the other hand, the bad object, these disparaging voices that put you down, down, chastised, castigate, criticize you all the time.

And there's a battle, there's a civil war between the need to be seen and the need to feel like a bad object or the feeling that you're a bad object.

Because if you're a bad object, you don't deserve to be seen. How can one be grandiose enough to garner attention if one is unworthy, failure, loser, inadequate, and imposter?

So these two forces, these two internal forces are mutually exclusive. Either you're a bad object or you deserve attention. Either you are unworthy or you should be noticed. Either you're a failure, inadequate, insufficient, or you deserve recognition and appreciation. They can't go together. One of these voices must prevail in people with anxiety, anhedonia, dysphoria, and depression. The bad object voice prevails.

In all other people who are relatively healthy, the need to be seen prevails. This is the foundation of self-esteem and regulated sense of self-worth.

In Narcissus, the civil war is undecided. The bad object voice is very dominant. And to silence it, the Narcissus creates a fantasy of being seen.

He is not actually seen, but he creates a fantasy of being seen. He projects onto the world a facade, a false self, nor the attention goes to the false self, never to the Narcissus himself. All the attention goes to this piece of fiction, to this god-like structure.

So the Narcissus is never actually seen, never noticed, never attended to, never loved, never cared for. It's the false self that garners all this.

And so the Narcissus is a hybrid. The dominant voice is the bad object voice, as Adler had suggested in the 20s.

But the compensatory fantasy leads the Narcissus and many others around the Narcissus to believe that he is being copiously seen, perhaps too seen.

This regulation and identity disturbance are the outcomes of this inner strife, of this undecided battle, of this ongoing war.

When in touch with reality, these voices sometimes create coalitions. This is the most dangerous state because it leads to adverse outcomes.

I've mentioned one such coalition, Narcissism. It's where the bad object voice teams up with the need to be seen voice and somehow creates an illusion of being seen as a solution to the inner conflict, to the dissonance.

There are other coalitions possible, coalitions between these two competing voices. It's like a truce or a ceasefire.

But in each and every case, when such a coalition is formed, the outcomes are disastrous. For example, spectacular public and attention grabbing act of self-destruction. The act of self-destruction caters to the bad object voice because the bad object voice is self-hating, self-loathing, self-defeating and self-destructive. The bad object voice wants you dead.

So the self-destructive act caters to the wishes and the needs of the bad object voice.

But if it is done spectacularly in full view of the public and grabs attention, it satisfies the need to be seen as well. That's an example of a coalition between these two voices which leads to utter self-annihilation. Fantasies which revolve around another person.

These fantasies are common in intimate relationships. They are common in interpersonal interactions. Fantasies that are person-centered, centered around another person, inevitably dissolve into reality and therefore mayhem. Fantasies which are founded on a narrative or an impersonal process. Fantasies that are self-aggrandizing or even self-destructive, never dissolve, are never terminated or finished in any way. They're self-contained, they're well-regulated and they can go on forever, sometimes throughout the lifespan. They can last a whole lifetime.

So a therapeutic stage would be to transition the patient from a person-oriented fantasy to a process-oriented fantasy or a narrative-oriented fantasy.

Codependency, for example, in borderline personality disorders, they have person-oriented fantasies. Their fantasies are focused on the intimate partner and on the regulation that the intimate partner can provide. The intimate partner regulates emotions and moods of the borderline or of the codependent. This is a person-centered fantasy and as anyone who has been in a relationship with the borderline can tell you, it ends invariably, extremely badly.

So we need to transition people with borderline personality disorder, with codependent personality disorder and so on. People whose fantasies are centered on other people, narcissists even, we need to transition them into a narrative impersonal process-based fantasy.

Even if this fantasy is delusional and divorced from reality, it's still much better than a person-centered fantasy. What could be a process-centered fantasy?

Well, volunteering, social activism, virtue signaling, communal or pro-social activities, charitable activities, helping people, helping yourself, bettering yourself, studying something, starting a new profession, a new vocation or avocation, all these are process-centered fantasies and they are much more benign and benevolent than person-centered fantasy.

It's an extremely important therapeutic process.

If the patient is addicted to fantasy, cannot cope without fantasy, survives only owing to fantasies. It would behoove us as therapists to transition him to a narrative, to storyline, to a movie, to a piece of fiction where he can act in accordance with a strict, fantastic story or narrative.

Thank you for listening.

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