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Narcissist: Confabulates, Gaslights, Or Lies?

Uploaded 8/26/2023, approx. 20 minute read

Narcissists often make you doubt your own sanity, your hold on reality, your perception of what is true and what is not.

But does this amount to gaslighting?

Is it the same as gaslighting?

Narcissists often tell you things that are expressly untrue, counterfactual, fly in the face of everything you know and most other people know.

And yet, do narcissists lie?

Narcissists also insist on an autobiography that is largely made of invented material trying to bridge gaps in memory.

Are these inventions, narratives, pieces of fiction? Are these lies? Are these deceptions self-deception or other deceptions?

And do they involve gaslighting?

This is the topic of today's video.


When I say he, it applies to she, of course, half of all narcissists, women, and it applies to all settings, intimate relationships, marriages, family, friendships, the church, football club, you name it, the army, you name it.

So the narcissist relates to other people.

The narcissist maintains interpersonal relationships by utilizing the shared fantasy.

That's the way he interacts with the world.

And yes, that's the exclusive way he interacts with the world because narcissism is a fantasy defense.

Let me provide you with a few distinguishing marks, a few distinguishing points, and then we will head on to the discussion itself.

Gaslighting is always premeditated. It's intentional. It is goal-oriented. It is the aim is to secure some goal and it involves an asymmetry of power.

The person gaslit is somehow weaker, more helpless, less resourceful than the gaslighter.

Knowing this line knowingly, deliberately, intentionally with premeditation, making a statement that the liar knows is untrue.

Now in both gaslighting and in lying or deception, the person who commits these misbehaviors is aware of the distinction between fantasy and reality. He is firmly grounded in reality. He knows what he's saying is untrue, is counterfactual, is wrong.

And yet he uses these techniques to manipulate his human environment and to secure goals.

And so this is the critical differential diagnosis.

If you know, if you can tell the difference between reality and fantasy and you still gaslight and you still lie and you still deceive, you're a psychopath because narcissists cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

Consequently, narcissists never gaslight and very rarely lie. They lie, you know, like everyone else, white lies and so on. They never lie as a strategy. These are psychopathic strategies.

Narcissists are demented. They can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy. They're on the cusp of psychosis.

That's not some bad name. That's autocand lying and they don't do this. They just lapse into fantasy. They elope. They vanish from reality and they do it so often that 90 percent of their lives are composed of these kind of fantasies.


So today I'm going to discuss a mechanism in narcissism known as confabulation, which superficially resembles gaslighting and lying but is not.

But before we go there, let me once and for all clarify the controversy about dissociation and disassociation.

Please listen well and please visit the website that I'm about to recommend. That is the official repository of all terminology in psychology.

And if a certain word is not there, there's no such word, period. And anyone who uses it is ignorant, profoundly ignorant of psychology and the subject matter.

A charlatan is anyone who claims expertise in a field that is not his.

So if you're a physicist and you discuss theology or if you're a neuroscientist and you discuss psychology, you are taking the risk of being considered a charlatan.

Now more to the point, there is no such word as disassociation. Only people who are profoundly ignorant of psychology would use this word.

You don't have to believe me. I suggest that you go online to the APA dictionary, American Psychological Association Dictionary. Type the word disassociation. See what you get. Let me help you.

No such word exists.

And indeed, no such word exists in psychology.

Case closed.

Let's move on.


Today we are going to discuss another word, much disputed, confabulation.

Now this word does exist in psychology, but it has had a long and convoluted history.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and many other books on personality disorders. I'm also a former visiting professor of psychology. And I'm on the faculty of SIAMs.

Okay, confabulation.

Confabulation, as I said, has a long history. It was first described in psychotic disorders, then in dementia. And finally, Elisabeth Loftus and others have extended the use of the word confabulation to describe any lapse of memory which is compensated for by inventing scenarios.

So any situation where there's a memory gap, where you forget something, and then you invent a story or a narrative to bridge the memory gap, to somehow overcome it.

We'll discuss it a bit later.

Let's start with the APA dictionary, American Psychological Association dictionary, the authoritative body of terminology in our field, the field of psychology.

Confabulation, the dictionary says, the falsification of memory in which gaps in recall are filled by fabrications that the individual accepts as fact.

It is not typically considered to be a conscious attempt to deceive others.

You hear that?

Narcissists confabulate. They're not trying to deceive you. They're not gaslighting you.

Psychopaths do.

So confabulation occurs most frequently in Cossackoff syndrome, alcohol damage to the brain, and to a lesser extent in other conditions associated with neurologically based amnesia, such as Alzheimer's disease.

In forensic context, says the dictionary, eyewitnesses may resort to confabulation if they feel pressured to recall more information than they can remember.

So people confabulate, even healthy people, even normal people, when expectations are that they should remember something and they can't, some people, most people actually, would confabulate.

Confabulation is the narcissist's attempt to bridge gaps in his memory, dissociative gaps, dissociation, dissociative gaps. He attempts to bridge these gaps by constructing scenarios of what is most likely to have happened.

He remembers point A in time and he remembers point C in time, but there's something missing between A and C. And then he asked himself, what possibly could have happened? What most plausibly has happened? And what is the most probable scenario or narrative or script which would link point A in time with point C in time?

And then he comes up with point B. And point B is the confabulated scenario of the confabulation.

It is a theory, confabulation is a theory of missing time.

But the narcissist believes that the theory, the confabulation is real and true.

Now there are two reasons for that.

First of all, confabulation by its nature is self deceiving, even in healthy, normal people.

And that's why many witnesses insist on the witness stand, counterfactually, in defiance of the facts.

They insist, but I've seen it, I'm sure I've seen it, but you couldn't have seen it.

Yeah, but I'm sure I've seen it.

So this is a feature of confabulation. It's very convincing. It's a kind of self suggestion, hypnotic state, if you wish.

This is especially true in mentally ill people with psychotic disorders, dementia, and so on and so forth. These people are unable to compare the confabulation to reality because they're divorced from reality.

And that applies, of course, to a logical send to the narcissist.

This is not happening. This is going back.

The narcissist and the borderline are on the cusp of psychosis.

So the narcissist is unable to tell the difference between reality and confabulation.

As far as he's concerned, everything that is happening inside his head has a truth value. Everything, all the internal objects, they are real.

He doesn't recognize the existence of external objects.

For example, you. He interacts with representations of the world in his own mind. So it's very difficult for him to say, well, you know what, you're right. This is confabulation. That's not reality.

He can't do that. He can't do that because he has what we call impaired reality testing.


But this is the second reason, much, much more powerful.

The real reason why narcissists would insist that their confabulations are true and real.

Now before I proceed, confabulation is not gaslighting. Gaslighting is intentional, premeditated, involves a gradient of power, a symmetry of power and is goal oriented.

In short, gaslighting is exclusively psychopathic. Narcissists do not gaslight. They confabulate.

And narcissists believe their own confabulation and would have a fight with you if you challenge the confabulation, they would prove to you in a million ways that the confabulation is real, has always been real and has never been invented. That this is just a form of memory. Their confabulation is a form of memory.

And by challenging their memory, you're invalidating them. They become really, really pissed off and aggressive.

So narcissists protect their confabulations, defend the confabulations because their confabulation is the last remaining thread connecting them to reality.

Event B, which is totally confabulated, made made of whole cloth, a total invention, scenario, speculation. Event B is the only thing connecting the narcissist to event A and event C.

If you were to scissor or to cut event B, the narcissist would remain adrift and float in a sea of amnesia that is terrifying.

Narcissist protects his own integrity and his own ability to function by defending ferociously the veracity and factuality of his confabulations.


But another reason to do this is because the narcissist considers himself infallible, an omniscient. He never makes mistakes and he knows everything. He's a know-all. He's godlike. He possesses the entire knowledge of mankind and he never makes mistakes.

So because it is the narcissist who came up with the confabulation, the confabulation can never be mistaken. And the confabulation is informed by the narcissist's grandiosity by his self-imputed omniscience.

The narcissist says, "I know everything there is to know, so the confabulation must be true. I never make mistakes, so the confabulation must be real."

Defending the confabulation against challenges, defending the confabulation from being undermined, contradicted, defending the confabulation from any disagreement is a way to defend and isolate the narcissist's grandiosity from external attacks.

It's not about the confabulation. It's about the narcissist's self-image and self-perception as perfect and divine.

The narcissist confabulates, then he says the confabulation is real because he can't tell apart reality from internal processes.

And then having proclaimed, having promulgated the confabulation as real, the narcissist then remains committed to the reality, factuality and veracity of the confabulation and would fight you tooth and claw and nail to, if you were to challenge the confabulation because his grandiosity is invested in it.

If he is wrong, if he's proven wrong about the confabulation, then he is not omniscient. Then he is fallible. Then he is capable of making mistakes and he doesn't know everything.

Then they would destroy him.

It would constitute narcissistic injury or if it is done in public mortification.

So the confabulation is the narcissist emotionally invests in the confabulation.

He affects it.

To a large extent, the narcissist's false self is a confabulation writ large.

The narcissist's confabulation, confabulations are always fantastic.

They involve a fantasy defense.

The shared fantasy is a confabulation as well.

Confabulation may well be described as the organizing principle of pathological narcissism.

Confabulation in narcissism is a cover for dissociation.

Dissociation is an imitation, perfection.

If you dissociate, you are not perfect.

If your memory is discontinuous and disjointed, then you are not omniscient and you are prone to mistakes and failures and wrong judgments.

So the narcissist has to deny his dissociation because dissociation is narcissistically injurious.

To admit that he is dissociating is to admit that he is mentally ill or that he is imperfect or that he is fallible or that he is less omniscient, less than godlike.

He can't do that.

He can never admit to his frailty and shortcomings and imperfections.

Never.

So he uses confabulation to cover for the dissociation, to avoid narcissistic injury, to allay and counter the challenges to his sense of superiority and omnipotence and omniscience and so on and so forth.

Dissociation is a major tool in self-deception.

Self-deception is the hallmark of pathological narcissism.

The narcissist also desperately tries to make sense, he's trying to make sense of a chaotic disjointed world.

The narcissist samples the world.

He has like samples and then he's trying to connect the samples with a thread of confabulation.

It's like he has beads, all kinds of beads and he's trying to make a necklace.

Necklace by threading the beads on a confabulation.

So you see the importance of the confabulation.

Confabulation holds the beads together.

Take away the confabulation, the beads will scatter and there will not be a necklace of grandiosity.


The second function of confabulation is to bridge the gap between immutable internal and immutable external objects.

External objects such as you, the narcissist's intimate partner or family member or friend or colleague or whatever, external objects change all the time.

They grow, they evolve, they acquire new friends, external objects travel, make decisions, get jobs, get fired, move, relocate.

External objects are kaleidoscopic.

They can be controlled, they can be pinned down like a butterfly.

They are alive.

Life is dynamics.

Dynamics is change.

Change is transformation.

Representation is disorientation and insecurity and lack of object constancy.

It terrifies the narcissist.

Your autonomy and independence and agency terrify the narcissist.

Terrify, like in horror, is horrified.

And the confabulation intends to connect you, the ever changing external objects with your representation in the narcissist's mind, which is the immutable, unchanging, fixed, idealized, usually internal object.

Here's one object inside the narcissist's mind that never changes, is always amenable to the narcissist's edicts and wishes and needs.

And here's an external object represented by this external object that constantly diverges and deviates from the internal object.

One way to bridge this gap is coercive snapshotting.

I discuss it in other videos.

The other way is confabulation.

By confabulating about you, about the external world, about his internal objects, by constructing a narrative or a story or a piece of fiction where all of you fit together, all of you conform to each other, the external object to the internal object, the internal object to the narcissist, etc.

Your own one big happy family inside a storyline, a script, which is counterfactual.

It flies in the face of reality.

But the confabulation is the glue that holds everything together.

It produces a fake sense of object constancy.

It reduces, mitigates, amelioratesabandonmentanxiety, separation, insecurity, and it creates an ambience of a secure base maternal like a mother.

So confabulation is the dynamic, the mechanism through which the narcissist reconciles the external object with the internal object, thereby generating a sense of stability and safety that allows him to form object constancy and reduces his anxieties.

Confabulation therefore is a major part of the shared fantasy.

And finally, the third function of the confabulation is to connect the present to the past.

In the present, the narcissist has an internal object.

And by the way, to be clear, the shared fantasy applies to all the narcissist's relationships with other people, all workplace, church, family, friends, intimate relationships, you name it.

Shared fantasy is the way the narcissist interacts with the world.

It's his mode of communication.

He channels his narcissism through the shared fantasy in his interpersonal relationships.

And yes, he and she are interchangeable.

Half of all narcissists are women.

Now, all people, the narcissist's friends, the narcissist's family members, the narcissist's intimate partner, narcissist's wife, even the narcissist's children, they're all converted into maternal figures within a shared fantasy.

And so the narcissist needs to bridge, to connect his present with multiple maternal objects and maternal figures with the past, where he had only one maternal object, the real mother, the biological mother.

Confabulation does this.

Confabulation falsifies reality, helps the narcissist to view other people as maternal objects.

Confabulation is the narcissist's way of converting you into a mother.

The narcissist lies to himself, deceives himself, speculates on your nature, tells himself that you are actually a mother substitute.

And this can be done only via confabulation, of course, because it's wrong. It's not true. It's not real.

So here's another way confabulation enables the shared fantasy, empowers the narcissist within the shared fantasy and allocates roles to people in the narcissist's life.

As you can see, confabulation is not a minor issue. It's not just when the narcissist tells what is erroneously perceived as lies or gaslighting. It's not just that. It's not just when the narcissist insists on a version of events and a version of facts that there's nothing to do with reality. It's not only that, but confabulation fulfills critical psychodynamic functions in the economy of the narcissist's mind.

And if he had one, if he were to have one, his soul.


Okay, Shoshanim, this lecture has not been confabulated. It corresponds 100% to reality. And you would do well to listen to it because it would render the narcissist more comprehensible. And more manageable, one should rule.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

Narcissist: Confabulations, Lies

Confabulation is a common human trait, but the distinction between reality and fantasy is never lost. However, the narcissist's very self is a piece of fiction, concocted to fend off hurt and pain and to nurture the narcissist's grandiosity. The narcissist fails in his reality test and is unable to distinguish the actual from the imagined, the real from the fantasized. The narcissist's countenance, no disagreement, no alternative points of view, no criticism. To him, his confabulation is reality.


Narcissist's Routines

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Narcissist's Language as Weapon

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Narcissist: Your Pain is his Healing, Your Crucifixion - His Resurrection

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Old-age Narcissist

Narcissists age without grace, unable to accept their fallibility and mortality. They suffer from mental progeria, aging prematurely and finding themselves in a time warp. The longer they live, the more average they become, and the wider the gulf between their pretensions and accomplishments. Few narcissists save for rainy days, and those who succeed in their vocation end up bitterly alone, having squandered the love of family, offspring, and mates.


Narcissistic, Passive-aggressive Organizations and Bureaucracies

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Why We Love to Hate Celebrities (Interview in Superinteressante Magazine in Brazil)

Celebrities serve as mythical narratives and blank screens for fans to project their emotions onto. When celebrities deviate from these roles, it can provoke rage from fans. Celebrities who are narcissists use their false self to elicit constant attention and interest, and celebrity itself is a variant of narcissism.


Why Narcissists Love Borderline Women and Why They Hate Them Back

Narcissistic mortification is a challenge to the false self, which crumbles and is unable to maintain defenses and pretensions. Narcissists use two strategies to restore some cohesiveness to the self: deflated and inflated narcissist. Narcissists engage in mortification, a form of self-mutilation, to feel alive and free from commitment to their false self. Narcissists seek out borderline women to mortify them and experience the unresolved primary conflict with their mother.

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