Sunday, August 26, 2007

Narcissism's Delusions of Grandeur

Normal people do have fantasies. But they distinguish fantasy form reality.

What's more, normal people's fantasies do not come between them and themselves. In other words, their fantasies do not violate the normal healthy relationship between a person and his or her self. Only narcissists bust that relationship by replacing their relationship with their true self with a relationship to a false image of themselves that they create by art.

Normal people's fantasies take the form of narratives (stories) about what they would like to do. They are fantasies in which the dreamer dreams of doing something great.

Dreams of DOING SOMETHING great.

Narcissists have no such fantasies. As Joanna Ashumn observes ...

Narcissists don't see themselves doing anything except being adored, and they don't see anyone else doing anything except adoring them.

Hence the narcissist before a crowd sees the polite applause as the thunderous applause of a general outpouring of exceptional love and admiration for him.

Twisted perceptions. Like a child playing pretend that he is Superman and basking in the glow of worldwide glory. The narcissist just edits reality on the fly to create this work of art in his head.

Create is the wrong word for it, because you'll notice that this work of art isn't original: it's plagiarized from reality - altered-at-will reality. Reality altered on the fly by warping perceptions on the fly.

Here is another example, one that shows how far into denial this can go, from my book What Makes Narcissists Tick:

I know of one narcissist whose name was a byword in his hometown for never recognizing anyone he knew. Whenever he returned and was seen in a restaurant or bar, people formed an audience to make laughingstock of him. They knew an audience put him into a state of (narcissistic) bliss.

Like a drunken performer who loses his head in the glow of an audience, he would really try to show off how clever and grand he was. One by one, people would take turns coming up to talk with him. "Do you remember me, Chuck?" Chuck assured him that he did. After a minute of the requisite small talk about job and family, that person would ask Chuck if he remembered some shared experience in their past. Chuck assured him that he did.

Then the person would start reminiscing about it. "Do you remember old man Peterson then . . . ?" Yes, Chuck remembered and roared with laughter about this supposedly funny detail. His audience went wild, laughing at, not with, him because old man Peterson had nothing to do with the event. But Chuck was oblivious to everything but the attention he was getting.

"Do you remember me then going to . . . ?"


After a few minutes of thus suckering Chuck into hanging himself by trying to fake it came the denouement. "Hmm. Do you really know who I am, Chuck?" Chuck assured him that he did.

A minute later, the coup de grace. "I don't think you know who I am, Chuck. You sure? What's my name?"

Chuck's mouth would open wide and begin to form various words, intently studying the other man's mouth. It didn't work. So then he would mouth the first syllables of names in long, drawn out strains, slurring from to the next while his contorted facial expression and bodily pose desperately begged that man to help him. He sounded like a baby experimenting with his mouth before he can talk.

Needless to say, the roof raised with laughter, people laughing so hard they were in tears and had to bend over and hold their stomachs.

But there was no way to make Chuck know that he was being laughed at! He just laughed along, pretending he had (intentionally) said something funny. So, he never learned. He never recognized any of these people, and he never quit coming back for more of all that sweet, sweet, sweet attention.

By the way, a narcissist has conspicuous problems recognizing people because he or she never notices a mere mirror they are just checking themselves out in. But that's beside the point here. The point is that this is how far a narcissist will go to unknow the truth about what people think of him. This is how far he'll go to edit reality on the fly: he will imagine that all those people are laughing with him at some joke he imagines that he is trying to make.

WARNING: the tangled contortions of narcissistic antilogic and illogic may cause gymnastic injuries to a brain that thinks straight, so be sure to warm up and stretch out properly before trying to follow the twisted course of logic through a narcissist's twisted brain :)

As Freud said of narcissists, these people act like they're in love with themselves. And they are in love with an ideal image of themselves -- or they want you to be in love with their pretend self, it's hard to tell just what's going on.

Ashmun emphasises that they want their pretend self to be the one seen and loved. She notes that this isn't the same as thinking it's their real self.

Say what? Well get this for an example of how a narcissist thinks ...

The most dramatic example I can think of is from John Cheever's journals. Throughout his life he had pursued surreptitious homosexual activities, being transiently infatuated with young men who reminded him of himself in his youth, while also living in a superficially settled way as a married family man, a respected writer with an enviable suburban life, breeding pedigreed dogs and serving on the vestry of the Episcopal church. When his secret life (going to New York City for a few days every now and then to pick up sailors and other beautiful boys for brief flings) came to scandalous light, his family sought to reassure him by telling him that they'd known about his homosexual activities for years. Now, a normal person would be ashamed and embarrassed but also relieved and grateful that scandal, not to mention chronic emotional and marital infidelity, had not caused his wife and children to reject and abandon him -- but not the narcissist! Oh, no, Cheever was enraged that they would ever have thought such a thing of him -- if they really loved him, they'd have bought his artificial "country squire" persona: they would have seen him as he wished to be seen.

In other words, a narcissist wants you to believe known lies for him! Which amounts to wanting you to delude yourself for him. Which amounts to not caring what you REALLY believe, but insisting rather that you just play along with his lies, pretending that these lies are true.

That's exactly like a three-year-old playing pretend. She throws a fit insisting that YOU PLAY TOO.

Behind the Looking Glass there in the Land of Pretend, the real world has melted away. Narcissists remain in that mental mode their whole lives.

As Ashmun says, "They don't see these images [fantasies about themselves] as potentials that they may some day be able to live out, if they get lucky or everything goes right: they see these pictures as the real way they want to be seen right now ...."

Therefore, like John Cheever, the narcissist's family mustn't know the truth about him or her. They are being bad by not getting behind the Looking Glass there in the Land of Pretend where it ain't true. He gets mad at them for living in reality instead.

Just like a three-year-old gets mad at her playmates when they don't feel like playing pretend.

So, malignant narcissism ain't just being full of yourself. It's being seriously twisted.

If this doesn't describe your "N," then maybe he or she is just full of themselves and not a malignant narcissist. If so, hold your fire and be glad to learn that. Be very glad to learn it. Be very, very glad to learn it.

Because people who are just full of themselves can be communicated with.

Whereas malignant narcissists are but ghosts. The ghosts of people somewhere else. People not in this world or of it. People in some other world.

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At 8:26 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

I can really relate to the bit where you say the N wants you to delude yourself to fit in with his lies or delusions about himself.

This happens with me. My N makes a joke on what I consider to be a serious matter. When I comment I don't think it's funny or a joke, he gets angry and sulks. At one time, I decided to explain why I didn't think it was funny by saying that to laugh at something I found very serious would be to compromise my value or my belief. I feel that if I laugh at your comment, for your benefit only, I'm compromising myself.

When I got no response, I asked if he understood what I meant. The response was, 'no'. So I asked him if he could identify a belief or a value he has. When he still said he had no idea what I meant, I walked away.

He continued to sulk for the rest of the day.

Oh well {shrugs} you can't shove the water down the horses throat.

(What he wanted me to make a joke of was the element of fear he introduces into the family unit, in particular, the fear he may have instilled in our daughter. I refused to joke about something as serious as that.)

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The narcissist CAN be rather amusing when you aren't too intimately involved with it. One narcissist I used to know believed she was a brilliant scientist who was destined to change the world as we know it into a technological spiritual utopia, or something like that.

The narcissist had an elaborate fantasy life in which extra-terrestrials had been visiting her since childhood because they needed to collaborate with her scientifically. Now, this person didn't so much as posess an undergrad degree in science and when she tried majoring in physics, failed miserably. But, still, ETs needed HER. Not Stephen Hawking. Not NASA scientists. Her.

She also had channeled a disembodied entity for several years gaining a devoted band of New Age nitwits who had to jump to her every command, lest she refuse to bless them with more moronic blather.

If confronted with evidence of her reality, like the fact that she stayed up studying all night for a physics exam and ended up with the same grade I got without studying, she flipped. Big temper tantrums were de rigeur for her.

I wasn't one of her real victims, though. The people she really worked her shit on were her unfortunate significant others and children. For them it's probably no laughing matter.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also like to give an example on this one as a contribution to the topic.
That girlfriend who left me when my mother died, told me early on in our relationship she was an artist-painter who did four years arts-college on the best art-schools in Holland.
She told me she did 2 years on an academie in Utrecht where she got so frustrated about the quality of the teachers and classes that, she quite there and went to the famous Rietveld-academie in Amsterdam. But also there she got fed up with the teachers and quality of lessons. Just before the end-exames in the fourth year she decided to quite. She just felt the diplome was not usefull to her anyway for an artistic career with her talent. This is what she told me.
I thought it was a bit stupid to stop just before the end of four years studying but didn't pay attention to it that much then and had no reason to not believing this story. Why should anyone invent such a story?
Later on we went to musea quite often cause I like art and ofcourse she did I believed, also regarding her background.
But I started to notice she often critisised the art she saw and never had the reaction on a good work of art I had. Chagall, Van Gogh and others she mentioned as childswork that she could not understand was hanging in a museum.
She could do something like that much better she said as she only would.
I discussed and argumented about this with her only to find she went irritated and started spoiling teh day with her grunch and attitude.
I started to understand her difficulties at collega a bit more..
Years later I spoke to a men who knew her very well at the time she went to this academies and he told me a quite differant story.
She started indeed in Utrecht and passed the first propadeuse-year. The second year she failed and decided to do this second year over again on the academie in Amsterdam. She failed again and for the third time did the second year till they strongly adviced her to stop for she wouldn't passe this time also.
Quite a differant story..
Now I know she is running a web-site presenting herself as an respected and succesfull artist.
The fantasie goes on and there was- and is no reality-testing which can make her believe otherwise.
No lack of succes, no truth, nothing.
And still she lies and people believe her and admire her.
Why shouldn't they?
And, as you mention well Kathy, why should anuone believe me?

greetings, Gerard


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