Category Archives: lies

Narcissistic Memory Lapses

I didn’t say that

I don’t remember that

That’s not how I remember it

I don’t think I said that

I wouldn’t say something like that

That didn’t happen

It wasn’t like that.

 

Mmm-hmm. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking narcissism came with a side helping of amnesia.

There are two separate things going on when a narcissistic individual say they can’t remember clearly what they (or you) said or did. One is their internal attempts at ordering their world so they are always the hero and everything is always golden. The other is gaslighting, a form of psychological, manipulative abuse where the abusive person imposes their reality on others.

Everything is Rosy

The problem with maintaining a narcissistic facade is its dual nature. You have to present your ideal image to the outside world and simultaneously maintain your own belief in that image on the inside. I think narcissists do this in part by filtering out information that they receive from the outside which contradicts the persona of perfection they have created. Sometimes this means they can let contradictory information slide out of their minds.

I do believe they actually forget things.

Psychologists have a name for the discomfort felt when we are confronted with evidence which contradicts our preferred view of things – cognitive dissonance. We also have a word for the tendency that people have to dismiss or ignore information that contradicts deeply held world views – confirmation bias. Unsurprisingly people with personality disorders have very low tolerance for dissonance and a strong tendency towards confirmation bias.

Cognitive dissonance is the troublesome state of flux where nothing you previously thought seems to be as firm and clear as it once was and you entertain the unsettling possibility that you were actually mistaken. It is astonishing how strongly people will fight dissonance, most people really struggle to sit with it and wait for the parts that are in flux to settle into a new configuration. The natural outcome of dissonance is a change in attitude, belief or behaviour. Highly creative people who are apt to reinvent themselves are good at this, most of us are not. People with rigidly structured and defended personalities are worst at managing dissonance. They generally reject anything that provokes the sensation. Narcissists have highly defended personalities.

In order to maintain the belief of their superiority they must reject any outside information that challenges this belief. This could be by attacking the source of the challenging information by discrediting it or the person who delivered it. Sometimes it could be by simply pretending the information was never received in the first place, until they actually forget it. After all we remember things we pay attention to, because they made a big enough impact or because they are repeated. If you cannot psychologically cope with hearing you have behaved in a hurtful, mean way you may well push it out of your mind rather than mull over it. Then you just don’t remember it occurred at all.

Thus the narcissist preserves their internal mental model of themselves as a great person. They literally cannot recall any incidents when they were not great.

This explains the weird and unsettling circular conversations that happen if you try to confront a narcissist about their behaviour. They can outright deny that they ever did or said anything upsetting with such conviction. Some are very good liars. Some have blanked the incident from their mind because it clashes head on with their self-belief. They have to maintain their rosy world view of themselves on the inside as well as the outside.

Gaslighting

This is a big topic and worthy of an entire post in itself so I will briefly explain what gaslighting is and how it links with narcissistic amnesia.

From the 1944 film Gaslight, the term gaslighting means using psychological manipulation to undermine a person’s sense of what is happening around them, physically or emotionally, is actually real. Gaslighting is all about planting a seed of doubt within a person’s mind. Did I remember that correctly? Am I oversensitive? Was that an accident? In the film an abusive husband turns down the gas lights in the family home, hides personal items and denies he is doing it to destabilise his wife and have her money signed over to himself.

Gaslighting is psychological guerrilla warfare as it occurs within your own mind. It is an abuse which occurs in close relationships built over time and couldn’t be perpetrated by a stranger. This is because for the seed of doubt to take root you have to value the abuser’s opinion. You have to take them seriously and believe they are trying to accurately report their experiences in order for you to then question your contrasting recollection. This is also what makes this form of abuse so devastating.

A narcissist will employ gaslighting, they will attempt to override your reality (how you recall, react, think and feel about an event) with their preferred reality. This may not be out of a deliberate desire to drive you insane. Gaslighting can be unconscious. If a narcissist is used to shoring up their self-belief by rejecting contradictory information as mentioned earlier, they will rebuff any external evidence that undermines their glorious image of themselves. If your memories and feelings about an incident open up the possibility that their image is wrong they will feel attacked. Then they reflexively start to undermine your version of events.

This can lead to absurd and disturbing extremes where the narcissistic person outright denies something that happened even when confronted with evidence. It is hard to underestimate how confusing and distressing this is if it happens repeatedly. If it happens regularly and repeatedly in your close relationships (spouse, parents etc) it can lead to a state of psychological collapse and depression as a person looses all faith in their own perception.

My MIL has many times said she doesn’t recall doing or saying hurtful and mean things. What is additionally upsetting is how my husband in an attempt to preserve a collective family narcissism (we are a good and successful family) will forget about my MIL’s nasty behaviour too. Nasty behaviour which he had even written about in his journal, and then forgotten because it clashed with his family-image.

This has left me as one voice against two, one much closer than the original offender. Both trying to pretend that the narcissistic abuse isn’t happening. Both not remembering things I know full well happened.

There comes a point where you have to leave this madness. I have learned to hold firmly and securely onto my own memories and perceptions. There is no point trying to argue with narcissists who forget things. They will never believe you, they will never remember correctly or admit they were wrong. If their defences are so strong they can erase entire chunks of their lived experience do you really think you have some magic power that will persuade them to reinstate that soul-crushing, self-love shattering bit of information? Come off it. You’re on your own. And that is OK. By fully accepting your aloneness in the face of their selective memory lapses, you cannot be manipulated by them. This takes strength, I’m not denying that, but it can be done.

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Filed under Controlling behaviour, defence mechanism, delusion, Denial, Effects of NPD on others, emotions, Examples of narcissistic behaviour, How NPD MIL affects a marriage, lies, Manipulations

Lies, Damn Lies and Delusion

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Lie – to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive

Pathological Lying – long history (maybe lifelong history) of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned

Confabulation – to fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory

Delusion – a belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder

 

I posed myself a question in response to my MILs flat out denial that she had a) sent any play money to us at Christmas (see post “So you survived Christmas…”) b) had intended it to be malicious and had in fact c) sent it to our youngest child but had to put all of our names on the parcel because we had made it so difficult for her to send the children more than one gift despite having sent that child more than one gift already. You’ll notice how these answers contradict each other.

The question was “does MIL know she is lying”?

YES! you all shout, but the really scary answer is probably no, she doesn’t.

It creeps me out to write about this because it genuinely is very scary for me to have someone in my social or familial circle who is so out of touch with most people’s version of reality. I am strongly empathic and can in most circumstances easily put myself in another person’s shoes, feel their feelings and see their perspective. Even if I disagree strongly with their views on something I can still see how their life experiences have led them to hold the position they have. Sometimes it is a bit trickier, some people are harder to figure out as they are very reserved and reveal little of their deeper feelings. And then occasionally you meet someone who is a mindfucker.

My definition of a mindfucker, excuse my French, is a person so incomprehensible that trying to put yourself in their shoes actually causes you psychological harm. The MIL is one of them.

My therapist describes it more politely as “off the Bell Curve”. Here is a Bell Curve.

blank bell curve

 

I love the whole Bell Curve thing, I first learnt about it doing my A Level maths course aged 17. Almost all measurable characteristics in nature produce this graph; the length of blades of grass in your lawn, the heights of 4 year old kids, the weights of new born puppies, the number of cakes you have eaten this year and so on. Most people/things cluster symmetrically around an average or mean value in the middle and the numbers of people/things who have significantly more or less of the measured characteristic fall away from this peak values either side. IQ is the classic example of a characteristic which produces a bell shaped curve when measured in people.

If you look at the picture you notice the areas right out at the edges labelled with the purple arrows? Those are the places where the extremes are found, I am actually at the far right of the bell curve for female height as I am 5 foot 10 inches which is taller than the average height for a man in the UK. But that doesn’t make me abnormal, I’m within the “normal” range (i.e. on the bell curve) just not in the “average” range, in the top 2% range instead.

My MILs behavioural responses are off the bell curve, so unusual that they are not found in almost everyone else in the population, beyond the 2%. That is pretty much the definition of a personality disorder.

Lying

So how does that link in with her lying? Let’s review some indisputable facts:

My MIL sent a parcel wrapped in Christmas paper to us at Christmas with a label on it “to husband, FCW, child 1, child 2” inside was play money, plastic coins and fake notes.

She sent each child a gift, some books each and a joint present labelled as such.

We had requested that all family members send each child one gift as otherwise they are deluged in presents

My husband asked her about the play money present as she has previously tried to give us money with strings attached and been cross when it was refused. This gift of play money seemed to say “fuck you, I’ll send money this way then, ha ha”.

This is how she replied, all of this happened in the course of one conversation:

  1. “I didn’t do that”
  2. “I don’t remember sending any such thing to you”
  3. “Well I meant it to be for child 2”
  4. “You made it so difficult for me to send more than one gift to each child”
  5. “I had no choice but to put everyone’s names on it”

I see someone making shit up as she goes along, reaching some vaguely plausible story by the end of the conversation which absolves herself of any wrong doing and (bonus points) manages to make herself a victim of someone else’s unreasonable demands.

She knows at statement 1 that she is being called out for something. She probably hasn’t listened much to the accusation but the tone of voice and content of the questions leads her to go on the defensive and she instinctively denies everything. This is a lie reflex similar to that which small children have who are scared of a punitive parent “I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me”.

Then she has had enough time to start being a bit more clever and tries to deflect criticism by hedging her bets a bit ” I don’t recall doing it” this is deliberate, she knows this is a lie. How come? Because of what she says next “it was for child 2” not “oh yes, goodness me I forgot, that was for child 2”.

Notice also how she doesn’t apologise at all for going against our request for one gift per child. She is on a roll now and has had enough time to conjure up a scenario where she can come out smelling of roses (in her mind). She was the helpless victim of our wicked rule.

Then here’s the scary part, she erases the entire first part of the conversation from her mind and believes the story she has come up with, actually believes it to be the truth. If questioned today on this subject she would repeat the finalised version of this story, that it was for child 2 and we made it so difficult for her to be that generous with our unreasonable demand she felt unable to openly label the gift as such so in desperation put all our names on it. She would deny any recollection of the first part of the conversation or say she was confused and flustered because of the aggressive tone she was questioned with.

She is a liar, there is no doubt in my mind that she knowingly says things she knows are false in order to get herself out of sticky situations. But then something else happens, a layer of bizarre gets iced onto the cake of lie and she can concoct a story where she is the blameless one, clever one, heroic one and she believes it. She reaches the point of believing her own lies.

I thought this was called pathological lying but it’s not. Pathological lying is when you spend your entire life making up random shit about everything for no personal gain, you just can’t separate made up from real. Confabulation is a form of making things up found in people with memory loss who instinctively try to fill in the gap with a story, their brain is trying to help account for an absence. It is a symptom of brain trauma and some neurological conditions. She isn’t doing that either.

No she is lying and then becomes delusional, she believes her lies. The lies can be concretely shown to be lies, real evidence exists to counter them, the first part of the conversation above is an example. How can she say “I didn’t do that” and then say “you gave me no choice but to do that” one of those two statements is a lie at the very least. But still she believes her version and interprets any disagreement as wilful attacks upon her good character.

Lying is normal, we all do it. Social white lies such as “can we have biscuits when we get home?” “no we ran out” when actually the answer is “no I’m worried about all the crap you eat but can’t be arsed to have a fight about this in the school playground” are normal. The number of times a person lies everyday fits a bell curve, some do few, some do lots, most fit in the middle. How many of your lies you believe to be true when pressed also fits a bell curve, with some people easily admitting they are lies, most people grudgingly admitting most lies, some people really resisting admitting their lies and then some tiny percentage of people who say they never lie and always believe them to be true. These people are way off the bell curve. Hello MIL.

This is why I find it a mindfuck, in order for me to follow that train of thought from conscious lie to delusion I have to amputate some really crucial parts of my own mind: the parts where I see other people as just as sharp and astute as I am, the parts where I see the effects of my actions on others, the parts where I have any moral accountability, the parts where I accept I am flawed and can do the wrong thing, the part where I recognise the difference between what is in my head and what is real. Going there is scary for me and the realisation of what my MIL must be capable of if she can do this is horrifying. Worse, what if she isn’t capable of doing anything else, what if this is how she thinks, ALL THE GOD DAMN TIME!

Delusion

This is far from being the only example of my MILs delusional thinking. She invented a story first reported to her divorce lawyer and documented in detail as a result, where her ex-husband grabbed her bum cheek in the queue for service at a restaurant. This was in order to portray him as a really bad person. Next this story was related to me about the second time I meet her and it was an anatomically graphic account of how while sat at a table in the restaurant her shoved his hand forcibly into her lap and indecently assaulted her. That is what was described it to me over afternoon tea, in her garden the second time we met. You see how that conversation isn’t even normal!

Next time she tells the tale her two children were sat opposite her at the table so that is why she was unable to cry out or do anything. Now my husband remembers the trip to the restaurant but has no memory of anything untoward happening. He and his sister were in their mid-late teens at the time so their recollection is pretty good. Notice how the story changed and became more elaborate.

She has delusions about other things as well, she believes she discovered some remarkable chemical law which would have revolutionised the subject. She thinks that the radiation from her mobile phone if left on wakes her 30-40 times a night. She found a painting in a second hand shop and believes it is one of her ancestors and is wearing a necklace she has inherited despite the necklace not matching the picture and her having no evidence that the painting is really her ancestor at all. She believes she has psychic powers and knows the location of a girl abducted in a notorious kidnap case. She believes young waiters in restaurants flirt with her because she is so attractive. She believes she is stronger and more physically capable than she is and has injured herself several times as a result.

Narcissism is so horrible when acted out on other people due to the lack of morals, awareness of others feelings, the lies, the manipulations. But under it all is someone so profoundly disturbed that they are unable to ever accept that they do wrong, their brain cannot compute it. Every single action is designed to protect their desperately fragile self worth and delusion is better than a lie. Delusion says “I am not that person, I didn’t do that wrong thing”, lying says “I know I am but I can make capital out of saying I’m not”.

She really has to believe that she isn’t that person, the whole structure of her personality is set up so as to avoid ever having to consider that possibility even to the extent of denying reality. That is a truly sad and scary place to be. For the first time ever I feel sorry for my MIL.

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Filed under Communication problems in NPD, Controlling behaviour, defence mechanism, delusion, Denial, Describing narcissism, diagnosing NPD, Examples of narcissistic behaviour, lies, narcissistic mother, Understanding narcissism