Here’s why narcissists can’t tell the truth. The logical explanation for why narcissists distort the truth.
Do narcissists have memory problems, or are they just liars?
If you are in a relationship with someone with narcissistic personality disorder, you may start to wonder if your narcissistic mate has memory problems. Your partner makes promises to you and then claims they didn’t say anything remotely like what you know you heard.
Or, after much negotiation, you both agree about where to go to dinner and then you find out your date made reservations at a different restaurant that you told him you hated.
When you complain, your mate says, “You should have been clearer. I’ve never heard you say you prefer the other.”
After a few of these experiences, you will likely feel anxious. Is your friend a liar? Does he just ignore everything you say because your opinion doesn’t matter? Or, does your mate have a form of early-onset dementia that is interfering with his or her memory?
The truth is, most people with narcissistic personality disorder have a perfectly adequate memory. It’s just very selective and focused on what they want to be right.
They took the position of Ray S. Jones: “Truth is what we say it is… Prove to me this office is no cow!” Or, as Winston S. Churchill: “Men sometimes stumble upon the discovery of the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”
Most narcissists tend to focus too narrowly on what they want right now. They care less about what you want or any previous promises they have made to you. The actual truth is not very important to most people with narcissistic personality disorder. If acknowledging the truth interferes with them getting what they want right now, most narcissists will simply ignore it or rationalize it away.
Related: What Our Judgment Of Narcissism Reveals About Our Humanity
But how do they do this? Why is their relationship to the truth and what they remember different from that of the average person?
Note: In this post, I am using the terms narcissistic, narcissistic, and NPD as shorthand to refer to someone who qualifies for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissists lack complete object relationships.
Whole object relations (WOR) is the ability to view people in a stable, integrated, and realistic way as having both likable and undesirable qualities. If you don’t have a WOR, you can’t form an integrated picture and instead, see yourself and others as either good or bad.
In the case of people with narcissistic personality disorder, that means there are only two basic categories:
Special = all the best
Worthless = everything is bad
How does WOR action not affect memory?
There is a lot of personal data for our senses and our brains to process all of that. As a result, each of us tends to automatically prioritize what is most important to us. We are likely to notice things that relate to our current desires, fears, past traumas, or unmet needs from the past that are still active in the present.
This means that when narcissists see you as special (everything is good), they notice and remember things that are good for you and that fit with that view. All other potential statements that might challenge this offer pass unnoticed, including any record that might contradict this impossibly unbalanced offer. Likewise, when they see you as worthless (everything is bad), they only remember and notice things that support your point of view.
Related: The Narcissist’s Bubbling Fury
You can think of this process as a form of unconscious confirmation bias: the tendency to notice only what supports your current assumption and to ignore any data (including memories or context) that would contradict your current assumption.
Narcissists lack a fixity of being.
Object persistence (OC) is the ability to preserve the big picture of your entire relationship, especially the good parts and good feelings about someone, when you’re angry, hurt, frustrated, or frustrated with that person. If you don’t have complete object relations, you won’t have object constancy either because OC relies on being able to see both sides of a person at once.
How does a lack of object constancy affect memory?
During the fight, once people with narcissistic personality disorder are angry with you, they will now see you as completely bad and “forget” their previous positive feelings for you – or interpret them away as mistakes in an attempt to solve the problem. The discrepancy between their current feelings towards you and any past positive feelings.
You are a terrible person. If I’ve said otherwise before, it’s because I’m taken aback by your “beautiful” disposition.
They can say something as nonsensical as the above because they don’t realize that they haven’t yet developed the ability to form an integrated view of people – something most people learn by the age of six. Therefore, they have to justify the discrepancy between their current view of you and their previous view because they can only alternate between seeing you as either entirely good or bad.
When narcissists are emotionally aroused, they only focus on how they are feeling in the moment.
People with narcissistic personality disorder usually focus on their current thoughts and feelings, not what they felt twenty minutes ago or what they might feel in the future. Once something triggers a strong negative or positive response, that reaction takes center stage. People with NPD act as if their current emotional state and way of thinking existed and would continue forever.
Related: How To Detox From A Negative Relationship
Thus, if you’re dating someone with NPD, when your lover feels good about you, they might start making plans for the future with you — even though the two of you barely know each other. “Let’s go to Rome together. I can’t wait to show you my favorite restaurant.” Then something you do triggers a negative reaction and suddenly those plans are a thing of the past.
Narcissists are overly focused on getting their point across in the moment and the larger context is unimportant to them.
Again, this is a situation where the person with NPD loses perspective because what they feel and want right now is all that matters to them.
How does this affect memory?
Narcissists prioritize the memories that matter to them. Because they lack emotional empathy, memories about how you feel are less important to them than anything on their minds right now.
For example, twenty minutes ago you came home from exhausting work. You tell your narcissistic partner that you’re headed to the bedroom for a nap. But, your date acts like he’s never heard of it and also seems to forget that you didn’t sleep well last night.
what is going on?
They have something they want to talk to you about right now. They did not lose their memory. They just don’t care how tired you are. All they care about is getting their point across in the moment – even when it’s as trivial as, “We need to find a new dry cleaner” or “I don’t like the way you load the dishwasher.”
Punchline: People with narcissistic personality disorder can appear to have memory problems. They may find it difficult to remember the past or the big picture when they are feeling strong emotions in the present. They can forget that they ever said, “I will love you forever” or that they happily agreed to be more than one at your cousin’s wedding because now they’re mad at you for being late to dinner. Likewise, even though they were very mean to you last night, they wake up in a good mood and expect you to be just as cheerful.