Confabulations: The 'Honest Lies' of Narcissists

For Those Who Think They Are "Kind of a Big Deal"

By Jordan Schaul | Scapegoat Strength | November 11, 2021

The absolutely worst thing you can do to a highly narcissistic person is to show them up or steal the spotlight from them. It may seem like a stretch to say but highly narcissistic individuals would rather die than be perceived as inferior. In fact, highly narcissistic people are preoccupied with superiority, spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about social comparison and competition.

The narcissist’s obsession with how they stack up to everyone else is prompted by an unconscious motivation to combat shame and protect a fragile ego sourced in developmental trauma. To address this insecurity, narcissists engage in reputation management around the clock. Examples of such 24/7 image curation include showboating, name-dropping, and launching smear campaigns to destroy rivals.

Highly narcissistic people perceive themselves as and have a compulsion to be, the smartest, most attractive, and biggest talent in the room. When opportunities present, they gravitate toward people of higher stature while belittling people they feel superior to. This is part of the image management program of highly narcissistic people. On average, narcissists are not any more talented than anyone else but their ambition to succeed at all costs does have a payoff. It confers a strong drive to work harder than others to move up the ladder. They are also quick to stifle and undermine their competition, which often leads to short-term gains in terms of career success.

Highly narcissistic people exist behind a false self as opposed to an authentic self. Their false personalities protect them from the emotional injury associated with developmental and specifically attachment trauma. Fake personas shield the emotionally neglected from the harsh reality of early environmental failures, which are a consequence of dysfunctional and neglectful parenting.

One way narcissists maintain fake personas is through confabulation or honest lying. Their selective memory protects them from their own emotional wounds and essentially from being retraumatized. Confabulation is in part influenced by a lack of object constancy, which I discuss in this article.

Narcissists scan the social landscape for praise and criticism. They aren’t very interested in anything in between because of their lack of object constancy, which hinders their ability to recognize and appreciate nuance and the grey area or duality of life.

It is not easy being highly narcissistic. Due to intense pressure to perform and impress, it is hard for them to relax and be mindful unless of course, they are being fawned over and adulated. As soon as they feel they are no longer the center of attention, highly narcissistic people find new opportunities to be seen and heard. Their existence can be described as an endless struggle to stay relevant and important. In some cases, narcissism presents as a very pathological personality (i.e. narcissistic personality disorder). Malignant narcissism, a hypothetical construct, encompasses narcissistic personality disorder and other dark personality traits including psychopathy.

It is not sustainable to be perceived or be such a ‘big deal’. Highly narcissistic people manage to put on a good performance for a while because they put so much effort into curating their image and impression management. But eventually, imperfections will begin to surface and the facade will be revealed. Uncovering the torment and exposing the shame behind the masks can generate intense rage and anger.

Narcissists hide emotional injury as a survival mechanism much the way wild animals hide physical injuries. We all have narcissistic tendencies, but we don’t all feel so deeply insecure that we needed to cultivate coping mechanisms and an alternative reality to distance ourselves from shame. We can see the duality in life and we can survive a day without being validated because we have more secure attachments and self-esteem.

One of the best ways to treat maladaptive thinking patterns (i.e. cognitive distortions) such as dichotomous or polarized thinking is through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps people who have trouble appreciating the duality of character in themselves and others and is particularly helping people afflicted with borderline personality disorder. It helps people move away from fixed thinking patterns and judgment to become more empathetic in regard to relationships with others and a more authentic self.

Related Resources on the Drop-in Social Audio App

Scapegoat Strength
Rise Like a Phoenix
Hacking Narcissism


Winnicott, Donald W. (1965c). The theory of infant-parent relationship. In his Maturational processes and the facilitating environment (pp. 17-55). London: Hogarth and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. (Original work published 1960)