Here’s why narcissists are never able to tell the truth. The logical explanation why narcissists twist the truth.
Do Narcissists Have Memory Problems or Are They Just Liars?
Written By Dr. Elinor Greenberg
If you are in a relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder, you may start to wonder if your narcissistic mate has memory problems. Your mate makes promises to you and then claims to have never said anything remotely like what you know you heard.
Or, after a lot of negotiating the two of you reach some agreement about where to go for dinner, and then you find out your mate made a reservation at a different restaurant that you told him you hate.
When you complain, your mate says: “You should have been clearer. I never heard you say that you preferred the other one.”
After a few of these experiences, you are likely to become concerned. Is your mate a liar? Is he or she just ignoring everything you say because your opinion does not count? Or, does your mate have some form of early dementia that is interfering with his or her memory?
The reality is that most people with narcissistic personality disorder have perfectly adequate memory. It is just highly selective and focused on what they want to be true.
They take Ray S. Jones position: “The truth is what we say it is…prove to me this desk is not a cow!” Or as Winston S. Churchill said: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”
Most narcissists tend to be very narrowly focused on whatever they want now. They could care less about what you want or any past promises that they made to you. The actual truth is not very important to most people with narcissistic personality disorder. If acknowledging the truth would interfere with them getting what they want right now, most narcissists will simply ignore it or rationalize it away.
But how do they do this? Why is their relationship to the truth and what they remember so different than the average person’s?
Note: In this post I am using the terms narcissist, narcissistic, and NPD as shorthand ways to refer to someone who qualifies for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissists lack whole object relations.
Whole object relations (WOR) is the capacity to see people in a stable, integrated, and realistic way as having both liked and disliked traits. If you do not have WOR, you cannot form an integrated picture and instead see yourself and other people as either all-good or all-bad.
In the case of people with narcissistic personality disorder, this means that there are only two basic categories:
Special = All-Good
Worthless = All-Bad
How does not having WOR affect memory?
There is too much interpersonal data for our senses and our brains to process all of it. 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 (all-good), they are literally only noticing and remembering the things about you that fit this view. All other potential data that might challenge this view goes unnoticed including any past history that might contradict this impossibly lopsided view. Similarly, when they see you as worthless (all-bad), they only remember and notice the things that support this view of you.
You can think of this process as a form of unconscious confirmation bias: the tendency to only notice that which supports your current assumption and ignore any data (including memories or context) that would contradict your current assumption.
Narcissists lack object constancy.
Object constancy (OC) is the ability to maintain the big picture of your whole relationship, especially the good parts and good feelings towards someone, when you are angry, hurt, frustrated, or disappointed by the person. If you do not have whole object relations, you will not have object constancy either because OC depends on being able to see both sides of a person at once.