It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Selective Memory

Selective memory is one of those things that is an essential ingredient in other things—without selective memory, such things as denial and gaslighting just don’t work.

What must be understood about the narcissist is that many of her peculiarities—like denial and gaslighting and selective memory—are not always consciously, intentionally created. Oh, narcissists can—and do—intentionally lie and twist things to suit their own agenda, but there is also a non-volitional component in which the narcissist has unconsciously altered reality to create or support her fantasy world and those things are as real to her as anything in your reality-grounded life is to you.

Self-identified narcissist Sam Vaknin addresses this in his essay Being There: Narcissism and Selective Memory, “I am often shocked when presented with incontrovertible evidence to an event in my past, something I said, or did, a person I knew, a sentence I have written. I do not remember having done, said, or written what is attributed to me. I do not recall having met the person, having felt anything, having been there. It is not that it looks alien to me, as though it happened to someone else. I simply have no recollection whatsoever, I draw a blank…I simply erase and atomize that which is no longer of use in the pursuit of Narcissistic Supply.”

The website Out of the Fog, a site dedicated to people having to deal with personality-disordered others, describes selective memory thus: “…the use of memory, or a lack of memory, which is selective to the point of reinforcing a bias, belief or desired outcome.”

My own MNM’s particular brand of selective memory was simple: if she didn’t remember it, it didn’t happen. Not that she might have forgotten it…that was not possible. She was absolute in this—if she didn’t remember it, it never happened. And you can be assured that, like Sam Vaknin, she never forgot anything that might lead her to N-supply!

Now this could be applied in a lot of ways—she could forget her own words and deeds or the words and deeds of others, or she could “misremember” her own words and deeds as well as those of others. Any way you sliced it, she was entirely confident of her memory, so when it came to a difference between her memory of an event and yours, you were inevitably wrong…even when you were objectively right. And if she said it didn’t happen and you insisted that it did, well, you were just setting yourself up for a world of hurt.

There was nothing too small for this to be applied to. If she thought she told me to peel some potatoes and put them on the stove—but failed to do so—then came home from work the potatoes were not there, I got a beating; trying tell her she had not told me to put the potatoes on would just make the beating worse: if she remembered it, it happened, whether I “remembered” it or not. She once gave me permission to go to a choir concert, which she promptly forgot; weeks later, when I asked for a ride to school where I would pick up the bus to the event, she exploded and accused me of trying to “sneak one past” her. I was sent to my room for the rest of the day and evening, causing me to miss the concert, which caused a knotty problem for the other 59 members of the choir and the choir master, since I was a featured soloist and I just didn’t show up for the event.

There was nothing too big to come under the spell of selective memory, either. My mother conveniently “forgot” that she forced my father out of the house…her “memory” of the event was that he abandoned her for his “cheap chippie.” When I became pregnant at 17, she attempted to have my 17 year old boyfriend arrested for statutory rape (didn’t fly—he was also under age) and when I married someone else, she “forgot” about my high school boyfriend and insisted to everyone that my new husband (whom I did not meet until I was 4 months pregnant) was the baby’s father. Now, this may sound petty and small—and even understandable, given the mores of the time—until you realize that years later, when my daughter was an adult, NM still insisted that my first husband was my daughter’s father, long after there was anything “embarrassing” to hide in such a lie. To her mind, my claims that she tried to have my boyfriend arrested and that he is my daughter’s father were lies simply because she didn’t remember it that way and therefore my story could not be true.

The ability to remember what they want in the way they want it, should not be confused with lying. In telling a lie, a narcissist is consciously creating a falsehood to advantage herself. The lie can be as simple as saying she works ten hours a day rather than the true eight, or it can be as elaborate as the two years of lies my MNM told her family and the courts in three states to separate me from my children. Selective memory, however, is less contrived: the narcissist believes those very lies her subconscious has fabricated in order to create a “memory” that is more in keeping with the narcissist’s self-image, takes blame away from her and puts it on another, makes her look noble, heroic, smart, accomplished, or simply right.

When their selective memory is not consciously chosen, the narcissist may be engaging in “confabulation.”  “Characteristic features of confabulation:
1) Typically verbal statements but can also be non-verbal gestures or actions.
2) Can include autobiographical and non-personal information, such as historical facts, fairytales, or other aspects of semantic memory.
3) The account can be fantastic or coherent.
4) Both the premise and the details of the account can be false.
5) The account is usually drawn from the patient’s memory of actual experiences, including past and current thoughts.
6) The patient is unaware of the accounts’ distortions or inappropriateness, and is not concerned when errors are pointed out.
7) There is no hidden motivation behind the account.
8) The patient’s personality structure may play a role in their readiness to confabulate.”

Item #7 may seem confusing with regard to narcissists, but bear in mind that when the narcissist’s subconscious is amending reality for a purpose, the narcissist may be completely unaware and have no conscious hidden motivation. And #8 is particularly important: a dysfunctional personality structure surely makes one more susceptible to confabulate than a person with a more integrated, functional personality.

I am not trying to prompt sympathy or empathy for the narcissist, here. Quite the contrary, in fact. Nobody is certain what prompts a person to develop NPD, but we are all aware that the narcissist’s actual actions are volitional: they have the same ability to choose their behaviours as the rest of us, the same ability to resist their baser urges, the same ability to take the high road, even if they have no emotional investment in doing so. Make no mistake, narcissist’s know right from wrong and when they do wrong, they make a choice to do so, just as a normal person might. They choose to do wrong because there is something in it for them, some kind of obvious gain or the not-so-obvious reward of Nsupply.

This is why, even if the narcissist in confabulating and is truly not aware of her selective memory, I give no quarter. A perfect—and true-to-life—example is two men I know: both are diabetic, both recently had seizures that left them unconscious for a brief period of time, and neither of them have any recall of the seizure. The first man, while having absolutely no memory of the seizure, believed his wife when she told him what happened and, as a result, became more careful with his medication. The second man (already known to both me and his girlfriend as a narcissist) had not one but two seizures on the same day. But when his girlfriend told him what happened he, like my NM, didn’t remember it and therefore declared it didn’t happen. As a result, he continues to make foolish choices regarding his medication, adjusting nothing because, in his mind it never happened and he simply refuses to entertain the thought that his lack of memory of an event does not negate its reality. Both men had exactly the same choice—to believe their “memory” or their partner—and the narcissist took the arrogant, self-aggrandizing one.

Selective memory can be volitional, as when someone determinedly puts something unpleasant...or something that simply does not serve her...out of her mind, and it can be non-volitional, as when the subconscious rewrites history to create or support the narcissist’s fantasy life. But in both cases, a person has the option of relying on what she thinks she recalls or relying on outside evidence, the testimony of others, society’s norms. The narcissist invariably goes for what she “remembers,” to the detriment of all others concerned.

Next up: Hypocrisy


  1. I am looking forward to your post about Hypocrisy. That's an important component to understanding this terrible mental illness.

    BTW, I was also banned by the Great and Powerful Danu Goddess of the Known Universe, for defending my psychologist. I made the unforgivable sin of relating that he teared up when I described a scene from my childhood, and he responded with much anger, "That's child abuse! What she did to you is abuse and it is wrong and you need to know that!!! You need to get mad and fight back!" I was banned because my psychologist felt compassion. She told me in a PM that any psychologist that shows any emotion is a con artist and dangerous, and I was to only listen to her (Danu). I am so glad she banned me. It really hurt at the time, I was so vunerable, but I am so much better now after 4 years. And Danu is still a fraud and a predator. I wish there was some way she could be barred from the internet.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Due to some personal issues, (eye surgery and a Yorkie so pregnant she's about to pop!) I've been neglecting this blog, but I promise to get back to it soon.

    I, too, wish something could be done about Danu and her huge scam. Like you, I was initially hurt by being banned (she did it while my father was on his deathbed and when he died a couple of days later, I was virtually without a source of support--I had moved cities 3 months earlier, leaving my friends behind, and was laid up in bed with a broken foot, PLUS I am a foreigner in this country to boot--all my family, along with my dying father, were half a world away). Her behaviour was insensitive in the extreme.

    I don't think she want any of her members to see therapists--it disrupts her control and makes them less vulnerable to her EFT "offers." They have actually banned therapists and other mental health professionals from the site! This occurred after a member revealed she was a highly credentialled psychologist (whose MNM was a psychiatrist, for mercy's sake!) and this psychologist had the unmitigated gall to correct Light on one of her "educational" posts. She got bounced for disagreeing with Light, I got bounced for defending her, and psychologists were thereafter banned. Interestingly, if you go to the site today and look us up, we are still "active members," and none of the members have been told what happened to us. They have been allowed to believe we abandoned them without so much as a goodbye. Both the psychologist and I suspect Danu is a terrible N herself, getting both Nsupply and cash infusions from her victims.

    Perhaps I should devote a post to her--I could call it "Emotional Vampire" or something like that...

    It actually would fit with a post on hypocrisy, wouldn't it?

  3. I've just read your entire blog - not sure what this will do to my sleep tonight, but I'm amazed at your honesty, at your memory, and at your ability to write so clearly about your childhood experiences. My mother was a plain old narcissist; it was my father who was an abusive malignant narcissist. I'm around your age, I think - 61 - and I'm aghast that it's taken me so long to figure out what happened. I've known for a while that my father was a narcissist, but since my mother presented as a victim, I really missed that until this past 2 years or so. My Nmother died on Christmas Day (as any good narcissist worth their salt would do) and it threw me for a loop - I'm not feeling grief exactly, but I am mourning my lack of a real childhood and the brain fog that being raised by narcissists engenders. I want to thank you for posting the sites that are dangerous to those of us trying so desperately to recover. I went to an "emotional enlightenment"seminar yesterday, not knowing that it involved the tapping, etc. - there were some things said that were useful,but I really have difficulty with the healing and light concepts and the whole"let's just get along" thinking of so many of these practitioners. I don't believe that either of my Nparents should be left off the hook because they weren't nurtured as children; they made some pretty horrific decisions about parenting their children -or, more accurately, not parenting their children. There were a few narcissists in the group yesterday, and since I'm trying really hard to keep myself from being seen as narcissistic supply, I really had to stay alert. I appear to be doing better in this area since I think I flew under their radar - hurrah! Pointing out the websites that are run by narcissists saves the rest of us a lot of time and energy sorting it out - thanks again!

    1. My NM is also dead--yours picked Christmas for her drama, mine died in an apartment in Las Vegas in the summer all alone and was not found for about a week--drama of another kind ("decomposing body found...), but drama just the same. I suspect, based on her behaviour when she had her first heart attack (at her own mother's funeral), that she could have called 911 for assistance but simply decided she was "fine" and the symptoms would pass. She chose to die and knew she wouldn't be found for a while, as she had no friends...

      I thought I had sufficiently distanced myself from her that I would be unmoved by her death but I was wrong. I quickly realized, however, that I was not grieving the loss of my mother--I never had a mother to lose--but the loss of hope that someday she would wake up remorseful and want to be my mother at last. It never happened and my grief was for the death of that last feeble hope. Perhaps this applies to you as well?

      I agree that your Nparents should not be let off the hook. While they had no control over what happened to them as children, good or bad, they were sentient beings with the capacity to tell right from wrong, to research, to seek therapy, to make choices different from the ones that their parents made, assuming they had miserable upbringings (my NM did not--nobody has quite figured out what was behind her Nism). Pregnant with my first child--and only 17--I haunted libraries and book shops to find ways of caring for and dealing with my coming child that did not mirror my NM's child rearing techniques. I did not always succeed, but I made a sincere effort to treat my children compassionately and with love. That same choice was open to your parents and they, obviously, made other choices.

      I wish I had some kind of radar that allowed me to zero in on the Ncharlatans who exploit the hurting for their own pockets. Not being a doctor, I cannot diagnose people but I can say that the people who run these two sites are without conscience in the way they treat their members, isolating them from others who might be truly helpful or could tell them the truth. After Tracy at DoNM banned Becca, the psychologist, the site banned ALL mental health professionals! No legitimate site truly dedicated to the well-being of their members would prohibit the participation of like-minded professionals.

      I hope you find peace with the pain of your past. I like to think that we don't let the Ns win when we try to help others--we turn their evilness to good by using our experiences and insights to validate others, to help them see they are not at fault, that they were victims and that they can heal. I wish the best for you.

  4. Thanks, Sweet Violet - isn't it odd that we expect our mothers to someday wake up to the fact that they really love us? Yes, I somehow thought that my Nmother might someday mature into a real mother, which she certainly did not. I agree that helping others is a way through this grief. I have a blog as well, more a working through kind of blog since I'm in the midst of this process. Because I have 5 siblings who I don't want to read my thoughts, however, the blog is currently by invitation only - so mostly it's for friends and for the 3 siblings I can trust. I'm always encouraged by blogs about narcissists because it seems that most of them have an endpoint, a point at which healing seems to happen, a point at which other things take precedence over what I sometimes consider an obsession with narcissism - although I understand that this obsession is a huge part of the healing process!!! Thanks for our blog - it's been so helpful.

  5. I'm past the pain part of the journey...most of my writing is done dispassionately and from a distance. The 46 stories, however, were written quite some time ago and started out as a secret blog, like yours. It was very cathartic writing them and after they lay fallow for a few years, it occurred to me that they might be helpful to others. By this time I had been burned by Danu but I had learned from the other women in the forum how helpful it is to know you are not alone, that other people have healed--and it seemed particularly helpful to be able to read stories of the travails of others. It was then that I decided to reshape that secret blog into a public place to help others.

    I am in the fortunate position of being retired and, because I now live in South Africa, I have a maid and a gardener who take care of the work around the house. My husband works--this gives me free time that I can devote to a variety of pet projects, this blog being one of them. In terms of my owh heart and mental health, I could walk away--but I have this nagging sense that my experiences can help others, just as the experiences of others helped me. So, the blog continues, less for me now than for others.

    I would agree that your obsession is part of the healing process. As you heal from the injuries inflicted by your Nparents, you may start recognizing Ns in the rest of your life because until we are free of the influence of our Nfamilies, we tend to choose other Ns as partners and friends. So, if you start seeing Ns crawl out of the proverbial woodwork, don't be alarmed--you may be seeing people as they really are for the first time.

    I would wish you a painless journey, but I know better. But there really IS light at the end of your tunnel and it isn't an oncoming train--if I made it, with the brutal bitch I had for a mother, you can make it too. And I check my email every day...

  6. Nothing would have changed even if your salary doubled his. Trust me, I know this from experience. ANY household or parenting responsibility was designated by him as my domain from the beginning, and it remained that way as my income began to surpass his. In his mind, the pathetic, useless, limp noodle between his legs meant it was beneath him to be my 50/50 partner. The only thing that changed when my income began to surpass his was that he decided my income was enough to support the family, and began spenidng his income completely on himself for things like alcohol, cocaine and opioid pain meds.


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