One of the nine personality traits that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) has associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. The best defense against narcissistic abuse is knowledge so it is important to understand the reasoning behind a narcissist’s fantasies.
Narcissists fantasize about the past, present, and future to support their grandiose self-perception by constructing their fantasies in such a manner that validates their charming, special, successful, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous self-perception to both themselves and others.
This article is a thorough exploration of the different reasons that narcissists fantasize about the past, present, and future. We are going to focus on the more complex and meaningful fantasies that narcissists have so you can learn as much information from this article as possible, but we’ve also created a short video (see below) showing some of the common/insignificant things that narcissists fantasize about.
A Short Video About the “Small Things” That Narcissists Fantasize About
How Do Narcissists Use Fantasies to Support Their Grandiose Self-Perception?
When you think about what exactly a fantasy is, it is the process of creating unrealistic and/or improbable mental images. Fantasies are mental images that we want to be true, but on some level we believe or have accepted the fact that they’re unrealistic or improbable.
This doesn’t mean that fantasies can’t turn into a reality, it just means that we usually have realistic expectations for our fantasies that prevent us from attaching our thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, wishes, goals, and aspirations to them.
The fantasies that narcissists have are very unusual. They’re incapable of maintaining realistic expectations of their fantasies because if they were to acknowledge that they are unrealistic or improbable, they’d contradict their grandiose self-perception, cause a narcissistic injury, and trigger all of their negative emotions.
If you are going to grasp a comprehensive understanding of the logic behind narcissistic fantasies, you have to understand their origin story. There are many different theories to a narcissist’s origin story that we cover in our article How Are Narcissists Made, but an unhealthy/abusive childhood upbringing is certainly the front runner.
This childhood consisted of primary caregivers who were emotionally unavailable, inconsistent, and unresponsive. Their emotional neglect prevented the narcissist from obtaining the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to construct a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development.
This childhood upbringing put the narcissist in a very tough position because the emotional neglect that they experienced didn’t just prevent them from developing a realistic sense of self and having a healthy cognitive development, it also caused them to develop an unfathomable amount of powerful negative emotions about themselves.
It is important to remember that the emotional neglect that the narcissist experienced caused them to have an unhealthy cognitive development because it left them so emotionally stunted and immature that they can’t utilize healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage the powerful negative emotions that they have about themselves.
To protect their emotional stability and construct a sense of self, narcissists turn to their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need (e.g. a narcissistic man constructing his sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that he gets for being popular in school).
They use this newly developed sense of self to suppress all of the negative emotions that they have about themselves deep within their psyche. Almost as if they are locking them away in a psychological box.
This approach to constructing a sense of self is horrifyingly inadequate because the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they are getting is superficial, materialistic, and conditional.
As a result, the narcissist comes out of the situation with an extremely fragile sense of self that needs a consistent amount of validation, admiration, and reassurance to be maintained/to stay intact. Fantasizing about the past, present, and future is one of the many ways that narcissists get the validation, admiration, and reassurance, also known as narcissistic supply, that they need to feel emotionally stable.
Narcissists Fantasize About the Past to Change Parts of It That Don’t Validate Their Grandiose Self-Perception
One of the most delusional behaviors that narcissists often take part in is the belief of their own lies, specifically their grandiose self-perception. They honestly believe that they are as charming, special, successful, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous as they make their public persona out to be.
They are very good at making others believe and uphold their grandiose self-perception, but convincing themselves of it is much more difficult, especially when they have a past that contradicts it. The most common way that narcissists fantasize about the past to change parts of it that don’t validate their grandiose self-perception is by living vicariously through others.
Imagine that a narcissistic mother had a childhood upbringing with narcissistic parents who made her feel ugly and worthless. To cope with these negative emotions, she developed an extremely grandiose self-perception out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that she gets from people in her external environment.
It helps her suppress her negative emotions but she can still hear the condescending voice of her parents telling her how ugly and worthless she is. She fantasizes about going back and proving them wrong but time travel doesn’t exist so she can’t.
However, in a very twisted and emotionally stunted way, she can live vicariously through her daughter to fulfill her fantasies of proving her parents wrong.
She begins pushing her daughter to be the head cheerleader at school, enter beauty competitions, have boyfriends at a very young age, focus on having a great social media presence, etc.
The narcissistic mother does this because if her daughter succeeds, she can live vicariously through her to experience what it would be like to not feel ugly and worthless. By parading her daughter around she can twist reality in such a manner that allows her to fulfill her fantasy of being seen, being beautiful, and feeling great.
Narcissistic parents live vicariously through their children, the golden children, all of the time. At a quick glance, it looks like they have a really good relationship with their child. But the truth is that they couldn’t care less about their child’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs, they only care about using the child to fulfill the fantasies they’ve had about changing the past to support their grandiose self-perception.
Suggested Reading: How Do Narcissists Treat Their Children?
Narcissists Fantasize About the Present to Maintain Their Grandiose Self-Perception
It is important to remember that narcissistic fantasies aren’t the same as the fantasies a non-narcissistic person would have. A narcissist is incapable of acknowledging that their fantasies are unrealistic and improbable. If they were to acknowledge this, it would trigger their negative emotions and compromise their emotional stability.
That said, the most common way that narcissists fantasize about the present to maintain their grandiose self-perception is through mirroring.
Mirroring is a manipulative technique that they use to absorb a ton of information about their victim’s identity so they can create a false identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life. In a romantic relationship, this void has a lot to do with the victim’s ideal love.
In a friendship or family setting, the void is often centered around the concept of having an emotionally available, responsive, and consistent friend or family member who is safe to be around. In a work environment, the void is often centered around the victim’s wishes, goals, and aspirations for their career.
Mirroring is all about the narcissist being exactly who their victim needs them to be. It allows them to manipulate their way into their victim’s life so they can have a significant amount of power and control over them. But it also allows them to chase their own fantasies of being wanted, loved, desirable, charming, special, and unique.
Suggested Reading: How Do Narcissists Use Mirroring?
Narcissists Fantasize About the Future to Convince Others of Their Grandiose Self-Perception
The most common approach that narcissists have when fantasizing about the future is a manipulative behavior called future faking. A future fake is when a narcissist makes a false promise in the future to get what they want in the present.
There are two forms of future faking. A verbal future fake is pretty straightforward. It occurs when a narcissist makes a promise for the future to manipulate their victim into doing what they want in the present (e.g. a narcissistic woman promises her husband to only spend a certain amount of money that they agreed upon when she goes out with her friends even though she knows she will end up spending thousands of dollars over the agreed upon limit).
A nonverbal future fake is actually the falsified identity that narcissists created to fill a void in their victim’s life. By presenting themselves as someone who is “perfect” for them, they’ve manipulated the victim into envisioning a happier, healthier, and more secure future that isn’t going to happen.
The combination of mirroring and future faking allows narcissists to convince others of their charming, special, successful, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, virtuous and grandiose self-perception. When they are able to convince others of their grandiose self-perception, it validates their underlying fantasy of their corrupted perception of reality being true.
Suggested Reading: How to Respond to Future Faking
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
The fantasies that narcissists have are some of the most delusional aspects of narcissism. Oftentimes they truly believe in their fantasies because they are too emotionally stunted and immature to look within themselves and acknowledge that they are nothing more than a disguise for all of their suppressed trauma.
It is for this reason that narcissists fantasize to validate their charming, special, successful, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous self-perception to both themselves and others.
Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!
Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!
All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.