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Raw Concepts: Grandiosity Gap

The term “grandiosity gap” is a term I believe was coined by Sam Vaknin, a self-proclaimed narcissist who also runs a website about narcissism and has become a controversial expert in the field. He didn’t invent the concept, as many psychologists past and present have described a similar phenomenon, but to my knowledge he was the first to use the term “grandiosity gap” to describe the concept:

A grandiosity gap is the gap between a person’s grandiose fantasies and their actual mundane reality. It’s a form of cognitive dissonance, where the mind is confronted by two conflicting beliefs and has to figure out how to reconcile them. All of us grow up with a false, idealized self, that vision of perfection we feel we must be in order to be deemed acceptable and a success. For some people, this false, idealized self is more grandiose than average. They do their best to pretend both to themselves and to others that this perfectionistic self-image is the reality, but this gets increasingly harder with age, especially as the real life continues to stall out and the grandiosity gap continues to increase.

Much like you don’t have to be a full-blown clinical narcissist in order to desire narcissistic supply, you don’t need to be one to experience grandiosity gaps either. Anytime a reality you face in your life fails to live up to the idealized image you had of it, you are experiencing a grandiosity gap, even if you aren’t a clinical narcissist, although the grandiosity gaps the more extreme narcissist experiences are far more extreme and distressing.

When people are forced to face grandiosity gaps, it is a crucial moment. Some people respond by facing and accepting reality, and deciding to meet it on its own terms. This is the healthy response.

Others decide to go deeper into delusional fantasy and use defense mechanisms to overcompensate even further. They will lie, bullshit, or tell half-truths to themselves and others, accumulate a list of scapegoats to blame for their failures in life, rationalize away any evidence of their contributions to their own problems, use selective memory, daydream more frequently and intensely, recall events and reinterpret surrounding reality in outrageously distorted, self-aggrandizing ways, or do whatever else they feel necessary to protect their egos and soothe the deep sting of disillusionment.

Others, rather the overcompensate further, go the opposite extreme and just surrender, casting aside all grandiosity to adopt a new subhuman identity as a depressed self-pitying failure. This type may also start avoiding reality by withdrawing socially from life as much as possible.

Two classic fictional characters that allow us to see grandiosity gaps at their self-destructive worst are Emma Bovary from “Madame Bovary” and Blanche Dubois from “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

7 Responses to “Raw Concepts: Grandiosity Gap”


  1. Agreed.

    me (reality) —— projection —–> ME (idealization, want)

    The vector is fueled with desire / pleasure and pain. Pleasure when you move forwards, pain when you move backwards. The meme that “truth hurts” speaks of how much someone is living on some idealization. Denial etc.

    However this same thing can be used to achieve, go for your dreams etc. I suspect it goes parallel (or is a more evolved form) of:

    Energy (substance) —– time / force —-> SHAPE (form)

    If that makes any sense for anyone other than myself.

    Intent is what makes the original self, or sustance, or energy, take shape. Your intent drives through time and molds the self towards some ideal.

    For sick people (and I’ve been there) something is not functioning in the middle, and the ideal ME / right extreme, shape, idealization, becomes disconnected from: me, reality, energy, substance, and going back to it means experiencing an incredible amount of pain, so it’s easier to evade it.

    Anyway. Keep these concepts coming. Good stuff.


  2. I’ve experienced this both in myself and seeing it in others. I think older people do this a lot with younger people. People who think they know everything tend to do this as well. Obviously anyone who really knows much of anything knows that they barely know anything at all. This was a great article and I shared it with my friends as well as another blog talking about dealing with unreasonable parents. I really like a lot of the stuff you put out there man, keep doing you.


  3. Zac, can u link us to that blog about unreasonable parents. That would be a big help to us who have them.


  4. Painful stuff this. Been meditating for a few months now and boy can I feel the pain, it’s so clear. But it can be overwhelming. That feeling of emptiness, frustration, hopelessness.

    I’m battling an addiction as well and I just feel like I’m up against a wall. I think I’m a codependent with elements of narcissism.

    I’m struggling to see an end point. I can clearly see now these dynamics playing out in real life and within me but I just don’t know how to heal. Or accelerate it atleast.

    Anyway peace to you Ricky and great posts as always. They are a handful – emotionally and intellectually.


  5. Viv, check the letters (check the older posts here) if you havent, all the way through letter 5. Also check gettinbetter.com.

    Short answer, you have to feel the pain and hug it. And honor it. And let it take you where you dont want to go. The emptyness is caused because you’re blocking stuff out, repressing feelings (pain, shame, hurts, memories, anger, loss) and building walls… you have to go deep and let all those seemingly horrible things to come to life and happen.

    The addiction is your attempt to not feel – while grasping for control. The codependency is your attempt to evade your own problems while fixing someone else. Your narcissism is your attempt to lie to yourself and pretend everything is not just fine, but glorious. All of that ceases to be of any utility if you just stand or sit there and feel the pain.

    There’s an exit, but it’s through the other side. The pain wont go away as long as you’re focusing on making it go away.


  6. “The addiction is your attempt to not feel – while grasping for control. The codependency is your attempt to evade your own problems while fixing someone else. Your narcissism is your attempt to lie to yourself and pretend everything is not just fine, but glorious. All of that ceases to be of any utility if you just stand or sit there and feel the pain.
    There’s an exit, but it’s through the other side. The pain wont go away as long as you’re focusing on making it go away.” (YOHAMI)

    +1000


  7. Thanks Yohami for your succinct reply.

    I have a better understanding now after re-re-reading the 5th letter series in this post.

    This quick fix mentality is so ingrained.