If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, or you have a narcissist in your family, you likely wonder, “Can a narcissist change?”
Like most people with a narcissist in their lives, you want so badly for the narcissist to see what they are doing and how they hurt and confuse those around them.
Maybe you think, “If I could just get them to see how their behavior affects me, they’ll want to change,” or “If she knows how much I love her, she won’t behave this way.”
If someone has a narcissistic personality disorder, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is it possible that lasting change can happen?
While many professionals argue that it’s not possible and there are no medications available to specifically treat narcissism, people prove modern medicine wrong every day.
People whose prognoses are dire are cured of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses on a regular basis — and mental diseases are not excluded.
Narcissistic personality disorder is one of many different types of personality disorders.
This mental condition causes a person to have an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for other people.
This disorder is more commonly found in men although women can be narcissists as well.
You may have noticed that the narcissist in your life is hiding a fragile sense of self-esteem behind their mask of extreme confidence.
Narcissists often have trouble in their relationships, work, school, or money management.
Some symptoms you might see in a narcissist include:
An Exaggerated Sense of Self-Importance
Feelings of self-importance lead to feelings of entitlement and require a narcissist to receive constant, excessive admiration.
The narcissist believes he or she deserves to be recognized by others, even though this person has done nothing spectacular to justify the attention.
Related: 8 Signs of Narcissistic Abuse
Your narcissist may expect special favors when you are out together and assumes these favors will be greeted with unquestioning compliance.
Pre-Occupied With Power
Narcissists frequently talk about their fantasies surrounding success, power, expertise, beauty, or perfection.
Because they are so wrapped up in this idea of greatness, they often choose to only associate with others whom they deem equally special.
You will also find that narcissists don’t let other people get a word in, and they often belittle or frown upon people whom they believe are inferior to them.
They want to make sure that they are getting the proper attention and are the person others turn to when they need a correct answer.
Takes Advantage of Others
Narcissists are quick to take advantage of other people in order to get what they want and then leave the person high and dry.
Because they lack empathy and lack the ability to recognize other people’s needs or feelings, they truly don’t care how their actions impact those around them.
Related: 10 Signs of a Narcissistic Mother
Accepts Only the Best
People who are narcissistic insist on having the best car, the best house, the best office, etc.
They believe that other people should be jealous of them, but on the inside, they are very jealous of other people.
Because they only accept the best of the best, narcissists often come off as being arrogant, boastful, and pretentious.
If you recognize some of these symptoms as being true for someone in your life, you are past ready for those behaviors to stop. But is there anything that can be done?
Can A Narcissist Change? 3 Factors to Consider
The short answer is yes; some narcissists can change. But you need to consider these three crucial factors.
1. How Severe Is The Narcissism?
Does the narcissist in your life show some of the traits of narcissism, or do they have a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Someone who shows just a few of the traits listed above or shows them infrequently is more likely to change. If this person is willing, they can change the behaviors with psychotherapy and self-awareness.
Someone with NPD, however, would have to change their essential personality, making lasting improvement quite difficult.
2. Do They Have Self-Awareness?
A person with narcissistic traits may or may not be aware of their behaviors. Some narcissists are so entrenched in their belief that they are right that no amount of feedback or cajoling can enlighten them.
However, a person who exhibits some narcissistic behaviors can see the light eventually. If a partner or family member can get them to self-reflect and points out how the behavior has impacted others, the narcissist can have an ah-ha moment.
3. Do They Desire Change?
The most crucial factor is the person’s genuine desire to change. If the narcissist is just offering lip-service to appease or manipulate you, the odds are slim that real change is in the offing.
But someone who recognizes the destruction they have caused, feels regret, and wants to improve has the best chance of turning things around.
Can a Narcissist Be Cured With Therapy?
Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder is typically limited to talk therapy, which is also known as psychotherapy.
There are currently no medications on the market to treat this personality disorder. To determine if therapy can be effective in treating narcissism, we have to go back to the root cause of the problem.
- Many experts have suggested that narcissistic personality disorder begins in childhood.
- Children who grow up in an environment that is dangerous, makes them feel extremely vulnerable, or prevents them from feeling worthy may develop narcissism.
- People with narcissism work to prevent themselves from becoming vulnerable by ignoring, suppressing, denying, or projecting their vulnerabilities to try to recreate who they are when they interact with other people as an adult. They do whatever they can to keep the feeling of vulnerability at bay.
It’s not that narcissists lack the ability to change, but rather they can’t let their guard down because threatens their sense of self.
Narcissists need the right audience to generate the attention they crave to feel like a star.
This leads them to create superficial relationships with people who are attracted to the narcissist’s initial charisma and charm.
However, once their façade starts to fade, the narcissist’s persistent fear that people will notice their faults becomes a reality.
Once the people who have stuck around lose interest, the narcissist becomes convinced that he or she needs to further hide imperfections and put on a more impressive show.
Can the Cycle be Stopped?
If a narcissist’s relational patterns can be changed in therapy, it can help decrease their inflexible narcissistic traits into a softer form of self-protection that eventually allows them to have healthy relationships.
The narcissists’ negative behaviors are their protective method of relating to others.
While some people cannot change these behavior patterns through therapy, others certainly can.
One of the best indicators of whether or not a narcissist can change is his or her willingness and ability to have an open mind.
Therapists use psychotherapy with several goals in mind when working with narcissists, including:
- Teaching the narcissist how to relate to other people on a deeper, more intimate level.
- Helping the narcissist understand the root cause of and motivations behind their emotions and need to compete with other people.
- Helping the narcissist realize why they are unable to trust other people.
Therapy focuses on teaching narcissists in the following areas to facilitate change:
- Accepting personal responsibility
- Maintaining healthy relationships
- Collaborating with other people
- Accepting one’s potential and level of competence to decrease extreme reactions to criticism
- Improving empathy: the ability to understand their own and others’ feelings
- Tolerating issues related to self-esteem
- Letting go of the need to achieve unattainable goals
- Accepting what is and isn’t attainable or possible to be accomplished
This type of therapy can be done on a short-term basis to help the narcissist in your life manage their feelings during times of increased stress, or it can be continued on an ongoing basis to help the narcissist achieve and maintain their goals.
It is often helpful for people who are seeking therapy to bring along members of their family or their partner for support and input.
Can a Narcissist Change for Love?
When narcissists are in the thick of it, they see love in a very different way than other people do.
Narcissists look for an unreasonable level of love that will never fulfill them. They’re seeking a supply — someone who makes them feel as loved as they think they deserve.
However, no one can feel that level of love before they love themselves, so until a narcissist recognizes their issues, addresses them, and begins to love themselves, he or she will not change for love.
Rather, he keeps moving on to the next best thing.
Pay attention to these critical truths about changing for love:
Love can facilitate change.
Once a narcissist is able to make some changes for love, it is a very strong sign that they are overcoming their narcissistic traits and beginning to see the world through a new lens.
Change must start from within.
The key point to remember is that change starts from within, so until the narcissist in your life is willing and able to accept that he has personality and behavior problems that need to be addressed, nothing is likely to change with his narcissistic traits.
Personal Responsibility Is a Must
Trying harder to make yourself more lovable or attempting to develop more emotional intimacy with a narcissistic partner is futile until he or she accepts personal responsibility and wants to change.
Don’t Forget to Focus on Yourself
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, I encourage you to focus on yourself more than your narcissistic partner.
This is where the true change for your life will happen. You cannot know for sure if your narcissistic partner will change, but you know that you can change yourself.
This may mean refusing to tolerate the behaviors of the narcissist in your life and taking control of your own experiences.
If you have a narcissist in your family and you must see this person regularly, know that it’s possible for him or her to change.
However, this family member must first recognize that a change needs to be made and must be willing to do the work to foster it.
It may take some time, trial, and error in order to find the right therapist and the right methods to help your loved one view the world differently and overcome past trauma that has fed the narcissistic behaviors.
Because narcissists do have a fragile ego, it may take some time for your words to sink in if you suggest that they should go to therapy.
Their first reaction will likely be extreme denial and possibly deflecting the issue back onto you, telling you that it is you who has the problem.
However, the message you are trying to get across may eventually sink in, and he or she may begin to believe you.
If you want to keep this person in your life, the key is to be patient and allow your loved one to move at his or her own pace with gentle reinforcement from you.