Many people wonder can a narcissist change. Find out if something stops them from actually changing their behavior and developing healthy relationships.
To know if a narcissist can change, we need to explore the underlying characteristics of narcissism and the factors that make it difficult to transform.
A narcissist is someone who believes they are better or more important than others in some ways. They can react with aggression if someone challenges their sense of superiority.
Someone with diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has disturbing behavior patterns like a constant need for admiration, excessive self-importance, and a lack of empathy.
Can a narcissist change their ways so that others are protected from their toxic behavior patterns?
Can A Narcissist Change?
Yes, people with narcissistic traits can change if they are willing to, dedicated to, and making efforts to.
However, the full answer depends on where they stand on the narcissism spectrum. Those with mild narcissistic traits can change more easily and readily than those who score high on The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Raskin and Hall, 1979).
Still, narcissists are notoriously resistant to change, especially when they do not identify with having a problem.
Some narcissists who have more insight, and realize that their behaviors hurt others, may have a greater desire to change.
Some signs that a self-aware narcissist can change include a willingness to change, taking conscientious action, having a dedicated commitment, and being genuinely open to growth.
Unfortunately, research on if, and how, narcissists change is limited, but there is consensus that they are challenging to treat.
Narcissism as a personality trait does not require treatment, but, as with any other trait, psychotherapy may help them change their people-related behavior.
A narcissistic person who meets the diagnostic requirements for NPD may still be capable of change, but as with any personality disorder, the path to healing is long and difficult.
Why Some Narcissists Can Not Change?
Here are some reasons why some narcissists cannot change:
1. Entrenched Narcissistic Behavior Patterns
The narcissistic behavior patterns of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, a sense of entitlement, manipulative behavior, and a lack of empathy are deeply ingrained into a narcissist’s perception.
These patterns typically begin in early adulthood and define their interaction with the world.
They form an integral part of a narcissist’s self-image and response to their environment.
This entrenched thinking renders them incredibly difficult to alter, making changing them a Herculean task.
2. Narcissist’s Skill In Creating An Illusion of Change
Narcissistics are masters of building impressions about themselves.
They can be highly skillful at creating the illusion that they are changing. They can even deceive their therapists into thinking that they are getting better with treatment.
This manipulation tactic is often a way to avoid negative consequences or get rid of their therapists.
They can convincingly choose the appropriate ‘characteristic mask’ to appear remorseful, even when their fundamental patterns of behavior remain unchanged.
3. Narcissists’ Typical Resistance To Change
Narcissists are typically resistant to change because they see nothing wrong with their behavior.
They are often convinced of their superiority and entitlement, making attempts to convince them otherwise challenging.
In fact, they are often spiteful toward people, even their close ones, who try to change them or propose that they undergo therapy.
4. Cannot Sustain Genuine Change
Long-lasting change involves a profound, fundamental shift in self-perception, attitudes, and behaviors.
Narcissists often find it extremely difficult to stick to their newly learned benevolent patterns of behavior. This may mark a reversal of a narcissist’s temporary, self-serving behavior adjustments to their “comfort zone” of narcissistic behavior.
A treatment-completed narcissist may also lose sight of the understanding that they inflict emotional and psychological harm on those around them.
They may go back to their abusive cycles of behavior, leaving those in their relationships unfulfilled and disappointed.
They may even forget that in such situations when they revert to their old selves, they have been taught to maintain distance from others until they contact their therapist.
5. Low Probability of A Narcissist’s Genuine Change
While it’s theoretically possible for a narcissist to change under specific conditions, such as sustained, intensive therapy with a professional specializing in NPD, the likelihood is low.
The innate characteristics of narcissism, combined with a narcissist’s resistance to recognizing their behavior as harmful, make these changes rare and difficult to achieve.
It’s more beneficial for those dealing with narcissists to focus on protecting their own emotional well-being rather than attempting to change the narcissist in their life.
What are the signs that the narcissist will never change?
Several signs suggest a narcissist might be resistant to change, the most prominent being an attitude of superiority.
They often carry an invisible signboard that says, “Don’t try to teach me things. I know a lot more than you.”
Other signs of their unchangeability include a continued sense of entitlement, persistent manipulative behavior, and an enduring lack of empathy.
They will consistently refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoings and show an inability to express genuine remorse or guilt.
Why you cannot change a narcissist?
Attempting to change a narcissist often proves futile as narcissists typically see nothing wrong with their behavior. They’re convinced of their superiority and entitlement, and this delusion of grandeur makes it challenging to persuade them to change.
They can exploit others to fulfill their needs to feel validated and important. They are often incredibly self-serving, thinking only of themselves without feeling bad about it.
Narcissists often think those behaviors are the correct ways to interact with the world. Since they believe that they are right, changing a narcissist is a strenuous challenge.
How To Tell If A Narcissist Is Open To Change?
Determining whether a narcissist is open to change can be challenging, given their typical resistance to acknowledging their harmful behaviors and the impact these have on others. However, several signs might indicate that a narcissist is open to change:
- Self-Awareness: The first sign of a narcissist being open to change is self-awareness. If they can recognize and acknowledge their harmful behaviors, it’s a crucial first step. This self-awareness often emerges during therapy or through introspection.
- Acknowledging the Impact on Others: Narcissists usually lack empathy and struggle to comprehend how their actions affect those around them. A narcissist open to change would show a growing understanding of how their behavior affects others.
- Accepting Criticism: Narcissists typically react defensively or aggressively to criticism. However, if a narcissist is open to change, they might start handling criticism more constructively, viewing it as a tool for growth rather than an attack.
- Sincere Apologies: Narcissists rarely apologize, and when they do, the apology often lacks sincerity or is used as a manipulation tool. If a narcissist offers sincere apologies for their actions and behavior, it might indicate a willingness to change.
- Consistent Effort Over Time: Change is a long-term process, especially for someone with narcissistic tendencies. A narcissist open to change will demonstrate a consistent effort over time to modify their behavior. They might slip back into old patterns occasionally, but the overall trajectory should be toward improvement.
- Willingness to Seek and Continue Therapy: Therapy can be instrumental in facilitating change in a narcissist. If a narcissist willingly seeks therapy and persists with it, it’s a strong indication of their openness to change.
Remember, while these signs can be encouraging, it’s crucial to maintain realistic expectations. Change in a person with narcissistic tendencies often requires significant time and effort, and the progress may be slow and not always linear.
Can therapy change a narcissist?
While therapy can provide an avenue for change, the effectiveness is often limited by the narcissist’s resistance to recognizing their behavior as harmful. Change requires sustained, intensive therapy with a professional specializing in NPD, which is a challenging, long-term process.
How can I support a narcissist during their treatment?
Supporting a narcissist during treatment involves setting boundaries and encouraging them to continue with therapy.
It’s also crucial that you avoid enabling their narcissistic behavior, or serving as their “flying monkeys.”
Remember to take care of your own emotional well-being.
Can a Narcissist Change for Love?
In theory, love could serve as a potent catalyst for change. However, a narcissist’s conception of love often differs from the norm.
If a change occurs, it should involve genuine behaviors such as authentic apologies when slipping into old patterns and earnestly listening to your feedback.
They authentically apologize when slipping into old behavior.
An authentic apology from a narcissist, coupled with a genuine attempt to change, is a positive sign. However, it’s important to differentiate between genuine remorse and manipulative behavior disguised as an apology.
They listen to your feedback with patience, and without resistance.
Listening to feedback is another positive sign. However, it’s crucial to determine whether this is a temporary change for manipulation or a sincere attempt to improve.
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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy. His expertise is in mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoic philosophy.
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