Narcissists & Behavior Change: Find Some Surprising Facts

— by Dr. Sandip Roy.

We don’t see that narcissist friend or partner changing; we wonder if they can even.

Then we think, what stops them from becoming better behaved and more considerate of others?

For clarity, a narcissist is someone who constantly thinks they’re better than others, craves attention, and isn’t concerned about others’ feelings. They can be aggressive when someone challenges their authority.

So, let’s tackle that question — what underlying factors make a narcissist resistant to change?

Can A Narcissist Change
Photo by KoolShooters, Pexels

Can A Narcissist Change?

Yes, people with narcissistic traits can change with willingness, effort, and therapy. Mild narcissistic traits can allow them to change more easily and readily than those who score high on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Raskin and Hall, 1979). However, they are notoriously resistant to change.

Their likelihood to improve depends on where they are on the narcissism spectrum and their ability to accept having a problem behavior.

Some narcissists who have more insight, and realize that their behaviors hurt others, may have a greater desire to change.

Research is on, while experts debate if narcissism as a personality trait requires any treatment. That said, psychotherapy may help them change their people-related behavior.

A diagnosed narcissist (Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD) may be so resistant to change that they can fool their therapists into thinking that they have changed (when they actually haven’t).

when can narcs change

What Conditions Can Help A Narcissist Change?

A narcissist can change if they:

  • Are willing to make efforts to change.
  • Show dedication to self-improvement.
  • Stay open to feedback from trusted sources.
  • Commit to self-reflection and personal growth.
  • Understand the impact of their behavior on others.
  • Learn to act with genuine empathy and compassion.
  • Practice humility, and acknowledge their limitations.
  • Build positive, giving, and unconditional relationships.
  • Develop healthy ways to cope with stress and emotions.
  • Seek help and support from professionals like therapists.

How To Tell If A Narcissist Is Open To Change?

Signs that might indicate that a narcissist is open to change:

  1. Self-Awareness: They develop self-awareness and learn to recognize and acknowledge their harmful behaviors. Self-awareness may emerge during therapy or through introspection.
  2. Admitting their impact on others: Narcissists cannot truly empathize with those they hurt. Despite this, when a narcissist shows a growing understanding of how their behavior affects others, it hints they are open to change.
  3. Accepting criticism: Typically, they react defensively/aggressively to criticism. But a narcissist open to change starts handling criticism more constructively, viewing it as a tool for growth rather than an attack.
  4. Sincere apologies: Narcissists rarely apologize, and when they do, these are insincere platitudes. A narcissist willing to change starts offering full apologies (“I realize my mistake. I will not do it again. Tell me what I can do to compensate.”).
  5. Consistent effort over time: Change is an “unnaturally” tedious process for a narcissist. Their will to change will show up as a consistent discipline to make their behavior more socially acceptable. They might slip back into old patterns occasionally, but the overall trajectory should point upward.
  6. Seeking and continuing therapy: Therapy can bring drastic positive changes in a narcissist. If they willingly seek therapy and persist with it, it means they want to get better forever.

Everything said, progress in a narcissistic person is slow and not always linear.

Signs That The Narcissist Will Never Change

Several signs suggest a narcissist might be resistant to change, the most prominent of them 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 unchangeable nature include:

  • a strong sense of entitlement,
  • a persistent “itch” to manipulate others,
  • a belief that empathy towards people makes others take advantage of them,
  • refusal to acknowledge their wrongdoings and stubbornness to express remorse or guilt.

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

Narcissists 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 resist 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 quite difficult to stick to their newly learned good behavior patterns. So they can revert to their “comfort zone” of self-serving narcissistic behavior.

A treatment-completed narcissist may also lose sight of the insight that they inflict emotional and psychological harm on others. And may go back to their old abusive behavior, disappointing their therapists and those related to them.

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.

Why “You” Should Not Try To Change A Narcissist?

Unless you are their therapist, and you have been engaged by them to help them change, do not set out to change the narcissist.

There are several reasons why it is difficult to change a narcissist:

  1. Firstly, it often proves futile, as narcissists typically see nothing wrong with their behavior. Their sense of superiority, entitlement, and delusion of grandeur make them think that their behaviors are the correct ways to interact with the world.
  2. Secondly, they can get angry and aggressive as they perceive you are insulting them by pointing out their faulty behaviors.
  3. Thirdly, they can fool you into believing they are changing (and may even show good behavior for some time), but keep on exploiting you and others to fulfill their self-serving needs.

Can A Narcissist Change For Love?

In theory, love can be a potent catalyst for a narcissist to change. However, a narcissist’s love often differs from the norm.

So, if your narcissist seems to be changing out of love, make sure it involves behaviors like authentic apologies, efforts to empathize, and not always asking “what’s in it for me” when asked to do something.

They also learn to listen to your feedback with patience, and without resistance. And get routine feedback on their efforts and changes.

Final Words

People who are narcissistic or have narcissistic personality disorder are often coldhearted enough to manipulate and exploit others endlessly. So it might be best to break away from such a relationship.

Therapy can help you leave a narcissist and recover from the trauma of a narcissistic relationship.

√ Also Read: How To Leave A Narcissist, With No Money (And Be Free)

√ Please spread the word if you found this helpful.

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