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Can Narcissists Change: Here’s the Truth From an Expert
Mental Health

Can Narcissists Change: Here’s the Truth From an Expert

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on January 3, 2023
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7 min

Narcissists don’t want to admit there is something wrong with them, or with how they think about the world, or how they treat other people. For them, change means giving up something very important to them: control over others, and over their own thoughts and actions. But can they really change? This article will help you learn this and more.

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People with narcissistic personality disorder are often described as “difficult” or “difficult to deal with.”

They are addicted to their self-image, need constant praise and admiration from others to feel good about themselves, and believe they’re always right.

They often have trouble with relationships because of how they react to criticism or rejection. Narcissists don’t easily take responsibility for their actions or recognize when they’ve hurt others. Instead, they blame the other person for being too sensitive or having unreasonable expectations.

How can you persuade someone with controlling tendencies, who believe they are always perfect, to change their behavior? Is it possible?

This article will help you know if a narcissist can change, what you can do to help, and if therapy can help.

Can Narcissists Change?

Narcissists can change if they are sincerely committed and willing to get better. The narcissist must take responsibility to change their abusive behavior. They must be motivated to improve and admit that their negative behavior is the cause of their misery.

The narcissists’ limitation to accomplishing change is their narcissism. Narcissists must be driven to change, and many aren’t because they don’t perceive their issue or don’t care.

Sometimes people with personality disorders don’t need therapy until they go through a serious personal crisis, including failing at a job, losing a significant relationship, or going through another emotionally humiliating situation.

Change is unlikely to happen if the narcissist has no motivation to do so.

The narcissist’s ability to change also depends on where they fall on the narcissistic spectrum. Fortunately, only a small percentage of people fit in clinical narcissistic personality disorder requirements.

As a result, certain cases might be milder than others, and change might be simpler for such people.

Are all narcissists the same?

There are four main types of narcissistic tendencies that present differently when trying to change. A grandiose narcissist is super competitive and arrogant, has high self-esteem, thinks highly of themselves, and needs more attention. 

Malignant narcissists are mean, destructive, and cruel. A malignant narcissist can steal from their employer or cheat on their spouse without feeling much regret or shame. These types of people have the most challenging time changing.

A covert narcissist always plays a victim in any situation, may have low self-esteem, and they don’t show off. The communal narcissist “plays good” by doing good in the community. 

They will pretend to be the most charitable people, the best listeners, or employers, but they lack empathy for those they’re helping and cannot realize the true needs of others. 

How to Tell if a Narcissist Is Open to Change?

Some individuals with narcissistic traits might not be motivated to change, but others are. You will know a narcissist is open to change if they’re concerned and affectionate about others. 

While people with narcissistic tendencies find it challenging to understand the emotions and views of others, research shows that narcissists can be touched by another’s suffering if they imagine themselves in that position. Someone who’s moved by others’ experiences may be ready to change.

A narcissist shows positive signs of change if they listen to your advice without becoming hostile, verbally abusive, passive-aggressive, violent, or entirely withdrawn. This means that they are receptive to your arguments. Even though it may be upsetting, they value your opinion rather than assuming they are always perfect.

People with narcissistic traits usually have one-sided relationships. They spend time with those who respect them, give them an audience, or validate their needs.

Once someone can let go of the need to be the center of every conversation, change can occur. This begins with a genuine interest in other people’s lives, honest conversations, and avoiding judgment or spreading rumors afterward.

Narcissists have emotional outbursts in response to pressure or humiliation. They may scream, demand, or be aggressive to get what they want. Others may engage in substance abuse or self-harm.

If a narcissist shows the ability to manage stress and tolerate unpleasant feelings, it’s a strong sign they are ready to recover from their narcissism. It shows that they are trying to accept their feelings more and respond to them less.

How to Help a Narcissist

While you can learn how to support someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), it’s essential to remember that you also have needs.

Here are the 4 best ways to help someone with NPD without losing yourself.

#1 Listen to them

The best way to help a narcissist is to listen to them. The more you listen, the more they will open up and the more they will want to talk. They need someone to listen to them and give them attention.

They need someone who can be there for them when they feel down or lonely, so don’t be afraid to reach out when you see something is wrong. It’s not your responsibility to fix their problems, but it’s your job as a friend or family member to listen when they need it most.

#2 Create boundaries

When interacting with someone with narcissistic personality disorder, they may step on your boundaries.

When trying to change someone with NPD, it’s important to establish boundaries about undesirable behaviors and ensure the narcissist is aware of them.

To ensure they take you seriously, enforce these boundaries rather than issuing pointless threats or demands.

Regardless of how you’re related to them, it’s important not to allow anyone, especially if they exhibit narcissistic traits, to speak to you or treat you in a way that offends you or makes you uncomfortable. Always have the option to use direct statements like “I won’t let you address me in this manner.”

#3 Try to stay calm

Helping someone with narcissistic personality disorder to change is not easy. It might be straining, and you may find yourself overreacting. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, and taking walks like the nordic walk can help you stay calm and prevent reactions.

Staying calm can also help you predict how they could behave in difficult situations so you can respond effectively.

#4 Find more about this disorder

Learning more about the condition can help you learn how to deal with the narcissist’s strengths and shortcomings. Knowing who they are also helps you have realistic expectations and accept the situation for what it is.

Read books or articles about narcissism or speak with a mental health professional. This may teach you the best techniques to talk to a loved one who exhibits narcissistic personality traits.

#5 Suggest therapy

Although therapy may not completely cure NPD, it might help resolve some issues. Your therapist may also teach you problem-solving skills with the narcissist.

Can Therapy Help a Narcissist? 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes NPD as one of the clinically recognized personality disorders. Therefore, therapy can help a narcissist. The treatment for narcissistic personality disorder is talk therapy, commonly known as psychotherapy

A narcissist can learn to relate to people better through psychotherapy, making interactions more rewarding, intimate, and joyful. Additionally, therapy can help them in knowing the root causes of their feelings, what motivates them to compete, distrust others, and possibly even hate themselves and others.

Therapy with a skilled mental health expert can help a narcissist learn about their past and build new coping mechanisms. It can be delivered on an ongoing basis to help a narcissist reach and maintain their goals, or it can be short-term to help them manage during stressful or pressing moments. 

Including family members or close friends in treatment is also beneficial.

Besides seeing a therapist, using mental health apps can help a narcissist improve.  Many mental health apps can offer you resources, exercises, and tools to help in controlling your narcissism. Sensa app is one such app.

The Sensa app offers personalized guidance throughout your narcissism journey, equips you with the tools you need to work on yourself, and offers educational material approved by behavioral therapists.

Sensa Health
Your calm mind assistant
  • Lessons based on the CBT method
  • Mood journal
  • Challenges & self-improvement activities
  • Quick relief function
  • Assessments to help you grow
Our rating:
4.5
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Sensa also offers shorter daily learning lessons that are based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques.

CBT aims to teach people with NPD and other mental health issues new ways of thinking and behaving so they can interact with people and function in society more effectively.

FAQs

Can a narcissist change for love?

When in a new relationship, a narcissist may change their behavior. However, a narcissist in a relationship would frequently manipulate their spouse to acquire what they want and return to their old ways.

Can a narcissist get better?

If a narcissist is sincerely committed and willing to get better, they can. Some types of therapy, such as those concentrating on childhood relationships, can benefit people with narcissistic personality disorder and help them live happier lives.

Can a narcissist change without therapy?

A narcissist cannot change or alter behavior without therapy. Narcissists will never admit they need help or believe anything needs change. A therapist will encourage them to explore, become self- aware, and express their true self. Therapy is also important in ensuring consistent behavior change.

A Word From a Psychologist

It’s challenging to live with a narcissist. It might be demanding and tough. But there are things you can do to keep focused, encouraged, and mentally healthy.

Don’t blame yourself, and try not to take their actions personally. Establish clear boundaries, maintain your self-worth, and look for supportive relationships with others who can relate to your situation.

Having other people you may turn to discuss your struggles might be a means of gaining emotional support and perspective.

It can be helpful to speak with a mental health professional. Seek a qualified therapist with experience in narcissistic and mental disorders. Your therapist can offer advice and help you understand your situations and experiences.

Remember that you don’t need to wait until the narcissistic abuse becomes harmful to leave. The best thing you can do for your mental health is to leave the situation.

Conclusion

People with NPD often resist change because becoming vulnerable and opening up implies losing control. Additionally, they tend to view others and themselves as either totally good or totally evil, causing them to believe they cannot or do not need to change.

However, change is possible. If narcissists are prepared to take responsibility, see things from different perspectives, and be willing to consider their negative behaviors, they may change.

Therapy requires a lot of effort and commitment. A narcissist may never behave the way you wish they would, not even during or after therapy. They could experience vulnerability issues all their lives and find it difficult to empathize.

If they’re committed to the process and are persistent, small shifts in their behavior could eventually result in more significant, long-lasting change.

Sensa Health
Your calm mind assistant
  • Lessons based on the CBT method
  • Mood journal
  • Challenges & self-improvement activities
  • Quick relief function
  • Assessments to help you grow
Our rating:
4.5
Start Free Quiz Now
HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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