If you’ve ever been involved with a narcissist in any way, you probably hoped at one time or another that you could change him or her enough that you could somehow develop a healthier relationship.
A recent reader comment brought to light the significance of this issue – and who among us can’t relate to the feelings she expresses?
Here’s the comment.
“[My girlfriend] has the silent treatment mashed with pathologically lying mashed with being unemotional, mashed with previously uncommitted (even though she told me she never cheated on a mate!) mashed with a bunch of other garbage. Is there really a way to get through this crap and be together in the future or am I just kidding myself? I mean seriously. Hit me with it, I can take it! Does a person like this ever really want to get better? Do they ever take the step of getting help or do words really mean crap when it comes to this stuff? She has told me time and time again she would fix it and get help, but has yet to really do anything.”
My first thought after I read the question was this: maybe it’s possible for a narcissist to really change, but I have never seen it happen.
Here’s the thing. The way I see it, whether or not it’s possible for a narcissist to change is debatable – the question is really whether or not she’s willing to change. And the answer is almost inevitably “NOPE!”
That’s because, 9 times out of 10, the narcissist doesn’t see a problem with his or her behavior, blaming any issues on the people around him or her, rather than looking inside for answers.
Even so, I’m not the be-all-end-all authority on this one – I’m just a researcher, life coach, author and someone who has experienced life with a narcissist.
So I decided to do a little research and get a more solid answer for my reader.
Now, this is where it gets hairy – as you probably imagine, there are various schools of thought on this one. There’s no one answer. Here’s what the experts say.
Yes, Narcissists CAN Change
“I’m going to go on record as saying yes—I do believe it’s possible for people to change, even if they’ve been diagnosed with something as deeply entrenched and formidable as a personality disorder,” writes Craig Malkin, PhD in a Psychology Today article.
He says that the key is in changing the way you handle your interactions with the narcissist.
“The key…to interacting with someone you suspect is narcissistic is to break the vicious circle—to gently thwart their frantic efforts to control, distance, defend or blame in the relationship by sending the message that you’re more than willing to connect with them, but not on these terms; to invite them into a version of intimacy where they can be loved and admired, warts and all—if they only allow the experience to happen,” Malkin continues.
SOME Narcissists Can Change
Dr. Lynne Namka, licensed psychologist, says that some narcissists can change – those with milder forms of the so-called disease. And, she says, they need to be worried that they could lose someone or something they love.
“Some have to undergo a humbling experience or a great emotional loss before they start to admit their defensiveness and inability to take responsibility for their actions,” Namka writes. “As they grow older, some start to notice their insensitivity when dealing with those around them. Some start to feel healthy guilt about their past actions. Guilt, while painful if handled correctly, can be a break-through emotion that sets the person on the path to a happier life.”
She adds that “the milder narcissistic defense may soften across life if the person achieves a stable home and work environment or if he has a big setback where the rug is pulled out from under him, creating a crack in his defenses.”
Then again, she says, some narcissists will just get worse if they are “forced to their knees” after being rejected, failing or otherwise becoming disillusioned and not getting the kind of support they need.
Severely Narcissistic People Cannot Change
Melanie Tonia Evans, a well-known narcissism expert, says that maybe it’s possible, but it’s highly unlikely.
Like me, Evans says she’s never seen it actually happen.
“I have never heard of one credible case of a person operating at this level admitting their inner woundedness and doing the inner work and healing – and I don’t for one millisecond believe that cognitive therapy would even touch the edges,” Evans writes.
Dr. Namka adds that people with severe narcissistic traits have limited emotional intelligence – and tons of psychological defenses – standing in the way of recovery.
“They are unable to see the depth of their pathology as to know their shortcomings would send them into great shame which would trigger depression,” she says.
So what do you think? Can a narcissist really ever change? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.