Can a narcissist change? The experts weigh in

Written by Angela Atkinson

Originally published October 14, 2015. Last updated July 2022.

Can or will a narcissist ever change? 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. And you aren’t alone. But is it even possible for a narcissist to change in any positive way? 

What the experts say on fixing narcissists might shock you

Can a narcissist change?

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.”

A Narcissist Could Change…In Theory

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.

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, nine times out of 10, the narcissist doesn’t see a problem with their behavior, blaming any issues on the people around them rather than looking inside for answers.

Will a narcissist change?

On the other hand, I do believe that it is possible for a narcissist to change – at least in theory.

My belief is that if they genuinely wanted to change and put in authentic effort toward therapy, during which they MUST focus on discovering and working to heal their core wound – that part of themselves that is broken and which has caused this narcissistic personality disorder or their narcissistic traits to appear.

Usually, that means doing a lot of inner child work, too.

I’ve never known or heard of any sort of narcissist who has successfully changed. So, even though I believe that a narcissist can change in theory, you cannot, in my opinion, “fix” a narcissist because they cannot or will not admit that there is anything wrong with them.

Even so, I’m not the be-all-end-all authority on this one – I’m just a researcher, trauma counselor, life coach, author, and someone who has experienced life with a narcissist.

So I decided to do a little research and get a more thorough 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, Ph.D. in a Psychology Today article.

He says the key is changing how 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 says.

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 says.

“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.

Narcissists Cannot Change.

Many people believe it is entirely impossible for a narcissist to change. But, as previously noted, while they generally do not change, there is still the theoretical possibility that they could, were it not for the limitations of their disorder.

What It Would Take for a Narcissist to Change?

Want additional insight from the experts on whether a narcissist can change? What do psychologists and scientific researchers say about whether a narcissist will change?

In this video, I’ll share the truth about narcissists and what it would take for them to actually change. 

Plus, I’ll share the research on whether a narcissist can get better, along with my opinion and the opinion of narcissistic abuse recovery expert Richard Grannon.

So what do you think? Can a narcissist really ever change? 

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  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor 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 personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, 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 Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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