Can a narcissist change? The experts weigh in

Can a narcissist change? The experts weigh in

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? 

Resources for Narcissistic Abuse & Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Additional helpful resources for narcissistic abuse victims and survivors

These videos might also be of interest to you.

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Power Moves: 163 Shockingly Simple Career-Boosting Life Hacks Everyone Can Use

Power Moves: 163 Shockingly Simple Career-Boosting Life Hacks Everyone Can Use

“Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.” ~Theodore Isaac Rubin
Power MovesHate your job? Sick & tired of being taken advantage of by ungrateful, demanding bosses or overlooked for promotions and raises?

What if going to work every day felt good – less like an obligation and more like a pleasure?

What if you could get paid to do what you love every day?

What if you could love the job you have now?

You can have all that. You just need to get your Power Moves in order. What are Power Moves, you ask?

It’s simple. Power Moves are career hacks – life hacks designed to help you to create the career you’ve always dreamed about. It’s never too late to become what you might have been.  

It’s all about simple secrets, tricks and baby steps that will help take your life from the daily grind to a soul-fulfilling, passion-fueled pleasure.

power moves cover‘Power Moves: 163 Shockingly Simple Career-Boosting Life Hacks Everyone Can Use’  is the fifth book in the Project Blissful Series.

It’s a practical and inspirational guide designed to help you take control of your career and find your way to passion and purpose. It’s just one more piece of what it takes to become the best possible version of yourself.

Written by life coach and author Angela Atkinson, this ebook is also a toolkit that contains everything you’ll need to identify the weak spots in your career and personal issues that affect them. Plus, it offers the tools you’ll need to begin to resolve them, one baby step at a time.

See the first book in the Project Blissful series at

This book is for you if you’re interested in:

The very best, most effective and powerful career hacks – simple secrets, tricks and baby steps that will help take your life from the daily grind to a soul-fulfilling, passion-fueled pleasure. The very best, most effective and powerful career hacks

  • Simple secrets, tricks and baby steps that will help take your life from the daily grind to a soul-fulfilling, passion-fueled pleasure.

Proven tips and techniques for creating the career you’ve always wanted.

  • High-return ideas on how to evolve your career.
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  • Grace Under Fire: 16 Strategies for Keeping Your Cool at Work
  • Be Proactive: 8 Strategies for Keeping Your Cool at Work
  • Too Late for Pro-Active? 8 Damage-Control Strategies
  • Use These 5 Super-Simple Steps to Increase Your Leadership Skills
  • Top 10 Tips for Staying Motivated When You’re Unemployed
  • 14 Lazy Ways You Can Hack Your Job Hunt
  • Use These 15 Tips to Learn How to Change Jobs Without Losing Your Social Life
  • 7 Steps to Take Before You Change Jobs
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Ten essential actions for meaningful living

Ten essential actions for meaningful living

Inspired by The Art of Meaningful Living
by Christopher F. Brown, LCSW, MBA

Essential Actions for Meaningful Living

Are you living your meaningful life, or is it buried under hundreds of different disappointments and lost dreams?

Meaningful living is choosing your passions over your fears. It is accepting what you cannot control and focusing on what is within your power.

Meaningful living is intentional, effective, and respectful. Meaningful lives are built decision by decision, one day at a time.

Your meaningful life is beautiful. It is strong. It is unique. It is within you. Your meaningful life is what you are passionate about. Meaningful living requires you to actively choose your behaviors based on your personal elements of meaningful living.

One way to define your passions is to prioritize the following 10 elements of meaningful living. The elements are inspired by the ideas of psychologist Kelly G. Wilson, PhD.

One element is not intrinsically better than another; they’re just different. Your meaningful life is unique, as are you. You define your passions and can live them. You can master your mind. You can act in ways that you value. You can have your meaningful life.

1. Befriend
Friends are the family of your choosing. Friendships are far more than casual acquaintances; they require care and attention. When your friends and social life are central to your meaningful life, the effort feeds both you and your friend, plus the relationship between the two of you.

2. Grow
Expand your range of experience to develop yourself. Growth is characterized by continuing education, training in new specialties, experiencing other cultures, and learning new skills. Yes, growth can be painful, but when continual development is central to your meaningful life, the experience is worth it.

3. Heal
Care for yourself physically and emotionally because life can be difficult. You will need to heal from its experiences and lessons. Heal with adequate sleep, a nourishing diet, physical activity, healthy relationships, and professional treatments. This passion establishes your self-care as an equal priority with the needs of others.

4. Nurture
When the growth and development of others provides you with fulfillment, nurturing is your passion. Parenting certainly can provide you a chance to nurture, but having children is only one of many ways to fulfill this passion. Nurture through mentoring or coaching. Care for other living things, like pets or plants. When nurturing is your passion, you nourish others to nourish yourself.

5. Partner
To partner is to join another person in an intimate relationship. These relationships are embodied by public commitments that unite one human being to another. Intimate partnerships require you to love, desire, and long for another person. Successful partnerships also require consistent care with each person able to be both I and we within the relationship.

6. Play
Play is activity with the purpose of relaxing, amusing, and delighting you. If you have forgotten how to play, spend time watching young children; they’re the experts. Forms of play are only limited by your imagination. Adults play in their intimate relationships, hobbies, and pastimes. Whether you enjoy going to the movies, traveling to new places, or collecting vintage toys, it is all recreation, or a form of play.

7. Relate
This element of meaningful living connects you with who you came from: your family of origin. When connecting with the family you were adopted or born into is a passion, invest energy and time into your relationships with Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Cousin, or other kin who are important to you.

8. Serve
Serving a community, large or small, can bring great satisfaction and meaning. When actions of service consistently give you energy and contentment, serving is one of your passions. Serving in the military or government service, joining in professional organizations or activist coalitions, and volunteering in nonprofit organizations, neighborhood associations, or school committees are different ways to pursue a passion of service.

9. Transcend
Transcendence is the ability to exist above and apart from the material world. Spirituality is transcendent. Your spirituality may include organized religion, or it may not. Regardless, you transcend when you believe in a power greater than yourself that connects all of us. Pursue this universal force by being involved with a church, a twelve-step program, or an organized meditation with a focus on connecting with a larger world. Creativity is also transcendent. Be open to your creative energy by transcending, or rising above, your day-to-day struggles.

10. Work
When work is your passion, it’s more than earning a living; it becomes a calling. Careers and professional personas are often people’s defining characteristics. Providing for yourself and others is a way to build self esteem and confidence in your capabilities. Financial security can also be the means by which other areas of meaningful living can have expression.


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