Can a Narcissist Change? Facing the Truth About Narcissistic Behavior

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that can cause significant distress to those living with it and those around them. A common question that often arises when discussing this disorder is, can a narcissist change?

Understanding the nature of narcissism is crucial to answering this question.

what is narcissistic personality disorder

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by patterns of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy towards others.

People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often have an inflated sense of self-importance and believe they are superior to others.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the diagnostic criteria for NPD include:

a narcissist has a grandiose self perception

Grandiosity with Expectations of Superior Treatment from Others

Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder tend to exhibit grandiosity, which is an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

They believe they deserve superior treatment and often demand undue respect, attention, and obedience from those around them.

This expectation stems from their belief in their own superiority and the perceived inferiority of others.

Fixated on Fantasies of Power, Success, Intelligence, Attractiveness, etc.:

NPD individuals harbor fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

These fantasies serve as an escape mechanism from reality and a way to maintain their inflated self-image.

They often overestimate their abilities and achievements and underestimate the effort and skill required to achieve such grandiose dreams.

delusions of superiority

Self-perception of Being Unique and Superior

Narcissists believe they are special and unique.

They think they can only be understood by, or associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.

This sense of uniqueness contributes to their feeling of superiority and justifies their expectation of preferential treatment.

Needing Constant Admiration from Others

A narcissist craves a constant stream of admiration and validation, since this affirms their perceived superiority.

This need for admiration often manifests as fishing for compliments or becoming upset or offended when they don’t receive the recognition they believe they deserve.


Exploitative of Others to Achieve Personal Gain

Narcissists will not hesitate to take advantage of others to achieve their own ends without considering the impact of their actions on those they exploit.

This lack of regard for others often results in damaged relationships and emotional harm to those around them.

Unwilling to Empathize with Others’ Feelings, Wishes, or Needs

Individuals with this Narcissistic Personality Disorder struggle to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

This inability to empathize makes it challenging for them to form deep, meaningful connections with others.


Intensely Jealous of Others and the Belief that Others are Equally Jealous of Them

People with NPD often experience intense jealousy towards others, particularly those who they perceive as threats to their superiority.

Conversely, they also often believe others are envious of them, further fueling their inflated self-image.

It’s important to note that while these traits may be present in many individuals at certain times, a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is made only when these behaviors are persistent, severe, and negatively affect the individual’s interpersonal relationships, work, and other aspects of life.

can a narcissist change

Is there a Cure for Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

NPD is a mental condition baked into someone’s personality, and as such, it cannot be ‘cured’ in the traditional sense.

However, it can be managed with appropriate therapeutic interventions.

This usually involves psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help individuals with NPD understand their behaviors, feelings, and thoughts, and learn healthier ways to relate to others.

However, the effectiveness of any treatment depends largely on the individual’s willingness to acknowledge their condition and work on changing their behaviors.

Can Narcissists Change? The Truth About Personality Disorders and How to Treat Them

Does a Narcissist WANT to Change?

Unfortunately it is very rare for individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder to acknowledge the fact that their behavior is having a negative impact on their lives and the lives of those around them.

This difficulty largely stems from one of the key characteristics of narcissism – an inflated sense of self-importance and a deeply ingrained belief in their superiority.

Grandiose Self-Perception

This grandiose self-perception acts as a defense mechanism, protecting them from feelings of vulnerability or inadequacy.

As such, admitting to any faults or flaws would mean shattering this grandiose self-image, which can be emotionally distressing.

Consequently, narcissists will deflect blame, deny wrongdoing, and resist acknowledging the harmful effects of their actions.

does a narcissist want to change

Lack of Empathy

Moreover, the lack of empathy that is characteristic of narcissists further complicates this issue.

Without the ability to genuinely understand and share the feelings of others, narcissists simply do not grasp the full extent of the harm they may be causing to those around them.

This resistance to acknowledge their behavior’s negative impact makes it particularly challenging for individuals with NPD to seek help or engage in therapeutic interventions willingly.

Motivating Factors for a Narcissist to Change

While a narcissist’s starting position is likely to be that they see no reason to change, there are certain circumstances or experiences can serve as powerful motivators.

Significant Life Events or Crises

Significant life events or crises could serve as wake-up calls for narcissists.

These could include the loss of a cherished relationship, job, or reputation.

When their behavior leads to tangible, negative outcomes that disrupt their sense of self or their desired image, they will be more likely to acknowledge their narcissistic traits and consider making changes.

divorce a narcissist

Consequences of Their Behavior

Coming face to face with the consequences of their narcissistic behavior can also motivate narcissists to change.

This might involve experiencing social isolation due to strained relationships, encountering professional setbacks, or dealing with legal issues.

As these consequences accumulate, the individual may begin to recognize the detrimental impact of their actions and attitudes..

Desire for Healthier Relationships

A desire for healthier, more fulfilling relationships can also inspire change in a narcissist.

If they consistently struggle with maintaining relationships due to their narcissistic behavior, they may seek to alter their patterns of interaction.

This is particularly true if they have a significant relationship they do not want to lose, such as a romantic partner, child, or close friend.


Recognition of Personal Distress

While narcissists are often seen as excessively confident or self-assured, many experience underlying feelings of insecurity, emptiness, or dissatisfaction.

If they come to recognize this personal distress and link it to their narcissistic behavior, they may be motivated to seek help and make changes.

What Options Are There for a Narcissist Who Wants to Change?

If a narcissist decides to change, there are a number of option they can consider.

Here are some strategies that can be employed:

psychotherapy is an option for a narcissist who wants to change

Can a Narcissist Change with Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is typically the cornerstone of treatment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

This therapeutic approach involves regular sessions with a licensed mental health professional and can take various forms, such as individual therapy, group therapy, or family therapy.

The primary goal of psychotherapy for individuals with NPD is to provide them with a safe and non-judgmental space where they can explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Through open and honest dialogue, therapists can help individuals gain insights into their narcissistic tendencies, understand the root causes of these behaviors, and recognize the impact of their actions on themselves and those around them.

Psychotherapy can also assist individuals with NPD in developing healthier ways of relating to others.

This might involve learning to communicate more effectively, understanding how to form and maintain meaningful relationships, or finding ways to express emotions that don’t involve manipulation or exploitation.

psychotherapy is an option for a narcissist who wants to change

One key aspect of psychotherapy is helping individuals with NPD build self-esteem and a more realistic self-image.

While they may project an air of superiority and confidence, narcissists actually suffer from deep-seated feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

By addressing these underlying issues, psychotherapy can help individuals cultivate a healthier self-perception that isn’t reliant on validation from others.

Another important element in psychotherapy is teaching coping strategies to manage symptoms and prevent relapses. This could include techniques to manage stress, deal with criticism, or handle feelings of jealousy or anger.

It’s important to note that psychotherapy is a long-term commitment and requires a strong therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the individual.

Progress may be slow and challenging at times, but with consistent effort and the right support, individuals with NPD can make significant strides towards improving their mental health and overall quality of life.

psychotherapy is an option for a narcissist who wants to change

Can a Narcissist Change with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a highly focused and goal-oriented type of psychotherapy that has been shown to be effective for a range of mental health disorders, including Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

It operates on the fundamental principle that our thoughts influence our feelings, which in turn dictate our behaviors.

For individuals with NPD, CBT can be instrumental in identifying and challenging the distorted thought patterns that often underlie narcissistic behaviors.

These could include beliefs of superiority, entitlement, or the need for constant admiration.

By bringing these thoughts to light and examining their validity, individuals can start to dismantle the cognitive structures that fuel their narcissism.

cognitive behavioral therapy

Once these negative thought patterns have been identified, the next step in CBT is to replace them with more realistic and healthier alternatives.

This might involve learning to appreciate the value of others, acknowledging that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, or understanding that self-worth doesn’t have to hinge on the approval of others.

CBT also focuses on modifying harmful behaviors.

In the case of a narcissist, this could include exploiting others, reacting angrily to criticism, or seeking excessive attention.

By developing better coping strategies and practicing more adaptive behaviors, individuals can start to break free from the destructive cycle of narcissism.

can a narcissist change with CBT

Moreover, CBT can play a crucial role in improving interpersonal relationships, which are often strained in the case of narcissists.

Through role-playing exercises and communication skills training, individuals can learn to interact with others in a more empathetic and respectful way.

Finally, it’s important to note that CBT requires active participation from the individual.

It often involves homework assignments and practice outside of therapy sessions.

While this can be challenging, the skills and insights gained through CBT can lead to lasting change and significantly improve the quality of life of individuals with NPD.

can a narcissist change with CBT

Can Mindfulness and Meditation Help a Narcissist Change?

Mindfulness and meditation are powerful practices that can play a significant role in helping individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder initiate and sustain change.

These practices aim to cultivate a heightened sense of self-awareness and an increased ability to remain present and focused, which can be instrumental for a narcissist who is willing to change.

can mindfulness help a narcissist to change

The Power of Mindfulness

Mindfulness, at its core, is the practice of paying deliberate attention to our experiences in the present moment without judgment.

For individuals with NPD, this can help shed light on their behaviors and emotional patterns.

As they become more mindful, they start to notice when they’re exhibiting narcissistic behaviors, such as reacting defensively to criticism or manipulating others for personal gain.

This growing awareness can create opportunities for change, making it easier for them to recognize when they need to employ different strategies or responses.

Moreover, mindfulness can help individuals with NPD develop a clearer understanding of their emotions.

Many people with NPD struggle with emotional regulation and may experience intense reactions to perceived slights or criticisms.

By practicing mindfulness, they can learn to observe their emotions non-judgmentally, which can reduce their intensity and make them easier to manage.

can mindfulness help a narcissist to change

Meditation: A Complementary Practice

Meditation complements mindfulness by providing a structured way to practice staying present and developing self-awareness.

Regular meditation can train the mind to focus on the present, reducing the tendency towards self-centered thinking that is characteristic of NPD.

Moreover, certain types of meditation, such as loving-kindness meditation, can be particularly beneficial for a narcissist who is trying to change their old behavior patterns.


This form of meditation involves directing positive thoughts and wishes towards oneself and others.

Over time, it can help cultivate empathy and compassion, qualities that are often lacking in those with NPD.

While mindfulness and meditation are not cure-alls for narcissism, they represent powerful tools that can support therapy and other treatment strategies.

With regular practice, these techniques can contribute significantly to the narcissist’s process of change.

can meditation help a narcissist to change

Can a Narcissist Change and Learn Emotional Regulation Techniques?

Emotional regulation, or the ability to manage and respond to an emotional experience in a socially acceptable manner, is often a significant challenge for narcissists.

This is because they are highly reactive and struggle to control their emotions, particularly when their sense of superiority is threatened.

However, learning emotional regulation techniques can provide them with the tools they need to manage their responses more effectively.

deep breathing exercises

Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing is a simple yet powerful technique that can help calm the nervous system and reduce feelings of anger or anxiety.

For individuals with NPD, who have intense emotional reactions to perceived slights or criticisms, deep breathing can offer immediate relief.

By focusing on their breath and taking slow, deep inhales and exhales, they can shift their attention away from the triggering situation and towards a calming activity.

deep breathing exercises

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body.

This technique can help narcissists become more aware of physical sensations associated with emotional stress or tension.

Over time, this increased body awareness can help them recognize early signs of emotional distress and take steps to manage their reactions before they escalate.

guided imagery

Guided Imagery

Guided imagery, or mental visualization, is another effective emotional regulation technique.

This practice involves creating peaceful, calming images in the mind, which can help distract from negative thoughts or feelings.

Seeing as narcisists often grapple with feelings of insecurity or inadequacy beneath their narcissistic exterior, guided imagery can provide a welcome respite from these distressing emotions.


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Techniques

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, offers a range of strategies for emotional regulation.

These include techniques for understanding and naming emotions, reducing vulnerability to emotion, increasing positive emotional events, and applying distress tolerance techniques.

DBT has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of disorders characterized by emotion dysregulation, and its techniques could be beneficial for narcissists who want to change and live a happier and more harmonious life.


Can a Narcissist Change and Develop Empathy?

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is typically considered a core deficit in individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

However, recent research and clinical insights suggest that i narcissists may be capable of developing empathy, albeit with some caveats.

Understanding Empathy in Narcissism

While it is often stated that narcissists lack empathy, this is not entirely accurate. R

Research suggests that narcissists are capable of cognitive empathy, or the ability to recognize and understand others’ emotions.

What they often struggle with is emotional empathy, or the ability to share and respond appropriately to these emotions.

Interestingly, some narcissists can express significant empathy in certain situations, particularly when it aligns with their self-interest or personal narrative.

For example, they may show great compassion for their pets or demonstrate empathy towards people who admire or validate them.

Do vulnerable narcissists have empathy

The Potential for a Narcissist to Change and Develop Empathy

The potential for a narcissist to develop empathy depends largely on their willingness and motivation to change.

Individuals who acknowledge their difficulties with empathy and commit to working on this area can make progress over time.

Specific therapeutic interventions can support this process.

For instance, certain forms of psychotherapy, such as empathy training or cognitive behavioral therapy, can help individuals with NPD learn to better understand and respond to others’ emotions.

Moreover, mindfulness practices, which foster present-moment awareness and non-judgmental acceptance, can also enhance empathy.

By helping individuals with NPD stay connected to their own emotions, mindfulness can open the door to a deeper understanding of others’ feelings.

However, it’s important to note that developing empathy is a complex process that requires time and patience.

That said, with the right support and interventions, narcissists can indeed learn to better understand and share the feelings of others, leading to improved interpersonal relationships and overall well-being.

does a narcissist want to change

Final Thoughts on Whether a Narcissist Can Change

One of the key factors that determine if a narcissist can change is their willingness to do so.

If a narcissist acknowledges their behavior and its impact on others, they have taken the first step towards change.

However, due to their inflated self-perception, narcissists often find it hard to admit that they may be the problem.

So, can a narcissist change?

The answer is, yes, but it requires serious commitment from the narcissist, and even then, change takes time and requires patience, perseverance, and professional guidance.

The journey of change for a narcissist can be challenging, primarily because it involves altering deeply ingrained behaviors and thought patterns.

But the right support and resources, individuals with NPD can indeed learn to manage their symptoms better and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narcissism

Frequently Asked Questions About Whether A Narcissist Can Change

Is it possible for a narcissist to change?

Yes, it is possible for a narcissist to change, but it requires a strong motivation and commitment on their part. This usually involves acknowledging their narcissistic traits and seeking professional help. However, change can be a difficult and lengthy process.

What can motivate a narcissist to change?

Typically, a significant life event or crisis that disrupts their sense of self or causes them to face the consequences of their behavior can motivate a narcissist to change. This might include the loss of a relationship, job, or reputation that they value.

Can therapy help a narcissist change?

Yes, psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy and schema-focused therapy, can be very effective in helping narcissists recognize their harmful patterns of thinking and behavior and develop healthier strategies for relating to others.

Can a narcissist learn empathy?

While empathy is often a challenge for individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), research suggests that they may be capable of developing it. Specific therapeutic interventions, such as empathy training, and practices like mindfulness can support this process.

How long does it take for a narcissist to change?

The process of change can vary greatly among individuals with NPD, depending on factors such as the severity of their symptoms, their level of insight into their behavior, and their commitment to change. It’s important to remember that change is a gradual process and can take time.

Can a narcissist change without professional help?

While some narcissists may be able to make minor changes on their own, professional help is typically required for significant and lasting change. This is because narcissism is deeply ingrained and often involves complex emotional issues that are difficult to navigate without expert guidance.

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