Narcissism has become a buzzword in recent years. It seems like almost everyone knows someone who is considered to be a narcissist. Based on the way the word is being thrown around one would think that it is an infectious disease. So, the question is – is narcissism something that can be treated – can narcissists change and become normal empathetic people?
What is narcissism exactly?
Narcissism is often thrown around as an insult. You might hear someone say “She’s such a narcissist!” or “He’s so narcissistic!”. But what does that actually mean?
Personality Disorders are a form of mental illness that can affect how someone thinks, feels, and behaves.
People with NPD have an inflated sense of self-importance, need excessive admiration, and lack empathy for others.
In order to be diagnosed with NPD, a person must meet at least five of the criteria defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which was produced by the American Psychiatric Association.
NPD is a serious condition that can cause problems in many areas of life, such as work, school, and relationships.
People with NPD often have difficulty handling criticism or setbacks.
They may react angrily or feel hurt and offended when they are not treated the way they believe they deserve.
One of the defining characteristics of this personality disorder is the fact that narcissists lack empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.
This means that narcissists are incapable of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, so they never take the needs or wants of other people in consideration when they make any decisions.
The result, of course, is that their relationships are often one-sided and unfulfilling.
Can Narcissists Change?
So, can narcissists change? Can they be healed and become more empathetic people?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. One can certainly change their behaviour, but it is much harder to change emotions and personality traits.
Narcissism, like all personality disorders, falls on a spectrum.
As explained above, there are those who have strong narcissistic tendencies (but do not have the full-blown personality disorder) and those who meet the criteria to be diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder.
People at one end of the scale, in other words the ones who only have strong narcissistic tendencies, might be able to change their behaviour if they are willing to do the work and put in the effort.
But for those at the other end, who have narcissistic personality disorder, it is much harder. This is because empathy cannot be taught. It is an emotion that comes naturally and cannot be forced.
Unfortunately, personality disorders cannot be cured. However, that doesn’t mean treatment isn’t possible. While you can’t change someone’s personality, you can help them learn to manage their narcissistic behaviour.
Narcissists are perfectly happy the way they are
The problem, of course, is that most people who have NPD do not think that there is anything wrong with them.
As far as they are concerned everything is fine and they are perfectly happy the way there are.
Their lack of empathy means that they do not care about how their behaviour is impacting the people around them.
This makes it very difficult to get them to seek help or even entertain the idea that they might need to change.
In order to get a narcissist into therapy, there needs to be something in it for them.
They need to want to change their behaviour for their own benefit, not for the sake of the people around them.
To give an example, a narcissistic husband might agree to go to therapy if his wife threatens to divorce him, because he would not want to end up paying alimony.
But if his wife did not threaten to leave, he would see no reason to change his behaviour.
The bottom line is that narcissists can change but only if they want to and only if it is in their own best interest.
The Takeaway – Can Narcissists Change?
There is no easy answer when it comes to the question “Can narcissists change?”.
This is because it IS possible for a narcissist to change their behaviour, but it is a long and difficult process. They need to be willing to do the work and put in the effort. And even then, there are no guarantees that they will be successful.
And ultimately, even if narcissists manage to change their behaviour, they will still be narcissists.
The disorder is not curable, so the person will always have those tendencies.
They will always need to be aware of their behaviour and work hard to keep it in check, and they will always need some kind of incentive for them to keep up the good behaviour.
As soon as the incentive is gone, they will be back to their manipulative and abusive ways.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, the best thing you can do is to set boundaries and make sure you take care of yourself. It is not your job to “fix” them or change them. That is something they need to do for themselves, if they ever decide that they want to.
Frequently Asked Questions About Whether A Narcissist Can Change
While it’s possible for anyone to change, a narcissist would need to recognize their harmful behaviors, acknowledge the need for change, and commit to a long-term therapeutic process. However, due to the nature of narcissism, this self-awareness and willingness to change is often lacking.
Major life disruptions or losses (such as divorce or job loss) may prompt a narcissist to seek help. However, it’s important to note that seeking help is not equivalent to genuine change. The motivation for change must come from a deep understanding of their harmful behavior and its impact on others.
Therapy can help a narcissist by providing them with tools to understand and manage their behaviors. Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help them challenge their distorted self-perception and develop healthier coping mechanisms. However, the success of therapy largely depends on their willingness to engage in the process.
Not necessarily. While hitting ‘rock bottom’ might prompt a narcissist to seek help, it doesn’t guarantee long-lasting change. Without a genuine desire to change and sustained effort, old patterns of behavior are likely to resurface over time.
It’s highly unlikely. Due to the lack of self-awareness characteristic of narcissism, independent change is rare. Professional help is typically needed to guide the narcissist towards understanding their behavior and implementing change.
Proceed with caution. While it’s possible for a narcissist to change, it’s also common for them to display temporary good behavior in order to manipulate others. Look for consistent behavior changes over time before rebuilding trust.
Maintaining healthy boundaries is crucial. Encourage their efforts to change, but don’t tolerate abusive behavior. You can also suggest they seek professional help, but remember that you cannot force someone to change – the motivation has to come from them.
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Carla Corelli, a writer, advocate, and survivor of narcissistic abuse, draws from her own upbringing with a narcissistic father to shed light on psychological trauma. Fueled by her personal journey, she pursued a degree in psychology and has dedicated herself to shedding light on the complexities of narcissistic abuse.
With over fifteen years of experience in writing and advocating for survivors, Carla is deeply committed to providing support, education, and empowerment to those who have endured similar trauma. Through her articles, Carla aims to offer a compassionate space for healing and growth, while advocating for greater awareness and understanding of narcissistic abuse.
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