Can Narcissists Change?

A narcissistic personality tends to be complex, specific, and individual to each person, and importantly, narcissists tend to attract particular kinds of partners. So, if you are wondering what you can do to make your narcissist change? the better question might be; what can you do to stop yourself from getting caught up in relationships with narcissists? How can you change?

Crudely put, a narcissist is someone who is driven by a need to be seen, who needs to experience a generally high opinion of themselves being reflected back to them. They want to be surrounded by people who give them attention, and who reflect the sense of their own high importance back to them. A narcissistic personality wants and demands attention. But can narcissists change?

The People Narcissists Attract

One of the problems of a narcissist is that they tend to attract partners who themselves grew up under the dominance of narcissistic personalities. People who learned at an early age to think of themselves as primarily being there to reflect the qualities the narcissist is seeking.

We would do better not just to think of how to change the narcissist, after all, the narcissist will love the attention and effort you are putting into trying to get them to change. We should try to keep our focus on what we can do so that we can change and not be destined to wither away as we give all our love, attention and goodness to someone who only wants to be made to feel special.

The dynamics of this dual relationship are expressed in Ovid’s story of Echo and Narcissus.

Narcissists and Power

So, if we are thinking about whether narcissists can change, we should also be thinking about whether we can break the power they have over us? Can we turn away from the narcissist and instead find healthier relationships for us. That is, relationships in which we are not simply there to make the narcissist feel good.

A narcissistic personality is the consequence of problems created in early years through not having been seen and recognised appropriately. The narcissistic personality has become locked into particular needs; make me feel good and special about myself.

Narcissistic personality types often make a good first impression. They will come across as generous with their compliments and attention, they appear unusually interested in other people. But they are not doing this from purely altruistic motives, there is a complex and often manipulative dynamic at work in this, they are doing it so they will be thought well of.

A Need for Narcissistic Supplies

They are doing it to draw you in. A narcissist, in Otto Kernberg’s excellent phrase, has a need of narcissistic supplies; to be told that they are special. They need other people to tell them how good and valuable they are.

A happy narcissist is bright, charming, ebullient and good company. They might make you feel special in a way that no one else has. But it’s not real. All that glitters is not gold. You are being caught up in their charm. When things are working like this, why would a narcissist want to change?

The Narcissistic Spectrum

There are degrees of narcissism, it’s a spectrum. An unhappy narcissist can be difficult, angry and prone to feel that you have disappointed them. As if from nowhere they will project disapproval and negative opinions onto you.

In summary, the narcissist looks for partners and people who will act as mirrors, mirrors that will reflect their enlarged sense of their own value.

  • Do you want to be that person?
  • There is a high chance that the narcissist will not change, you might be locked into this self-destructive relationship for a very long time.

The Narcissist and Power

When narcissists hold power, be it in the home or in Government, or the evil queen in Walt Disney’s Snow White, problems follow. A leader who is dominated by narcissistic personality issues will struggle to focus on the important things. They will be distracted by the limelight and by the thrill of attention and the way it massages their egos. The evidence suggests they do not change easily.

  • What would it take to enable a narcissist to change?
  • What does it take for us to change and to stop wanting to make narcissists look good?

In the first instance, change generally requires some sort of insight. It might be through some chance event, it might be through some kind of intervention, it might be through working in psychotherapy. Something would have to occur to interrupt the narcissist reaching for an endless supply of positive affirmations so that they might be able to look at themselves afresh. This system, although pathological and therefore limiting any possibility of healthy development is one that the narcissist craves. If they have got it, why would they change.

  • The narcissist would need an encounter with a different kind of mirror so that they would have the chance to see themselves more realistically.
  • We would need to stop being compelled to act like a magic mirror for the narcissist.

Insights, Change, and Psychotherapy

If we are fortunate enough to have an insight that we need to change something as dominant about ourselves, we then need to find a way to remember to stick to it. Change is an ongoing habit. This is why psychotherapy can be helpful. It can help us see the un-healthiness of our wayward and self-destructive desires and help us find a way to change.

If we are lucky, we grow up with mothers and carers and early attachment figures that do reflect a more accurate sense of who we are. With this kind of reliable feedback we stop needing to constantly find reassurance in magic mirrors, we develop psychological stability.

In a Disney film there is a chance for change, for a magic mirror to be given up. Life isn’t a Disney film. Put yourself first, you can’t change other people, you might be able to change yourself.

Contact me

Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of how we get caught up in destructive narcissistic relationships.

By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, and how to start living more fully again, and start to have healthy relationships.

The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed, and what you can change.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.