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Can a Narcissist Really Change?

Key Takeaways:

  • Genuine change is possible but requires tremendous commitment and self-awareness from the narcissist. They must acknowledge their harmful behaviours and want to change.
  • While therapy can help manage narcissistic traits, narcissistic personality disorder cannot be cured completely. Expect gradual progress and setbacks.
  • Aging may motivate self-reflection but does not guarantee change. The narcissist must choose to walk through the door aging opens.
  • Loved ones can support change by reinforcing progress, not enabling poor behaviour. But the narcissist must do the hard work.
  • If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, focus on your needs – set boundaries, seek counselling, and leave if necessary. You cannot force change.

Do you have a friend, family member, or partner who seems self-absorbed, entitled, and lacking in empathy? Have you ever wondered if their narcissistic behaviours could change, or are you stuck dealing with their manipulation and abusive actions?

Many of us know people with extreme narcissistic traits. Some may even have a personality disorder. Their behaviours can damage relationships, self-esteem, and emotional well-being.

But is change possible? Can someone stop the lies, criticism, and control? Or are we doomed to suffer the effects of their toxic personality indefinitely?

This guide covers:

If you feel trapped by a narcissist, know there is hope. You can lessen their impact and start healing with self-care and the right strategies.

illustration of a man with narcissitic personality disorder

Distinguishing Narcissistic Traits and NPD

Many of us display some narcissistic behaviours now and then. You might obsess over an accomplishment, feel jealous when friends succeed or crave compliments. But having an occasional narcissistic tendency doesn’t mean you have a full-blown disorder.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) involves persistent, inflexible patterns of extreme self-importance, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. The primary distinguishing factor is that these traits significantly impair a person’s life.

Someone with NPD believes they are special and unique and should only associate with other “elite” people. They require constant praise and attention and don’t care about others’ needs or feelings.

A few common narcissistic behaviours include:

  • Making everything about them
  • Taking advantage of others for personal gain
  • Exaggerating accomplishments
  • Becoming enraged if challenged or criticized
  • Reacting badly to perceived slights
  • Lying and manipulating to get what they want

So, how can you tell if it’s NPD?

  • NPD involves a persistent pattern of multiple narcissistic traits, not occasional lapses.
  • The behaviours cause significant life impairment and strain on relationships.
  • Other mental health disorders have been ruled out.
  • The symptoms emerge in early adulthood and are present across situations.
Narcissistic TendenciesNarcissistic Personality Disorder
Occasional self-focusA pervasive pattern of extreme self-focus
Seeking some validationThe constant need for validation and admiration
Periods of arrogance/entitlementPersistent arrogant and entitled behaviours
Sometimes lack empathyChronic lack of empathy
May have positive relationshipsRelationships impaired by manipulation and exploitation

The distinction is important when considering if a narcissist can change.

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Can a Narcissist Really Change?

If you’re struggling with a narcissist’s behaviours, you’ve probably wondered: Can they change? Is it possible to transform selfish, manipulative patterns into healthy, caring ones?

The short answer is yes, change is possible, but it takes tremendous effort on the narcissist’s part.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be treated through therapy but not cured. Like other personality disorders, NPD involves entrenched patterns of relating to oneself and others. Progress requires challenging those ingrained patterns and developing new coping skills.

Some therapeutic approaches that may help include:

  • Transference-focused therapy: Uses the relationship between therapist and client to gain insight into emotions and interpersonal patterns. The therapist helps the client regulate self-esteem and reduce maladaptive behaviours.
  • Schema therapy: Identifies and challenges self-defeating life themes and core beliefs developed in childhood, replacing them with healthier attitudes.
  • Metacognitive interpersonal therapy: Focuses on developing metacognitive skills to cope with narcissistic thinking and behaviours.

While these treatments show promise, overcoming NPD has significant hurdles:

  • Lack of self-awareness – Most narcissists don’t think they need help and blame others, so they resist treatment.
  • Fragmented sense of self – Their self-esteem depends on others’ validation, making it unstable and challenging to change.
  • Defensiveness – Challenging their behaviours provokes shame, anger, and feedback rejection.

Progress takes time and a steadfast commitment to self-reflection and personal growth. With dedicated treatment, some symptoms may improve significantly. Others may persist but become more manageable.

Can someone with milder narcissistic tendencies change? They have a better prognosis if they recognize their behaviours are harmful. Being open to others’ feedback is critical.

Will a narcissist change just because you want them to? Unfortunately, no. Your love and support isn’t enough. The narcissist must see their patterns honestly and choose to change themselves.

While complete transformation is rare, many narcissists can learn to interact with more compassion and genuineness. But progress takes brutal self-honesty and consistent effort. If you’re hoping a narcissist in your life will change – be patient, take care of yourself first, and celebrate small steps.

Narcissists CAN Change If They Are Honest with Themselves and Willing.

Factors That May Enable Change

If you’re hoping your narcissistic partner, friend, or family member will change their hurtful behaviours, you may be wondering – what factors might motivate or enable transformation?

While genuine change ultimately depends on the individual’s commitment, some circumstances can promote self-reflection and growth.

Maturity and Aging

There is evidence that narcissistic traits and behaviours may lessen as people age. Aging prompts self-examination for many. Recognizing missed opportunities and relationships lost to narcissism can ignite a desire for change.

However, aging alone cannot guarantee change. Plenty of narcissists refuse to self-reflect and blame others late into life. The aging process provides an opening for growth should the narcissist choose to walk through it.

New Relationships

The excitement of a new romance or friendship can inspire an initial willingness to change in some narcissists. They may vow to control their temper, listen better, or be more faithful.

But actual change requires recognizing how narcissistic behaviours damage relationships in the first place. Without that self-awareness, promises often give way to old patterns dressed in new packaging.

Treatment or Life Crises

Entering therapy or experiencing major life setbacks can potentially jolt narcissists toward change. Which types of experiences hold this potential?

  • Starting therapy for other issues – Working through additional mental health problems may open the door to addressing narcissistic traits.
  • Ultimatums from loved ones – Partners threatening divorce or children cutting off contact shakes some narcissists enough to pursue help.
  • Career disappointment – Being passed over for a coveted promotion or fired shakes the narcissist’s inflated self-view enough to prompt self-examination.
  • Health crises – Facing one’s mortality through an illness or injury can lead to re-evaluating behaviour.

While crises present opportunities, real change still depends on the narcissist embracing that opportunity. It’s vital not to pin your hopes on a single event miraculously transforming them.

The capacity to change exists but requires tremendous vulnerability, honest self-appraisal, and perseverance. Lifelong patterns rarely shift overnight.

The Impact of Narcissism on Relationships

Narcissism can infect relationships with toxicity that is difficult to comprehend if you’ve never experienced it. Understanding how narcissistic behaviours damage relationships makes it clearer why change is necessary.

Romantic Relationships

Narcissists see romantic partners as mere extensions of themselves, leading to:

  • Love bombing – Lavishing partners with flattery and gifts during the idealization phases
  • Emotional rollercoasters – Intense highs and lows as narcissists provoke fights to manipulate
  • Cheating – Infidelity feeds their ego and sense of entitlement
  • Verbal/emotional abuse – Partners are demeaned and criticized to “keep them in their place.”
  • Undermining self-esteem – Constant put-downs lead to dependence on the narcissist

Family Relationships

Narcissistic parents damage children and other family members through:

  • Neglecting needs – Children’s interests are ignored to feed the narcissistic parent’s desires
  • Exploiting resources – Egregious misuse of family money, assets, and inheritance
  • Triangulation – Turning family members against each other to maintain control
  • Guilt-tripping – Using guilt and obligation to coerce family members
  • Dismissing achievements – Accomplishments and milestones are ignored or criticized


Narcissistic friends:

  • Take advantage of others’ time, talent, and resources
  • Compete instead of support
  • Betray confidence to gain social standing
  • Spread gossip and lies once friendships end

The impact across relationships is profound. Loved ones suffer broken trust, plummeting self-worth, and psychological trauma. The narcissist won’t change without consequences – even the loss of relationships they exploit.

Setting Boundaries

If you have a friend, partner, or family member with narcissistic traits, you’ve probably felt hurt by their behaviours more than once. You wish they would change, but you need to protect yourself.

Setting clear boundaries is essential. Boundaries help limit the narcissist’s power to harm you while communicating your needs and expectations.

Keep these tips in mind when establishing boundaries:

Be specific

Vague boundaries get trampled. Define exactly what behaviours you won’t tolerate, like:

  • Name-calling, insults, yelling
  • Flirting with others, infidelity
  • Ignoring your opinions, controlling decisions
  • Disrupting your sleep or work with constant calls/texts

Discuss your limits calmly

Don’t issue boundaries in anger. State them politely but firmly. Expect pushback and broken agreements – stay resolute.

  • Use an even, non-confrontational tone. For example, “I wanted to talk about something bothering me. I feel hurt when you yell at me in front of others. I would appreciate it if we could discuss things privately.”
  • Focus on how their behaviour makes you feel. For instance, “It stresses me out when you call numerous times while I’m at work to check up on me. I would be more comfortable if you called once or twice so I can focus on my job.”
  • Suggest alternatives and compromises. Such as, “I value your input on financial decisions, but I don’t feel comfortable with you controlling the household budget. Could we agree to discuss major purchases together before deciding?”

State your needs factually without attacking their character. Stay composed and emphasize how key boundaries will improve your relationship and interactions.

Implement consequences

Boundaries don’t work without enforcement. Decide on proportional consequences for when boundaries are violated. Follow through consistently. Possible consequences include:

  • Ending a phone call when they insult or yell at you
  • Leaving the room or house when disrespected
  • Not responding to calls/texts for a set period after they break an agreement
  • Restricting them from contacting you on specific channels like social media
  • Spending less time together and limiting the information you share if trust is broken
  • Requiring an apology before resuming contact after a violation
  • Taking a temporary break from the relationship if they repeatedly cross major boundaries
  • Ending the relationship if the narcissist remains hurtful and unsafe to be around

The key is being prepared to enforce escalating consequences when boundaries are ignored. Don’t make empty threats – consistently apply predetermined penalties so they understand you are serious.

Get support

Turn to friends, family, or professionals to stay strong. Seek counselling if the narcissist’s behaviours take an emotional toll.

Direct energy inward

Focus on your needs rather than trying to change the narcissist. Make self-care a priority and work on boosting self-esteem damaged by their abuse.

Know when to walk away.

Limiting or cutting off contact may be necessary if the narcissist refuses to respect key boundaries. Prioritize your well-being.

Remember, you deserve relationships based on mutual care and respect. Boundaries communicate what you need while allowing the narcissist to rise to meet your expectations.

Watch out for the Covert Narcissist

When considering change, it’s essential to know that narcissism can be covert and overt. Covert narcissists don’t present as obviously arrogant or boastful. They tend to feel inadequate and hypersensitive to criticism beneath the surface. Their manipulation is subtle – they often play the victim to control others through guilt and sympathy.

Because covert narcissists feel insecure rather than grandiose, their behaviour can be incredibly confusing for loved ones. Their need for control manifests through passive aggression, emotional manipulation, and playing the martyr. A covert narcissist’s change process may look different but still requires acknowledging problematic behaviours.

Key Takeaways

Dealing with narcissism’s toxic effects is painful, but change is possible. With insight into their condition and dedication to growth, narcissists can learn to manage their behaviours, empathize better, and improve relationships.

Yet progress takes time. Their deeply ingrained patterns won’t disappear overnight. And no one can force a narcissist to change – the motivation must come from within.

If you have a narcissist, be patient, celebrate minor improvements, and offer loving accountability. But also set firm boundaries around unacceptable behaviours, get support, and don’t tolerate abuse.

Focus on your emotional needs first. And realize you may have to distance yourself from the narcissist at times – or even walk away permanently for your health and safety.

With understanding, compassionate detachment, and putting yourself first, you can find peace and love again – whether the narcissist in your life changes. The possibility exists, but your well-being comes first.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Many people have some mild narcissistic tendencies, like wanting to be admired or occasional arrogance. However, having a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) means exhibiting an ongoing pattern of exaggerated self-importance, extreme need for validation, lack of empathy, and other dysfunctional behaviours that impair relationships and functioning. Only a professional assessment can diagnose NPD.

The main obstacles are a lack of self-awareness and unwillingness to accept responsibility. Their sense of superiority and tendency to blame others makes it extremely hard for narcissists to be honest with themselves and acknowledge areas for growth. Genuine change requires admitting flaws instead of denying them.

While research is limited, therapies like transference-focused therapy show promise in reducing narcissistic behaviours. However, overcoming narcissism’s ingrained patterns takes tremendous commitment since narcissists’ natural defensiveness undermines treatment. Progress is gradual, and relapse is common.

Signs include taking accountability for their actions, listening to others’ feedback non-defensively, making sincere amends for mistakes, demonstrating better emotional regulation, and sticking to commitments consistently over time.

Yes, untreated chronic anxiety, especially anxiety disorders like GAD, often causes functional dyspepsia, chronic nausea, and indigestion without an underlying GI condition.

It takes tremendous self-awareness and effort. A narcissist must demonstrate empathy, respect boundaries, and commit to controlling manipulative behaviours. Even with treatment, relapses happen. Partners should proceed cautiously and leave relationships that become unhealthy.

Focus on your own needs - seek counselling to build self-esteem. Set firm boundaries and leave the relationship if necessary. You cannot force a narcissist to change, but you can empower and protect yourself.

Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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