Can a narcissist actually change?

Often the answer to “can a narcissist change” is, no. But sometimes conviction comes upon that person and change is possible, though not easy.

There are some people that are so far down the line in their narcissistic tendencies that we call them “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” They are so far gone they won’t make any adjustment whatsoever. Unfortunately, often times when people are asking me if the narcissist can change, they are in a state of denial and they’re just wishing for things to be different when evidence shows that it’s not going to be the case.

Let’s keep in mind that narcissism as I see it can either be a full-blown personality disorder or it can be a pattern of living or thinking that’s on a spectrum. In order to answer the question “can a narcissist change?” I want to highlight some of the ingredients that are part of the narcissistic tendency, and then go over the six things that need to happen in order for that person to actually change.

Some Identifying Ingredients of Narcissism Are:

High need for control: In order for the narcissist to change, they need to develop a non-controlling style. It’s not their job to tell you who to be or how to think.

Low level of empathy: In order to the narcissist to change, they must tune in to other individuals, and understand that their feelings and perceptions can have validity. The narcissist must recognize this and factor it into his/her communication.

Exploited and manipulative: In order for a narcissist to change, the alternative would be to stop the game playing, and if you are dealing with a narcissist, stop allowing them to play games.

Strong sense of entitlement: In order for a narcissist to change, they must drop the entitlement and learn it’s not all about them. Other people have needs and it is important to focus on zeroing in on that instead of focusing on yourself.

Need to be superior: In order for a narcissist to change, they must recognize equality. Narcissists have alternate realties, and often times they think that if they believe something, that’s the only reality there is. A Narcissist needs to understand others have their own version of the truth, and be open minded to receiving that.

Charming, but phony: In order for a narcissist to change, they must show friendliness that is sincere. Only showing friendliness when you will get something in return is phony and disingenuous.

There are 6 elements that a narcissist needs to incorporate in their daily life to begin change:

1. Drop your know it all attitude

Start with a sense of humility and say “It really isn’t all about me.” Just because you think something to be true doesn’t mean there aren’t other possibilities out there that could be taken into account. The narcissist says “well, I know everything.” The non-narcissistic alternative says “I want to get input from other people.”

2. Ask someone you trust for their opinion

Get with people who you know and trust will be straight forward with you and ask, “what are some things about me that you’ve noticed that I need to pay special attention to?”, If they tell you some things that are not very flattering, let it be known that you want to hear examples and listen to their input with no particular defense. Make yourself open to the instructions or observations that might be useful to you.

3. Be very specific about what you want to change

Lets keep in mind one really large truth, this world that we live in is a broken world. There are lots of people who do nice and noble things, but everyone has problems. We have all made mistakes or have landed in positions where we’ve done things that we wish we could take back. If you are wanting to be someone who says they want to change – name your brokenness. Talk about what it is you see inside, whether that be your bad temper, or your critical/judgmental spirit, and be very specific when you are talking about what needs to be different.

4. Make yourself accountable to trustworthy people

Rather than just saying “yeah I want to change,” pick a trusted friend, counselor, support group, relatives, or anyone that loves you and cares about you – make yourself accountable and let them know what you are up to. Having a sense of community around you can be very helpful.

5. Be willing to make amends for the wrongs you have committed

As you commit to change and you tell folks that you want to be a different person, there will be some people off to the side who are hurting because of things that happened with you. Be willing to go to those people and apologize to them, and let them know that you are working on changing those things. Put actions to your words. Don’t just say it, actually do it.

6. Become a student of healthy living

There are many good books out there and videos such as the one below that you can learn from. Make sure you are the person who actually wants to learn. Make yourself a student. If I want to learn how to be a better mathematician, I need to study math. Be a student of good psychology and emotional and relational skills.

Now that we have looked at the primary characteristics of narcissism, seen the better alternatives, and gone over the 6 steps to starting the change process, it is time to begin moving forward and creating real change. Hopefully, you can zero in on what you consider to be your primary ingredients that you want to be known for.

If you are trying to get away from your narcissistic tendencies, focus on the ingredients like:

Decency: Are you known as being a decent person?

Self restraint: When you feel the need to pop off, be critical or be impatient, put the brakes on. There are other elements inside the room besides your own feelings.

Patience: Narcissists tend to be very impatient. The patient person says, “Sometimes things take a while.

Be a listener: Tune in to what other folks have to say. If someone has something to say that you don’t care for, rather than correct them, ask outloud, “I wonder what’s behind the scenes with their perspectives.”

Conscientiousness: Understand that the things you say to people impact them, and you would rather impact people in a good way rather than just to your own preferences.

Tenderness: Commit to a gentle spirit as opposed to a harsh or dominant kind of person.

As we go back to the question “can the narcissist change?” You must realize that these steps are not easy, and they require breaking of old habits. They require the commitment towards new and better ingredients.

Change can happen with many narcissists, if you are sick and tired of the way life is unfolding, perhaps now is the time for you to say “It’s time to get serious about me becoming a more mature person.” I hope that is something you would be willing to consider.

Dr. Les Carter

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