Each person (including you, including me) is a work in progress. No one can accurately state: “I am fully actualized; I’m 100% pure.”
You would think such a notion would be self-evident, but try stating that to a narcissist. They can be so determined to maintain a False Self that they have great difficulty acknowledging the obvious. And even if they do admit flaws, it is inevitably followed by the word but.
“I may not be perfect, but neither are you.”
“I might have made a mistake, but I’m still better than most. And besides, my mistake was someone else’s fault.”
“Complain about me all you want, but if you do, I’m not buying it!”
Because of their insatiable need to be special, to be above the fray, it’s unlikely you will hear a narcissist say with any sincerity: “I have some work to do deep inside my character, so let’s have some honest discussions about that.”
Why is it so difficult for narcissists to admit the need for change? Is it that hard?
Let’s examine some possible explanations as to why they are unwilling to change:
1. They are held captive by their own God complex.
Narcissists have determined that their word must be final in all matters. Driven by black/white, authoritarian thinking, they cannot let others see their mortality. Their preadolescent thinking prompts them to presume that if they are not held in highest regard, it would imply they are the lowest within the group. Being superior has become their strategy to fend off secret struggles with lowliness.
2. Narcissists are addicts.
Just as alcoholics or drug addicts repeatedly have to go back to their fix in order to feel good in the moment, narcissists feed off of narcissistic supply. It’s not that they want to be admired, they must be. Likewise, they must be the best, infallible, beyond reproach, special, unique, and better than. Only as they experience the high those fleeting presumptions provide might they feel inwardly calm.
3. Their moods are not grounded by insight.
While narcissists think of themselves as intellectually enlightened (and some actually have a high IQ), they cannot translate psychological principles into healthy lifestyle patterns. They are prone to anger, annoyance, impatience, irritability, tension, contempt, and anxiety. They cannot think: “I need to examine what is at the base of my many erratic moods.” Instead, they repeat their problems day after day with no wisdom.
4. They are psychologically lazy.
Taking the last point further, change requires each person to consider their actions in the context of their impact upon others. Empathy is a necessary ingredient. But narcissists make no effort to ponder another person’s back story, nor are they inclined to consider the extenuating circumstances that cause events to unfold in troublesome ways. They seek simplistic answers to complex problems.
5. They confuse discipline with being controlled.
Change requires discipline. It is tedious, and the desired fruits may require time to be shown. But because of their high need to be in control, narcissists resist the necessary effort by simply complaining: “Nobody is going to tell me how I should live.” Openness to discussion and accountability does not fit their script.
6. They would rather fight than admit the need to adjust.
To narcissists, rather than embracing the interdependence woven into all humanity, they see relationships as a competition. Someone has to win, meaning someone has to lose. That being their presumption, they equate admission of need with being a loser.
Simply put, narcissists are unwilling to change.
Narcissists, by definition, have not developed an appreciation for the pursuit of higher priorities like love, service, honor, forgiveness, peace, and respect. They entered adulthood wary of admitting the need for growth because they barely learned to trust or to introspect. Instead, they committed early to a “me first, me only” way of life. That’s what guides them as they engage in all manner of relationships. Until they can lay aside their vaulted egotism, opting instead to be tutored, their way of life will remain as it is…stuck in predictable ruts.
Recognizing that these are close-minded, fear-driven people, you can move beyond them with a certain resolve. That is, you can resolve to embrace your own humanity, knowing that you are indeed a work in progress…and you look forward to seeing where your efforts will lead. Just don’t expect the narcissists of the world to join your effort. Simply admitting the presence of weakness is a sign of maturity, a trait in short supply with narcissists.
To watch the video version of this article, Why Are Narcissists So Unwilling to Change, please click here.
~Dr. Les Carter