Can Narcissists Change Their Behavior if They Really Wanted to?

It’s a tale as old as time: someone falls for a narcissist based on the love bombing that occurred early in the relationship, only to be confused when the narcissist begins to show their true colors.

Maybe the narcissist shows cruel behavior toward you, withdrawing affection and slinging insults your way as soon as they don’t get what they want from you. Or, perhaps, they disappear for days, giving you the silent treatment while pursuing other love interests.

Regardless of the exact behavior, the narcissist is sure to let you down pretty quickly, and you’ll realize they aren’t the romantic, charismatic person you fell in love with.

This leaves you with a burning question: could the narcissist change if they wanted to? Let’s explore the answer below.

4 Reasons Why Narcissists Can’t Change

First, let’s look at the core features of narcissism. These features can make it difficult for the narcissist to change their behavior.

#1 Their Fragile Ego

Narcissists create a false picture for the rest of the world. They portray themselves as overly confident and superior to other people. They will even exaggerate their own accomplishments to appear superior to others while displaying haughty, self-centered behavior.

It’s incredibly difficult for narcissists to change this behavior. Changing would require them to alter the patterns that have sustained their self-esteem for as long as they can remember. Their entire ego would crumble if they went so far as to face the truth.

Admitting that they have a problem and need to change would mean admitting that the narcissist isn’t perfect. In many cases, they simply cannot do this. It would cause them too much shame and trigger their feelings of inferiority. 

#2 Lack of Insight

If you’re dealing with an adult narcissist, you can be pretty sure they’ve been playing narcissistic games for quite some time. By this point, they don’t see anything wrong with their behavior and have poor insight into their problems.

See also  Why do Narcissists Give Silent Treatment?

The narcissist must convince themselves that everyone around them is the problem. They cannot take an honest look at themselves and therefore don’t see a need to change.

In fact, they think others should change to suit their needs! Narcissists’ lack of insight allows them to continue with their delusions of grandiosity and superiority. 

#3 Patterns of Projection

Another reason the narcissist struggles to change is that they tend to project their shortcomings onto other people. Rather than accepting that they could stand to make some changes, the narcissist subconsciously attributes their flaws to people around them.

For instance, if a narcissist feels they are falling short around the house, they might accuse their spouse or significant other of being lazy. Or, if they are manipulative, they will accuse their partner of being manipulative any chance they can get.

This projection prevents the narcissist from taking ownership for their own flaws. Since they aren’t taking ownership, they will unlikely see any need to change. 

#4 Constant Blame-Shifting

From a rational standpoint, it would seem that the narcissist would realize they need to change based upon their constant conflict with others. However, the narcissist isn’t thinking rationally.

The narcissist uses immature defense mechanisms, including blame-shifting, to protect themselves from feeling guilt or shame. Since they blame you for their problems, they don’t believe they need to make any changes. 

As difficult as it may be to accept, the narcissist doesn’t recognize their role in the constant conflict in their lives. They don’t ever stop to think that if they changed their patterns of behavior, life might be easier for them. Instead, they blame you; if only you’d do better, they could be kinder! 

All of this reduces the likelihood that the narcissist will ever change. 

3 Ways Change is Possible

As indicated above, several barriers stand in the way of change for the narcissist. This doesn’t mean that change is impossible; it just means that it is highly unlikely. 

See also  Why Are Narcissists So Mean?

In rare circumstances, the narcissist might be willing to change, but it won’t be easy. It will take considerable time and effort, but the narcissist might change under the circumstances below. 

#1 There is Underlying Motivation 

Narcissists continue to behave the way they do because it serves them. Their behavior will continue as long as the people around them tolerate it.

On the other hand, once you’re wise to the narcissist’s tactics, you might refuse to allow their behavior any longer. You might begin to call them out for their lies and hurtful behavior, or you may distance yourself from them.

When the narcissist realizes they are going to lose you, they might be willing to change. Faced with losing an important relationship, they may realize that their usual patterns no longer serve them.

Change might be possible, but it’s also likely that you will enrage the narcissist if you stand up to them. They may become perplexed when they realize you no longer fall for their games. Rather than change, they may lash out in anger or simply discard you for a more vulnerable target. 

#2 It’s Allowed to Happen Gradually

On the rare occasion that the narcissist makes a genuine effort to change, it’s important to realize that change won’t happen overnight. True change requires the narcissist to do away with behaviors that have been part of their life for quite some time.

The narcissist is used to using deceit, exploitation, and manipulative tactics to get what they want from people. They’re also compensating for an underlying fragile ego and weak self-esteem.

It will take time and probably significant effort for them to make changes. Furthermore, while they’re working on changing, relapse is likely to be common. They may take a few steps forward only to slide back a few steps down the road. 

See also  The 4 Types Of Narcissistic Mothers

#3 Professional Intervention is Involved 

Even with motivation, it’s unlikely that a narcissist can ever change without professional intervention. Remember, you’re asking the narcissist to change the way they look at the world. Change also requires them to do away with defense mechanisms that have probably protected them for years. 

Under the narcissist’s grandiose exterior is a deeply wounded self-esteem, likely stemming from childhood trauma, neglect, or rejection. This means they will need to undergo intensive healing work to make changes truly.

This work will require assistance from a skilled therapist who is willing to break down the narcissist’s defense mechanisms and stand up to behaviors like projection, blame-shifting, and manipulation.

Unfortunately, many narcissists do not even make it into a therapist’s office. Most of the time, narcissists believe they don’t need therapy. They also aren’t too fond of being vulnerable, so going to therapy isn’t likely to be at the top of their to-do list. 

However, Change is Unlikely!

The truth is that narcissists must change if they have any chance at healthy, long lasting relationships. Change also benefits the narcissist’s partner, who is likely to be the victim of ongoing abuse, unless the narcissist commits to change.

While change is clearly needed, the narcissist probably won’t realize this fact. It’s much easier for them to continue to blame others for their problems and to avoid facing their own flaws. Admitting they have shortcomings that require change is incredibly painful for the narcissist. 

So, narcissists can change; however, they’re much less likely than non-narcissist to make changes. The very traits that make a narcissist in dire need of change are the same reason they cannot change. 

Giving up their manipulative, exploitative tactics would mean they’d have to face their weak, fragile self-esteem. Such a task could be disastrous for the narcissist. 

Related Articles