Can Narcissist Change Destructive Traits and Behaviors
By the time someone is asking, “Do narcissists ever change?” They have most likely spent a lot of time and effort trying to make the relationship work and are at a point where they are making a very hard decision. I know this place all too well.
Most people online communicating their options will say “hell no, they can’t change” and on occasion, you will see one person claiming the narcissist in their life has changed.
So, before we dive into this answer, let’s first take into account that narcissism is on a spectrum, from below normal, normal, high traits, to a diagnosable disorder.
The assumption is, if you are on this website or searching for answers about someone’s behaviors, you are most likely dealing with an individual that has high traits, is diagnosed, or is suspected to have NPD.
Many of us on the frontline, meaning in relationships with these individuals, are one of the select few that experience their destructive narcissistic traits and behaviors. Everyone else only sees the side of them we fell in love with.
So, can a narcissist change?
Narcissist In Therapy
The hallmarks of narcissism are a grandiose sense of self-importance, lack of empathy, and exploitation of people and systems. These are not traits they can eliminate, but they can work on understanding their disorder and learn how to better manage it with therapy.
However, don’t hold out for this, it’s extremely unlikely they would ever seek true help in the first place or continue therapy so they could make long-term changes to their behaviors.
Therapy is usually a place to have someone side with them. They turn on the charm and manipulation and too often have a therapist eating out of the palm of their hand.
There is an overwhelming amount of experts that work directly with narcissists or those with high narcissistic traits that say they don’t change. Some counselors will turn down working with a narcissist because they require a lot of energy for little to no change.
Their focus is not on “change” during therapy, it’s most likely on gaining another enabler, saving a supply source, or learning to change their character so others will see their desired profile.
There’s also an alarming amount of people who have stayed in long term relationships with narcissists that say no matter what they tried, how many times they forgave, how much therapy or other resources they used to try and fix the problems, the narcissist always went back to the same behaviors or created new toxic behaviors.
On extremely rare occasions, a narcissist can enter therapy to learn how to manage their disorder and behaviors so they can maintain a supply source, career, or other benefits. There is not a true desire to change because they’ve gained empathy or are disturbed by their behaviors and the damage they cause. It’s solely to maintain a benefit to themselves, it’s complete self-interest.
Most Difficult Resistance To Change
One of the hallmarks of narcissism is a lack of empathy which contributes to many relationship issues. What you must accept and understand is that the lack of empathy is an actual physical difference in their mind, it’s not something you can love away.
Narcissists exhibit structural abnormalities in the volume of grey brain matter which is related to empathy. They also have unusually high levels of activity in other key areas of the brain. With a lack of empathy towards those you hurt, you can imagine how exploitation and a sense of self-importance can be strengthened.
When we are talking about a personality disorder, we are talking about the most difficult resistance to change. And although they can not change their traits, changing behaviors is still more than challenging.
Even with the changes that are possible, they wouldn’t be enough for a deeply connected, healthy relationship. It’s always about benefits for a narcissist.
Narcissists are always focused on gaining supply. This can look different depending on their personality style, but all of their energy is focused on managing their disorder and regulating their emotions. To make changes that may be beneficial long term, could exhaust them short term because they would be managing the disorder and making new changes, both requiring constant effort.
So, even with a desire to change behaviors (again, is extremely rare), it’s even rarer for them to make lasting changes.
Changing Supply Sources
Instead, narcissists focus on obtaining supply within their energy allowance to self-regulate, so it’s much more likely they would change supply sources or gain other sources rather than put in the effort to make changes in their behaviors. Plus keep in mind, they lack empathy, so in their eyes, you are the problem, not their behaviors.
People who they feel understand them, enable them, do not challenge them, or they can manipulate, are great sources of supply that take up less of their energy.
If you are a supply source they feel they can not replace, they are more willing to put in some effort to hold onto the relationship, but again, it’s most likely manipulation or will be short-term.
Narcissists search for an unequal exchange of energy from others, meaning they get more than they give. This is why so many people in relationships with them are exhausted and experience emotional abuse symptoms.
When a narcissist senses you have your foot out the door, they will love bomb and manipulate change in order to pull you back in.
They are manipulating your belief that they can change.
They are manipulating you wanting to always see the good in them.
They are manipulating your resistance to understand that not all people view the world, relationships, or life through the same lens.
They are manipulating your love and feelings.
Hiding the truth, convincing lies, and amazing love bombing can have you falling right back in their web, and the cycle continues.
And trust that as soon as they feel you are back under their spell, the same behavior they claim to want or have changed will appear again.
Relationships With Narcissists
Many of us hold on because we believe they will change. And while they can’t change their traits, it’s not even probable they will change their behaviors either.
Due to the disorder, narcissists simply can not offer a healthy, deep, and truly intimate relationship to anyone. The relationship can only grow to a certain point and then it becomes stagnant or starts to work backward.
These relationships are plagued with trust issues, heartbreak, and manipulation that is soul-crushing. Instead of growth and a deepening of a healthy bond, the partners become dependent on each other and spend all their efforts surviving the relationship rather than building it.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist and are having a hard time letting go, you may be experiencing a trauma bond or unhealthy attachment style learned in your adolescent years. Many victims equate the feeling of a trauma bond to love. These relationships are intense, passionate, feel like a soul mate connection, and absolutely amazing… in the beginning, and then it’s pure hell with extreme ups and downs that just exhaust our entire bodies.
I believe in change. I also believe in order to change there must be self-awareness, willingness to dig deep, and a burning desire with consistent, long-term actions. These are just not in the narcissist toolbox.
We are talking about individuals who typically are not self-aware, don’t have the ability to accept others’ perspectives, have a distorted view of the relationships, and honestly don’t have a problem with their behaviors. Their behaviors actually work well for them, until they are losing a supply source that they can not replace at that moment.
If you desire change in your relationship with a narcissist, the change is going to have to come from you.