The million-dollar question: Can a narcissist change?
I’ve written a few posts on narcissism and continue to write about narcissists every now and then. Not because I feel like the subject isn’t discussed enough – There are a ton of amazing resources out there in regard to narcissism on a clinical level.
I’m not a clinician; my education is experiential, not scholastic. I’m just a girl who found a way out of the crazy and was able to deactivate her people-pleasing attraction toward narcissistic friends and lovers by addressing her own narcissism.
I was also able to get to the bottom of “can a narcissist change?” – a question that has haunted, messed with me, and wasted time that I will never get back.
My end game here is not to get into a psychological debate. I don’t want to nitpick different details and exceptions or have to be so preoccupied with political correctness that I can’t share my opinions based on experience.
My goal is to save you time, energy, anxiety, dignity, and the regret of living a life half-lived.
Whenever I write about narcissists, it’s to shed light on 3 things:
1. I used to be attracted to narcissists.
Looking back, these people were a very different animal but the same common-denominator species as prominent figures in my childhood who were highly narcissistic and toxic. And as much as these people loved me, their behavior made me question my worth. They also instilled a sense of responsibility that I took on for their emotional well-being and shortcomings.
As a kid, I remember believing that my failures and lack of value were the reason that conditions were put around love and acceptance that was given unconditionally to others. And because I was too young to change my environment, I always tried to please everyone and just be “enough.” This provided the perfect conditions for lying, inauthenticity, drama-creation, rejection, and a lot of unnecessary pain and humiliation on my end.
As an adult, I had the power to actually change my environment. But because I was never given access to the innate tools to do so, I froze in toxic relationships.
The narcissists that I had relationships with in my adult life activated my own reverse narcissism. “We always attract what we exude.”
While they prioritized their own needs and agenda, I would base my value on how long of a moment I could divert their attention away from themselves, while simultaneously making their selfish, disrespectful and contradictory behavior all about how I wasn’t enough. And exactly like the person I was working so hard to be good enough for – I was making EVERYTHING about me – only in a reverse, let-me-take-responsibility-for-you-not-being-able-to-take-any-of-your-own, kind of way.
I was the doormat that brought all the dirty boots to the yard.
My self-involvement/obsession hit it’s peak when I started to believe that I was so powerless (and also, so powerful), my mere presence alone could elicit the awareness in others that their emotional boots were indeed dirty and in need of a good wiping off.
As if these people weren’t doormat hunting before I was ever in the picture.
Money in my self-fulfilling prophecy account: directly deposited.
2. I feel like the term “narcissist,” has become so overused and umbrella’d to the point that anyone who behaves poorly in any kind of relationship or dynamic is labeled as such. And I don’t think that’s fair, intelligent, appropriate or right.
3. I KNOW how alluring, attractive, fun, charismatic, investigatory-inducing, passion-igniting, and addicting narcissists can be.
I also know that for me, these people have activated the most mind f*cking, what-if FEAR. Fear that they will actually change after breaking my heart, sh*tting their emotional shorts, lying, busting every boundary, and being totally fine with me blaming myself for it all.
The “what-if” force is very strong with narcissists. There’s a constant fear of them morphing back into the person they were for a hot minute in the beginning, living Happily Ever After, and learning their lesson/changing. There’s fear that it really was all your fault/lack of value/insecurities that temporarily turned solid gold into a turd.
These fears will obliterate your chances of ever moving on if you let them take over.
The major problem here: rehashing your past and moving on cannot coexist.
In the relational garden, narcissists are the weeds of what-if. Weeds don’t need anything to grow. They’ll grow through concrete without air, sunlight, or water. The only way it seems you can uproot the what-if weeds from your garden is by knowing for certain that they won’t morph into roses the minute you turn your head and accept that they are weeds.
Ducks don’t turn into swans just because you decide that you’ve had enough of waiting for them to transform and turn your head for a moment.
And swans don’t become ducks just because they’re in the company of someone who is insecure.
Ducks CAN dress up as swans though. It’s called misrepresentation and it’s unfortunately, very common.
If you suffer from low self-esteem, narcissistic misrepresentation will ignite investigation rooted in self-blame more than what it really needs to ignite: FLUSHING, cutting off, and taking the rose-tinted glasses off so that you can actually see that those flags are RED.
If you’ve ever wondered, “can a narcissist change?” here’s what you need to know + 3 signs that he/she will never change (whether they are a narcissist or not).
Can a narcissist change? First off, there’s a part of me that doesn’t think it’s right to say that someone will never change. I mean, I’ve definitely changed and evolved out of my own reverse narcissism. Human beings are capable of the most incredible transformations and most of us only operate using one fraction of the capacity that we have within.
As much as I don’t think it’s right to say that someone will never change, I also, can’t lie about my own experiences; I can’t bullsh*t you guys.
I can’t grey up black-and-white facts in an attempt to color within the lines of correctness that would only concern those more interested in waving their magnifying glass than taking what serves them.
With all that being said, as far as “can a narcissist change?” Here’s what I think:
Narcissists are the easiest of the toxic species for their exes to assume that they’ve changed.
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, he/she will tell you (for example), that:
- They don’t want to settle down anytime soon.
- They love dogs, hate cats.
- They love meat too much to EVER be vegetarian.
- Prefer blondes over brunettes
- Are afraid of heights.
… WHATEVER it may be. These are just exaggerated examples.
They’ll then break up with you and then suddenly on social media, they’ll post a photo of…
Them proposing to a blonde on a plane just before skydiving while holding a cat, and declaring love for their new, all-vegetarian lifestyle.
This is how narcissists build teams and harems. Their only means of emotional survival is NOT through connection and meaning – it’s the level to which they can elicit a reaction through grandiose and superficial negation. And if you’ve been messed around by one of these people, you’ll be too heartbroken to see it as pathetic negation. You’ll be scared that it’s a substantial change. It’s not. This is the only way these people can feel a sense of significance – by draining you of yours.
Even the most confident people would question their worth if this happened.
This negation is the cheapest form of attention-mongering because it alters reality as you know it. And if you’re that busy questioning your worth, you will be too exhausted to identify transactional, attention-mongering tactics. These tactics are purely agenda-driven. They have nothing to do with you other than the only form of oxygen for narcissists: your reaction to them. Nothing devastates these people more or brings out their true colors faster than speaking with your actions and remaining silent.
Can a narcissist change?
I think everyone is capable of changing. Whether a narcissist is capable of changing is debatable, so let’s focus on what’s NOT debatable: Everlasting change will never happen unless there’s a burning desire to actually change.
There needs to be a willingness and an ability to TAKE THE TIME to recognize the impact, destruction, and toxicity of their actions. They need to take responsibility and apologize WITHOUT you having to lead the horse to water for any of this. If you have to orchestrate the humanity of out someone, that’s not a signal to get out your saxophone. It’s a signal to fold.
For a narcissist to change, they would need to be accountable and make amends through dignified and non-egoic action. These actions need to be rooted in a personal desire to change – independent of any kind of narcissistic panic associated with: losing, being exposed, being wrong, loss of control, and no longer getting his/her selfish needs met at the expense of your well being.
As Tony Robbins puts it, “change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” I think this is why reverse narcissists are more likely to get up off of their emotional asses and make a change. I know that this was the case for me.
It physically, intellectually, spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally HURTS to be a doormat.
The person with dirty boots definitely has to be entrenched in one hell of a lot of disconnectivity, insecurity, and pain to turn someone else into their doormat. However, the fact that they can position themselves to get their needs met through manipulation AND get away with doormatting another person WHILE being pedestaled… I mean, come on.
Narcissists being able to see their partner bend over backward FOR THEM due to feeling unworthy OF THEM is generally WAY too sweet of a deal to ever have a real DESIRE to change.
Reverse narcissists are more inclined to change because although they overdo it to a fault, they DO HAVE THE ABILITY to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Narcissists are empathetically bankrupt. It’s impossible for them to put themselves in anyone else’s shoes but their own.
The question isn’t, “Can a narcissist change?” as much as it is, “Does he/she see anything WRONG with the way he/she operates?”
Do they see enough wrong with the way they operate to take action instead of default back to grandiose words and more future faking promises?
Can a narcissist change?
It’s a short life. And just like you don’t have the right to take ownership of other people’s emotional handicaps, you don’t have the right to change or save anyone out of being who they are. It’s not your job to change anyone unless they are the diapers of a child – not the emotional ones of a grown adult.
And if you’re dead set on being “good enough” for the reluctant to reform, trust me when I say that if they genuinely wanted to change, you wouldn’t be ruining yourself in the process.
Walk away from people who are bad for you. Flush toxicity at every turn.
Value your peace more than you value crumbs from someone who doesn’t even know what a loaf is.
If someone has the capacity to doormat you, waiting for them to change is like waiting for the sky to turn green.
3 signs that he/she will never change
- They’re incredible in the beginning/honeymoon period but when faced with challenges like having to be accountable, apologize, be honest, let their guard down, deal with hardships, and having a mirror put up to their questionable actions/mistakes (that we all make because we are human), they deflect, act out more, blame you, get defensive, etc. If hard times reveal true colors of unavailability, a lack of empathy, a lack of honesty, and selfishness, I wouldn’t be waiting around for change nor would I waste my time being an on-call psychologist/performance coach for this person.
- They’re habits/patterns don’t change when they are faced with the same kind of situation/trigger that initially caused the pain, friction, drama, etc.
- They can’t admit fault unless your evidence is irrefutable. If they do admit fault, they have the tendency to at first, dot every relational “i” and cross every “t,” to such an extent that it can feel over the top and disingenuous. The same bs inevitably happens again. And again. Your aim should never be to reduce a grown adult to avoid his/her triggers and report in with you. You’re not a toxicity probation officer. The things that trigger us in life will never disappear. What dictates true, everlasting, and genuine change is a different response to the same trigger/situation/person, etc.
If someone doesn’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing or claims to see the wrong in it but continues with an all too familiar pattern…
Social media filters may make them look like a swan but they are still quacking.
And you deserve a fellow swan.
Written by: Natasha Adamo