If you find out that someone you know has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder or if you’re with someone you suspect might be a narcissist, this is probably be the first question that will come to your mind. Can the narcissists be cured, can they change?
I have to tell you that I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Therefore, do not take my opinions in this article as a professional point of view. So, I will first discuss the factors that urge people to change, the necessities of change; and then I will tell you about my personal opinion on whether the narcissists can change or not.
First of all, in order to be able to change, one has to accept that there’s something they need to change about themselves. But the narcissists’ most common trait is the fact they believe themselves to be special and superior. Therefore, their first obstacle is that they don’t feel like they need to be cured. Why would you want to change something that’s special? And someone who doesn’t want to change can never be changed!
Another important feature of the narcissists is that they don’t take responsibility for their actions, they blame other people or circumstances etc. for their mistakes. This is once again caused by the fact they believe themselves to be special. Because of their tendency to blame others, they think that if there’s someone or something that has to change; it’s not them but those around them or the current circumstances. For instance; if their partners were more attentive, if their bosses could see their value, if the society accepted their superiority, there would be no problems in the first place. However, real change begins when we change ourselves, not others.
Let’s assume the narcissist somehow realized and accepted that there’s something wrong with them. Perhaps they even accepted that (with your continuous support) they need to get professional help. Here we encounter another problem. In order to heal psychologically and emotionally, we need to face our weaknesses, the feelings that make us feel bad as well as our traumas. Our most suppressed fears, shame, jealousy and other negative feelings must be revealed. And that is hard enough for an average person. Most of us tend to avoid or suppress those feelings when we’re frightened or embarrassed. Accepting and facing our negative emotions require an emotional maturity and not all of us may possess such thing. On top of it all, such feelings make the narcissist feel in danger. Especially covert narcissists see shame as a direct threat and that triggers their defense mechanism. As a result, they fight it back.
Besides, there’s a hierarchy between the narcissists and the psychologists during therapies. The psychologist is there to help the narcissist. This situation alone makes the psychologist superior and that damages the narcissist’s already fragile ego. Because they believe themselves to be the psychologist’s superior or at least their equal; they’re likely to ignore the psychologist’s advice or simply look down on them.
Apart from all that; sometimes people who go to therapy fear they might lose their own personality traits and become an ordinary person. Naturally, narcissists who think they’re special feel this more deeply. Even after accepting the fact they have a personality disorder, a narcissist might not see this as a problem. They can feel like this disorder differentiates them from the ‘other ordinary people’.
And sometimes the therapy rooms turn into places for them to talk about themselves more freely which is something that won’t help them heal if you’d ask me.
There’s no medicine to cure narcissistic personality disorder. They’re given meds only if the narcissism is accompanied by other symptoms like depression or anxiety. In this way, even if the emotional state of the person cannot be fixed properly, the negative effects can be reduced.
To summarize, I believe that one has to accept the necessity of change and then conduct an internal study for it in order to change. So, people have to make a choice at every step of the path to change. That means the problem isn’t the fact the narcissist cannot change, the problem is the fact they don’t choose to change. After all, because everyone has the potential to change does not mean everyone can change.
Then is there no hope for the narcissists?
We need to look at narcissism as a spectrum. While some people show only a few traits of a typical narcissist, some others are on the other end of the spectrum. Let’s assume you’re with someone who sometimes acts superior, and sometimes they blame others for their mistakes but they still don’t do things like manipulating and using others or abusing them emotionally, physically or sexually. Besides, they’re mature enough to accept and try to change their ways when they realize that they were wrong. I believe such person to have higher chances of being cured. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will definitely change, but there’s certainly hope for people like that.
But if we’re talking about pathological narcissism or the narcissistic personality disorder, things aren’t that easy. The hope you have for these people to change may poison you.
Of course a narcissist can promise to change. They can say everything you expect them to say. If it serves them well, they can apologize as well. But we shouldn’t forget that they’re manipulative. Giving promises, saying the right things are quite easy. It doesn’t mean they’re changing. We shouldn’t let such things deceive us. If a narcissist say that they want to change, they may be doing so just to keep you by their side and not because they genuinely want to change. If you manage taking a step back and looking at your relationship through the eyes of an outsider, you’ll see that nothing changes in the long run.
Perhaps you can find yourself asking questions like “if they truly love me, if they truly care about our relationship, wouldn’t they change?” But these questions aren’t very realistic.
To me, realistic questions should be as follows:
- Do they accept the fact there’s something that needs to be changed?
- If there’s a change, is it simply verbal or did their actions change as well?
- If there’s a change, is it long-term? Or do they go back to their old antics after a while?
- Do they take responsibility for their actions? Or do they blame others for them?
- Do they take responsibility for their actions? Or do they blame their disorders for them?
- Do they continue going to the therapy? Or do they start presenting excuses after a few sessions? Do they complain about not having the time for it, about their therapy not working or do they claim that they’ve already been cured?
- Do they warm up to the idea of continuing therapy only when you push them to it, or do they actively try to get help for their own sake?
- Do they victimize themselves and expect you to pity them?
- Do they expect you to fix them? Do they expect you to be there for them all the time and take responsibility on their behalf?
- Do they continuously ask for another chance?
- Besides, are you sure you can maintain your own mental health during the long years a narcissist might need to get better?
As a result, hoping that someone would change or get better –especially if this someone is a narcissist– isn’t very realistic. Change is hard. Think of how hard you’d need to try to change one of your simplest habits. What we’re talking about is the entire personality of an individual. Therefore, you need to accept that you cannot change a person just like that. People change only if they truly want to change and start doing something about it. Once you accept this fact and stop trying to control others, you’ll realize that they actually don’t have any power over you either.
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You can also find the articles on https://medium.com/@narsistsiz:
Samvak. “ Can the Narcissist Help Himself?”. http://samvak.tripod.com/narcissismselfhelp.html.
Medium. “When To Bury The Hope That The Narcissist Will Change”. Access 5 June, 2018. https://medium.com/@OwnYourReality/when-to-bury-the-hope-that-the-narcissist-will-change-e9a0130ffb63.