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Can Narcissists Ever Change?

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Is it Possible for Narcissists to Change?

Written by Narcissistic Abuse Expert and Coach, Randi Fine

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

Scenario One

You just realized that your parent, the one whose behavior has always been disturbing but previously indescribable, has something called narcissistic personality disorder. You, as people in every society do, believe that family is forever. Family was your past and family is your future. Families are there for us when others aren't. Or are they?

In an article posted on Forbes Magazine, What Does Having A 'Real' Family Mean, it is stated that "According to recent statistics, 70%-80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. If you're in the minority, you might find it hard to imagine not having an emotional connection to family members."

There comes a time when your narcissistic parent's treatment of you becomes unbearable, intolerable. You mentally scroll through all possible options, searching for a solution you can live with. All options are based upon the hope that your parent will change. At this point you do one or all of the following:

  • Write a letter and gently explain how hurt you feel. If you say it just the right way your parent will surely recognize his behavior and change it. The belief is, "My parent loves me and would not want to hurt me".

  • Sit down with your parent and have a heart to heart conversation. The hope is, "When my parent sees how upset I am, she will certainly want to change her behavior."

  • Set boundaries to protect yourself, and insist your parent follow them. The rationale is, "That will certainly curb his abusive behavior".

  • Be careful what you say around your parent. The logic is, "If I get it right, that will keep her from getting upset".

  • Do whatever you can to keep your parent happy. The reasoning is, "It's easier to give in than to oppose him".

  • Keep your emotional or physical distance for awhile. The theory is, "That will send a clear message to her. She'll miss me, fear losing me, and realize she has to change".

Scenario Two

You have invested your heart, energy and time in a love interest; a relationship you believe will stand the test of time. Perhaps you have married the person and envision the future you will have together. The anticipation of future plans, hopes and dreams with the person you love and who you believe loves you, solidifies the bond you have together.

In the beginning of the relationship he loved everything about you. In his eyes you could do no wrong. Other than a red flag or two that you noticed and quickly dismissed, he was the perfect partner for you. It was a match made in heaven.

Seemingly out of nowhere, usually after your commitment is somehow made, your love interest's behavior changes. He seems to dislike everything about you and wants to change you. He becomes more and more critical of your decisions, actions and behavior. You cannot make sense of his drastic change. You know he loves you because he clearly demonstrated it at the beginning. So you ask yourself, "what could have possibly happened"?

You begin to self analyze. Perhaps it is something you're doing or saying that is causing this behavior. If that's not the problem, maybe he is going through something and it will eventually blow over. In a desperate attempt to retrieve the initial intensity and bond the two of you had, you vow to do whatever it takes; sacrifice your needs, wants, your very self to get things back to the way they were.

You are able to manage this approach for awhile, but at some point in the relationship you realize that you are emotionally and physically drained. You don't know who you are anymore. You don't trust yourself to make decisions. He blows up every time you address his treatment of you, question him about anything, or assert yourself. You realize that it is just not worth the rage that follows, and stop trying.

This is a terrible dilemma. You love this person and cannot imagine life without him. Your future as a couple looks ideal. It's everything you ever dreamed of and never thought you'd have. On the other hand, you are unhappy, stressed and depressed. Still, you cling to the belief that he will change. You begin mentally scrolling through all possible options that will make that happen:

  • "I'll write a letter and gently explain how hurt I feel. If I say it just the right way, she will surely recognize her behavior and change it. She loves me and would not want to hurt me."

  • "I'll sit down with him and have a heart to heart conversation. When he sees how upset I am, he will certainly want to change his behavior."

  • "I'll set boundaries to protect myself and insist that she follow them. That will curb her behavior."

  • "I'll be careful what I say around him; try to keep him from getting upset."

  • "I'll do whatever I can to keep her happy. It's easier to give in than to challenge her."

  • "I'll emotionally or physically distance myself for awhile. That will send a clear message to him. He'll miss me, fear losing me, and realize he has to change."

Both scenarios involve the narcissist changing. Surely, you tell yourself, the person who loves you and wants to keep you in her life, can and will be willing to change her behavior. Then everything will be okay. This type of mindset is comforting. It keeps all hopes and dreams in tact.

The problem with that hopeful mindset is that no matter how much or how many times you have pleaded with her to see your perspective, she never seems to care. She has never demonstrated the willingness to change. She has never apologized for anything she has done to hurt you. Somehow you are always to blame. This reality is difficult for you to accept.

At this juncture, it's important for you to know the facts, understand the bottom line. The truth is, it doesn't matter what you do, how much you pray, plead or please. Narcissists cannot change. It's not about the narcissist wanting or not wanting to change. They just cannot. It will never happen. And you cannot love the problem away. In order to change, a person much have introspection. They must be willing to accept and take accountability for their words and actions. Unfortunately, the narcissistic personality disorder pathology does not allow narcissists to see themselves as anything but perfect. They cannot see that they have flaws or make mistakes, nor can they accept that they are not always right.

Narcissists have highly reactive personalities. When confronted with any perceived criticism, the negativity boomerangs right off of them and back to the "criticizer". It doesn't matter how carefully you word things. It doesn't matter if you tiptoe around the subject. It doesn't matter if you cloak your concern in love. It doesn't matter if you break down or fall apart. They simply cannot see it, and the guarantee is that you will somehow be blamed.

There isn't a psychologist or psychiatrist who can effectively treat people with NPD. It just cannot be done. Anyone who claims that they can or have is not treating or has not treated a true pathological narcissist.

A difficult decision has to be made. Deciding whether to limit or sever contact, to stay or go, is painful and heartbreaking, but it is yours to make. Time is not on your side. Narcissistic abuse gets worse, more and more destructive to your mental and physical health, the longer you stay in it. The same applies to innocent children who are caught in the crossfire.

It is likely that the decision you make will be life altering. For that reason, you should never make this kind of decision without the guidance and support of a narcissistic abuse specialist. The emotional fallout of narcissistic abuse recovery is complex; very difficult to manage on your own.

I advise that you never make the decision to go "no contact" without completing the crucial steps that must come before it. Those who leave this part out find themselves riddled with consuming guilt feelings. A narcissistic abuse specialist can help you navigate this complex process in an emotionally healthy way.

Jeffrey Kluger, a senior writer at Time magazine and author of The Narcissist Next Door, summed this all up well with the following quote: "There's a reason narcissists never learn from their mistakes and that's because they never get past the first step which is admitting they made one."

Randi Fine is an internationally renowned narcissistic abuse expert and coach, and the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery Second Edition, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of the official companion workbook Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: A Comprehensive Workbook for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse. Randi Fine is the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.


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