Can Narcissists Change For The Better?

Narcissism is often seen as an irreversible personality trait, but is change possible? While change is challenging, there is potential for narcissists to improve their behavior with sustained effort and the right support, but the truth is it’s highly unlikely.

Psychologists highlight that narcissistic traits can be softened through consistent therapeutic interventions can create incremental progress to increasing empathy and developing healthier relationships over time.

However, one of the deciding factors of narcissism is the inability to admit any wrongdoing. Narcissists believe that admitting they are wrong is a sign of a weakness.

To a narcissist, they view everyone else as the problem so the idea of getting them into therapy and opening up a willingness change will be an extremely uphill battle that will result in their continued gaslighting and attempts to manipulate you into being the problem.

In my experience, it’s best to go no-contact with a narcissist and move on as if they will never change.

Understanding Narcissism

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by a long-term pattern of exaggerated self-importance, a lack of empathy for others, and an intense need for admiration. Individuals with NPD often display a large sense of self, believing they are superior to others.

This disorder can affect various aspects of life, such as relationships and work.

Traits of Narcissism

Traits of narcissism can be identified through observable behaviors and attitudes. These traits include an inflated sense of self-importance, constant seeking of admiration, and a lack of empathy.

Narcissists often take advantage of others to achieve their own goals and may show arrogance or a sense of entitlement.

Some common behavioral traits include manipulation and self-centeredness. Emotionally, narcissists might react poorly to criticism and may seem envious of others. Interpersonal conflicts are common, as their actions and attitudes strain relationships.

These consistent behaviors can help identify narcissistic traits in individuals and distinguish them from typical self-esteem issues.

What Creates A Narcissist?

Early life experiences often shape narcissistic tendencies. Factors such as parental overvaluation or neglect can contribute significantly. Consistent praise without constructive feedback may lead to an inflated self-view.

Social environments play a pivotal role too. High-pressure situations or environments that reward narcissistic behavior can exacerbate these traits. Conversely, supportive and empathetic surroundings may encourage more normal and respectful behaviors.

Early Childhood

Trauma in early childhood can significantly shape the psychological development of future adults This often leads to the formation of narcissistic traits as a defense mechanism.

When a child experiences trauma, such as neglect, abuse, or severe criticism, they may develop an inflated self-image and defensive behaviors to cope with the overwhelming feelings of vulnerability and worthlessness.

This defensive stance becomes a crucial part of their identity, designed to protect them from further emotional harm.

Early childhood trauma disrupts the formation of a stable and secure sense of self. Children subjected to traumatic experiences often feel powerless and unworthy.

To compensate, they may construct a grandiose self-image, convincing themselves and others of their superiority and invulnerability.

This inflated self-perception acts as a shield against the painful reality of their early experiences. By viewing themselves as flawless and superior, they can avoid confronting the deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and fear that stem from their trauma.

When these kids grow up and encounter criticism in adulthood, it threatens this fragile self-image, triggering intense defensiveness.

Criticism echoes the negative messages they received during their traumatic experiences, bringing back feelings of vulnerability and worthlessness that they are desperate to avoid.

A little kid being scolded by his parents in a home setting. The parents are standing with stern expressions, pointing and gesturing as they scold the child. The child looks sad and guilty, with head bowed and hands clasped in front. The background shows a typical home environment with furniture, adding to the sense of an emotional family interaction.

To protect themselves, they react with extreme defensiveness, often employing aggressive or hurtful behaviors towards others. This reaction is not just a response to the immediate criticism but also a way to reassert their perceived superiority and maintain their psychological defenses.

The defense mechanisms used by narcissists are often intentionally hurtful. By lashing out at others, they aim to shift the focus away from their own perceived flaws and weaknesses.

This aggression serves to undermine the critic, thereby restoring their own sense of power and control. Hurting others becomes a way to reinforce their grandiose self-image and protect against the emotional pain associated with their early trauma.

They may use tactics such as belittling, gaslighting, or manipulation to discredit those who challenge them, ensuring that their own vulnerabilities remain hidden.

This pattern of behavior creates a vicious cycle. The more they feel threatened by criticism, the more aggressively they defend themselves, and the more they reinforce their defensive, narcissistic behaviors.

This cycle makes it incredibly difficult for them to break free from their defensive patterns and develop healthier ways of relating to others. The trauma from their early childhood continues to cast a long shadow over their adult relationships, perpetuating a defensive stance that is deeply rooted in their need to protect themselves from the emotional pain of their past.

Approaches to Change

Changing narcissistic behavior involves both professional interventions and personal efforts. These approaches can focus on shifting thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to narcissism.


Therapy is a fundamental method for addressing narcissistic traits. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) targets thought patterns, helping individuals recognize and alter dysfunctional beliefs. Another option, Psychodynamic Therapy, looks into the unconscious motivations behind narcissistic behavior.

Group Therapy often provides valuable peer feedback, allowing individuals to witness their behavior mirrored in others. Medication may also be prescribed for co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety but is not a standalone solution.

For therapy to be effective, the narcissist must be committed to change and willing to engage deeply with the process which is highly unlikely.

Challenges in the Change Process

Narcissists face significant hurdles in their journey toward positive change. These hurdles primarily include their resistance to treatment and the influence of societal perceptions.

Resistance to Treatment

Narcissists often exhibit a strong resistance to acknowledging their own flaws. They frequently dismiss criticism and feedback, making therapeutic interventions challenging.

Their deep-seated need for admiration leads to denial of personal shortcomings. This often results in avoidance of therapy or non-compliance with therapeutic suggestions.

Therapists may struggle to build rapport with narcissistic patients. Trust issues and power dynamics further complicate the therapeutic relationship.

Narcissists may feel threatened by the vulnerability required in therapy. They may also manipulate therapy sessions to maintain a sense of superiority, undermining the effectiveness of treatment.

Social Pressures

Societal perceptions play a crucial role in either facilitating or hindering the change process for narcissists.

Society often stereotypes narcissistic behaviors as immutable, which can demotivate individuals from seeking help. This stigma can reinforce narcissists’ self-justifications for their behavior.

Measuring Improvement

Evaluating whether narcissists can change involves observing specific behavioral shifts and the quality of their relationships. Specific markers can indicate their progress.

Markers of Change

Behavioral markers include increased empathy, consistent self-reflection, and accountability for actions.

Increased empathy is shown by their ability to understand and consider others’ feelings. Consistent self-reflection involves recognizing their own flaws and making a genuine effort to improve.

Accountability requires taking responsibility for mistakes without deflecting blame. Monitoring these markers can help gauge whether a narcissist is making sincere efforts toward positive change.

Relational Outcomes

Relational outcomes are another critical area of measurement. Improved communication and trust within personal and professional relationships can be indicative of change.

Better communication might be evident through more open and honest dialogues, while trust could be measured by reliability and integrity in their interactions.

Assessing these relational outcomes helps provide a clearer picture of whether a narcissist’s behavior has genuinely improved.

Final Thoughts

While it’s technically possible for a narcissist to change, the honest answer is that you will be better off not expecting them to. These are hurt people who view you as a vampire they can suck the blood of for their own personal gain.

If a narcissist wants to change it has to come from a place of deep personal reflection where there is a self-acknowledgement that they may be the problem.

Attempting to point out their flaws is the exact reason they became a narcissist in the first place. A narcissist seeking to reform will only do so when they have experienced a significant amount of pain as a result of their relationships with others.

Often times this involves everyone in their lives leaving them and they find themselves lonely, isolated, and feeling unwanted. This relates to their childhood deeply in brings up a lifetime of emotional trauma.

Only once they can make the connection that the very thing they feared has now become the reality of their life will they be willing to change, and there is nothing you can do to point that out.

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