People, including those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), can change. Lasting results often depend on a commitment to change, a willingness to self-reflect, and the ability to cultivate empathy.
You can change your thoughts and behaviors when living with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
NPD is treatable, though success often relies on recognizing unhelpful processes and the desire to improve them.
“Absolutely, someone with NPD can change, although the process can be gradual,” says Jennifer Worley, a licensed marriage and family therapist from San Juan Capistrano, California.
“Narcissist” is an outdated term that refers to people living with NPD. It’s also used to describe people who show high levels of narcissistic traits.
In this article, we use the term “narcissist” for readers who may be unfamiliar with the current terminology of narcissistic personality disorder.
Change isn’t easy. Even if you aren’t living with a mental health condition, moving from what you’re familiar with into the unknown can be uncomfortable.
If you live with NPD, not only is change difficult, but realizing you may need to change can be even more challenging.
In any life circumstance, change is less likely when you don’t think it’s necessary.
Individuals with ego-centric traits mainly think of themselves with a decreased regard for how other people think or feel. As an ego-centric disorder, NPD can make it challenging to see the negative side of narcissistic behaviors.
Recognizing unhelpful behavior patterns is essential.
“Awareness is key to admitting one’s faults and taking accountability for one’s behaviors and attitudes,” says Natalie Jambazian, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Los Angeles. “… They first have to acknowledge that their behavior is causing their partner and others harm.”
Willingness to self-reflect
Self-reflection involves examining your values, motives, behaviors, and relationships and how they interconnect. But self-reflection can be difficult for people living with NPD because the disorder naturally biases you toward a favorable opinion of yourself.
Wanting to self-reflect can be a positive indicator of change.
“Individuals open to change are willing to engage in self-reflection and examine their thoughts and behaviors critically,” says Ann Robinson, a licensed clinical social worker from Fort Collins, Colorado.
Evidence of empathy
One of the defining characteristics of NPD is lack of empathy. Empathy, the ability to relate to the emotional states and experiences of others, is a foundational part of building and maintaining bonds with people.
Experiencing empathy when you live with NPD can help you see why change is essential.
“One of the most telling signs is a genuine acknowledgment of their behavior and its impact on others,” Worley explains. “This might manifest as expressions of remorse, a willingness to seek therapy, or actively seeking feedback about their behavior.”
Putting in the work
Maintaining consistency in their effort is another sign that someone living with NPD may want to change, Jambazian says. “Staying consistent with their healing is a good sign that shows change is possible.”
Putting in the work to change indicates a strong desire for change.
At its core, narcissism is excessive self-love or self-focus. It exists on a spectrum — many people have narcissistic traits but don’t have a personality disorder.
It’s OK to experience a sense of self-love and to think well of yourself. On the low end of the spectrum, narcissistic traits can be an empowering force.
But NPD is the far end of the narcissism spectrum. NPD is diagnosed when narcissism becomes an enduring pattern of self-importance that negatively affects your life and interpersonal relationships.
“Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a deep-seated pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy toward others,” Worleys says.
To receive a diagnosis of NPD, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), five or more of the following persistent patterns or behaviors must be present by early adulthood:
- a grandiose sense of self-importance
- preoccupation with limitless power, success, ideal love, beauty, or intelligence
- belief of being better or more special than others and understood only by society’s elite
- need for excessive admiration
- a sense of extreme entitlement
- manipulation and exploitation of others
- lack of empathy
- envious of others or believes they’re at the center of others’ envy
Treatment is available if you live with NPD or want to change narcissistic traits. Psychotherapy, which can involve various approaches, can help you recognize and restructure unhelpful thoughts and behaviors in NPD.
Jambazian suggests therapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT), which can help you address behavior and underlying issues.
“In addition, the psychodynamic approach is helpful by working on bringing the unconscious mind to the consciousness,” says Jambazian.
She adds that therapy focused on working through early childhood experiences that have affected adult behaviors is also a groundbreaking intervention for NPD.
“In therapy, individuals with NPD can explore the underlying causes of their narcissistic traits, gain self-awareness, and develop healthier coping mechanisms,” Robinson explains. “Change is often gradual, and it requires the individual’s commitment to self-improvement.”
Tips for supporting someone living with NPD during change
When a loved one living with NPD wants to change, it’s a significant breakthrough. Robinson, Worley, and Jambazian recommend the following tips to support their journey:
- encourage self-reflection through journaling
- set and maintain boundaries regarding acceptable behavior
- provide positive reinforcement to acknowledge behavioral changes, no matter how small
- practice patience and understanding
- focus on active listening to validate their efforts
- offer constructive feedback using “I feel” statements
- educate yourself on NPD to help build compassion
- be supportive and encouraging of professional treatment
Narcissistic personality disorder is an ego-centric mental health condition that can prevent you from recognizing a need to change. An ego-centric person mainly thinks of themselves with low regard for other people.
You may not see any issue with your behaviors because you’re innately unconcerned with how they impact anyone other than yourself.
Still, change is not impossible.
You can change your patterns of behavior when you live with NPD. Recognizing unhelpful behaviors, experiencing empathy for others, and self-introspection are signs change is possible.