Many people occasionally behave in narcissistic ways. Whether a person can change this behavior depends on what is causing it, and whether the person wants to change.
Some people have narcissistic tendencies that are a product of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). NPD is a mental health condition that affects a person’s personality throughout life. It is notoriously difficult to treat, as people with NPD often do not acknowledge they have it.
This can be a barrier to progress. However, if a person can acknowledge their narcissistic traits and gets treatment, their symptoms
That said, this requires self-awareness and honesty. Not everyone with narcissistic traits, whether they have NPD or not, may be willing to explore this. There is no guarantee a person will change, or if they are abusive, that they will stop their abusive behavior.
Read on to learn more about whether people with narcissism can change.
Yes, people with narcissistic traits can change. However, they need to be willing to.
Narcissism is when a person believes they are better or more important than others in some way. Because people with narcissistic traits want admiration, they may find it difficult to see or admit to any flaws, even when this causes problems in their lives.
People with narcissistic beliefs can also react angrily if someone challenges their sense of superiority, or they may conceal this trait from others.
These factors can be a significant barrier to change. The extent to which a person can change also depends on whether they have narcissistic traits alone, or whether they have NPD.
Many people have some narcissistic beliefs. This does not necessarily mean they have NPD. Similarly, not every person who engages in abusive or manipulative behavior has NPD, either.
NPD is a long-term mental health condition that affects a person’s personality and way of thinking consistently over time. Whether a person has NPD depends on whether they meet the diagnostic criteria for the condition.
A person with NPD will have a persistent pattern of behavior that includes
- an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- excessive desire for admiration
- preoccupation with fantasies of power, success, wealth, beauty, or perfect love
- a belief they are special, and that they should only interact with other special people or institutions
- a sense of entitlement, such as that they are above the rules
- arrogant attitudes or behaviors
- exploitative relationships
- envy of others
- lack of empathy
It is a myth that people with NPD cannot change. However, while treatment may reduce symptoms, there is no cure. Additionally, people with NPD may avoid treatment, or may not present their true symptoms.
There is no standardized therapy for NPD. This means there is no single approach or type of therapy that therapists always use for this condition.
For this to help, a person must be willing to be honest about their behaviors and commit to changing. Nobody, including a therapist, can force a person to do this.
Research on transference-focused therapy for NPD is promising. This approach uses the relationship between the therapist and the person with NPD as a vehicle for change and for better understanding emotions and behaviors.
Clinicians may also use schema therapy. In schema therapy, a clinician works with a person to identify the core beliefs they use to understand themselves and the world and then replace them with more balanced ones.
Therapy will not cure NPD, but it may reduce symptoms, or even help a person enter remission.
Research has found that the prevalence of personality disorders, including NPD, generally decreases with age.
People who no longer meet the criteria for NPD can still score highly on narcissism as a trait, and may still engage in manipulative or abusive behavior.
No, love from another person cannot change a person with NPD. Only the individual with NPD can make that choice.
Some people with NPD may seek treatment because of a threat to an important relationship, but there is no guarantee they will ever want to do this.
It is not safe to stay in an abusive relationship hoping the person will change. It is also important to be aware that perpetrators of abuse can exploit a person’s desire for love to manipulate them.
For example, abusive relationships can begin with “love bombing,” which is when a person focuses intensely on a new partner, giving them lots of attention and compliments. This can create the feeling of a whirlwind romance, causing a person to trust and commit to the perpetrator quickly.
However, this also means that when the perpetrator does start behaving abusively, it is harder to comprehend and harder to leave. Some perpetrators may also promise to go to therapy to placate their partner, but then never go.
Healthy relationships require mutual respect and a desire to care for one another. This can be challenging for people with NPD.
People with NPD can and do have relationships, but without treatment, these relationships involve a persistent pattern of exploiting others in an attempt to achieve their own desires and inflate their sense of worth. Interpersonal conflict is also a
Some issues that may arise include:
- consistently prioritizing one’s own needs over those of others, including children
- misusing family resources, such as money
- frequent arguments
- physical or emotional neglect, abuse, or violence
People who are close with someone who has narcissistic traits or NPD should educate themselves on the potential issues the condition can cause.
Anyone who is concerned about the behavior of a loved one, or the impact it is having on them, can seek support. People can talk about the behavior with a therapist or by contacting a helpline.
Mental health support can be valuable for helping people cope with the effects of narcissistic behavior, and aid with identifying when it is happening. It may also give people the tools to safely leave the relationship if it has become unsafe.
Help is available
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of domestic violence, call 911 or otherwise seek emergency help. Anyone who needs advice or support can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 via:
- phone, at 800-799-7233
- live chat, at thehotline.org
- text, by texting LOVEIS to 22522
Many other resources are available, including helplines, in-person support, and temporary housing. People can find local resources and others classified by demographics, such as support specifically for People of Color, here:
People with narcissistic traits can change. It is a myth that NPD is untreatable. However, whether a person has NPD or not, people cannot change unless they decide to. A loved one cannot force a person with NPD to change, nor love them into seeking treatment.
There is some evidence that NPD can reduce with age. However, people in relationships that include narcissistic behavior should not stay in the relationship based only on the promise the person will get better, especially if abuse is taking place.