- Narcissists Cannot Heal or Get Better
- Can Narcissism Be Cured? Too Many Tricksters Are Providing False Claims – Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program
- Let’s Slow Down
- Can Narcissism Be Cured?
- Are Change And Recovery Possible?
- Tricksters And Their False Claims
- 6 Keys for Narcissists to Change Toward the Higher Self
- Can Narcissists Change?
- Can a Narcissist Change? What to Expect
- Acknowledging the feelings of others
- Interest in their behavior
- Willingness to self-reflect
- Dual diagnosis
- Offer encouragement and validation
- Understand when they’re making progress
- Learn what apologizing behaviors look
- Look out for abuse
- Don’t treat therapy a miracle cure
- Don’t let boundaries slip
Narcissists Cannot Heal or Get Better
A question we hear asked a lot is how can the narcissist heal, or how can narcissists get better. The truthful answer is that the narcissist cannot heal. Narcissists cannot get better.
The narcissist is a shattered persona.
The narcissist's mind – their very self – broke into pieces under whatever stress and pressure they were subjected to before the personality was even formed yet, and before they could even understand what was going on.
And then it stayed that way.
And then it formed that way.
And then it grew into being that way.
There is no way to put this back together to make it whole. It is not possible. A personality disorder affects every aspect of a person's thinking. It colors every single thing they do, say and think.
There is no way to change this. It's who and what they are. They are many fragmented pieces walking around behind a mask.
In that way, it is similar to dissociative identity disorder, which we used to call multiple personality disorder.
Now, that doesn't mean there is no hope for malignant narcissists to become better in some ways – especially depending on which disorder they have. Some parts of some narcissists' behavior can be changed, through therapy and possibly medication.
If they can understand they have a disorder, admit that the problem is with them and their thinking, and commit to treatment wholeheartedly, there is a possibility that some of their more awful behaviors can be changed – but again, that is all that can happen, and it's a long shot. Their way of thinking and feeling will not change. They will still be a narcissist.
They will still be a shattered persona with no true identity and no true ability to love or see people as real and equal in importance. They can never be made whole.
If you drop a plate on the ground and it shatters, the plate is broken. Even if you could somehow glue it back together, there will be chunks and pieces and splinters missing. There will be holes and gaps and jagged edges. The pieces cannot truly connect to each other. It can never be the same.
It can never be whole. It is simply a bunch of shards stuck together. It can function for a period of time, as the narcissist also can function for a period of time, but there is always the threat that it could come apart under pressure because it is already broken.
With enough pressure, it will come apart.
This is why you cannot love narcissists back to mental health. There is no mental health to come back to. The possibility of them being a whole person was destroyed before you ever met this person. It was destroyed before they were ever even old enough to have a true identity.
You cannot force them to be different. You cannot wish or make or hope the narcissist better. When you love a narcissist, you do not love a person, because there is no actual whole person there.
There are simply endlessly-shifting masks and pieces coming to the forefront and then fading into the background as another takes over.
Can Narcissism Be Cured? Too Many Tricksters Are Providing False Claims – Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program
Can narcissism be cured?
Better yet, can a person’s love cure the narcissist?
It’s an interesting and tantalizing question. Can there be a cure to the absurd and devastating insanity so many partners and their families experience?
A cure sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? So promising and so beautiful. With just X, Y, and Z, you can save your marriage!
By golly, you can simply change the way you approach things and – magic – make the narcissist “bring the tenderness, thoughtfulness, and admiration that every partner craves and deserves!”
Simply follow a magical roadmap and become the adored partner that you’ve been dreaming of! You can rebuild your sanity, and the narcissism just melts away- a distant memory. Even more, you can become “ridiculously happy” in the process!
Let’s Slow Down
Let’s talk about the general landscape of mental health for a moment. Have we ever found a cure for depression? For addiction? For eating disorders? Have we located a complete treatment for anxiety or complex trauma?
The answer is no. No reputable mental health professional would ever cite that there is a cure. Management, maybe. But a complete cure? Not a chance.
A cure is a lofty promise built on dangerous and false hope. It’s a promise that maintains people in sickness, holds marriages toxic, and keeps families dysfunctional.
Mental health doesn’t operate on a problem-cure basis. Mental health lies on a continuum of ebbs and flows. A cure doesn’t exist because a singular reason for mental health problems doesn’t exist, either.
Furthermore, personality disorders, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, are notoriously challenging to treat. That’s because personality disorders encompass deeply ingrained, inappropriate behavioral patterns that often stem in childhood or adolescence.
Can Narcissism Be Cured?
This is not meant to be entirely dismissive. People can change- when they want to change. They can change when they are willing and desperate and hungry to do the work to change.
That said, this change requires multidimensional work. It requires an honest examination of self, of internal flaws, and of how individual behavior impacts other people. It also requires tremendous time, patience, and diligence.
Do you honestly believe the narcissist in your life can do that? Beyond their manipulation of telling you that they’re going to change for the thousandth time?
For one, most narcissists do not identify with having any valid problems. Instead, they interpret the rest of the world as problematic. Other people have the issues, and the narcissist becomes a victim to those alleged issues.
At some point, narcissists may become aware of their deceptive and manipulative tactics. However, un most people, instead of becoming embarrassed or ashamed of their behaviors, they react with indifference.
The mindset is along the lines of, why should I need to focus on self-improvement? If the world wasn’t so incompetent, if YOU weren’t so X, Y, or Z, I wouldn’t need to do resort to those tactics.
Are Change And Recovery Possible?
These are tricky questions. Most well-intentioned targets of narcissistic abuse desperately want to believe that their loved one can heal. They want to save their relationship and their family.
And this is not to say change isn’t possible. But it’s holding onto hope that an abusive batterer will stop hitting his or her spouse.
Yes, there exists a rare possibility. But we would never advocate that a spouse “stick it out” in the hopes that the situation changes.
Instead, we would direct this spouse to crisis hotlines and shelters. We would talk about safety plans and coping skills for leaving. We would never encourage one waits it out to see if things change.
Realistically, we know that they won’t.
Even with therapy available, most narcissists won’t seek sustainable treatment. Sure, they may agree to a session or two. Often, this is perceived obligation or as an attempt to “dazzle” the professional with their twisted ways.
In fact, therapy can be a fantastic resource to continuously flatter a narcissist’s ego- especially if he or she can lie and manipulate the clinician (which many can).
Remember that narcissists don’t believe they need to change. Instead, they believe the world around them needs to change.
Tricksters And Their False Claims
Googling ‘cure for Narcissistic personality disorder’ displays 735,000 results. As society becomes more aware of narcissism and its devastating impact, this number will continue to climb. This notion of a cure is a toxic rabbit hole.
Many “online sensations” capitalize on the vulnerability of mental health by offering false claims of so-called cures. They offer expensive courses and fancy “premium secrets” promising the answer to all your problems.
These promises are not only a waste of your time and money. They can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being. They can create unfair expectations and crashing disappointment when those expectations (inevitably) don’t get met.
Don’t put your faith in an online sensation because they have 100k followers or call themselves an expert. Don’t listen when they say their spouse changed back into a loving person by following some roadmap or because they claim they’re a reformed narcissist (and that your narcissist can heal, too, if you just get them enrolled in ABC program!)
If you’re still asking, cannarcissism be cured, it’s time to stop focusing on changing the narcissist and instead focus on your narcissistic abuse recovery. Seeking your own growth and freedom is the closest semblance to a cure you’ll find from this hellish nightmare.
The road to recovery and freedom starts with a single step.
Copyright 2019 Kim Saeed
6 Keys for Narcissists to Change Toward the Higher Self
The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration.
Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings.
But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
The causes of pathological narcissism are complex and deep-seated. Many narcissists are oblivious to their negative and often self-destructive behavioral patterns, which typically result in them experiencing life lessons the hard way. Negative consequences as the result of chronic narcissism may include some of the following:
- Loneliness and isolation. Few healthy, close, and lasting relationships.
- Family estrangement.
- Relationship cut-offs from others feeling let down, disappointed, lied to, used, manipulated, violated, exploited, betrayed, ripped-off, demeaned, invalidated, or ignored.
- Missed opportunities from a lack of true substance and/or connectedness.
- Financial, career, or legal trouble from rule breaking, gross irresponsibility, careless indulgence, or other indiscretions.
- Damaged personal and/or professional reputation.
However, for narcissists who have a degree of self-awareness, there are ways to liberate oneself from the illusion of falsehood, begin the process of inner healing, and progressively move towards manifesting the real, Higher Self.
For the purpose of this writing, elements of realizing the Higher Self include self-acceptance, substantive success, and the capacity to feel and engage in truly healthy, loving, and lasting relationships.
Below are six keys for narcissists to progressively attain toward the Higher Self, excerpted from my books “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists” and “A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self”. This information is general and introductory only.
One should consult with a qualified mental health professional for individualized guidance and support. For the purpose of conveying immediacy, the following passages are written as if they’re reaching out directly to a narcissist, even if the present reader may not be one.
1. Be Aware of Boundaries and Practice Consideration
Benefits: Reduce work and personal relationship fallouts due to boundary violation. Normalize and improve relationships.
Perhaps the single most important idea to keep in mind for a recovering narcissist is to be cognizant of where the self ends, and another human being begins. Exercise greater consideration for other people’s existence, thoughts, and feelings. Practical tips on how to achieve this include:
- Address people by their names, both in speaking and in writing.
- Listen at least as much as you talk.
- Express genuine interest in and curiosity about people in your life. Ask appropriate questions to learn more about what’s new and important to them.
- Be careful not to thoughtlessly intrude upon others’ personal space, use their personal property, or take up their personal time without permission. When making requests, ask instead of giving orders or presuming that you know best. Awareness and vigilance are necessary here, for narcissists are often good at asking manipulatively to get what they want. Ask not with leading but open questions. Give space for the other person to exercise free choice. Respect the choice, even if it’s not what you want every time.
2. Develop and Deliver Substance
Benefits: Reduce the stress, anxiety, and moral conflict (“inner nagging”) that may come with having to pretend, lie, cheat, manipulate, exaggerate, demean, malign, cut corners, take short cuts, or break promises, knowing deep down that you are not whom you make yourself out to be.
Increase the possibility of enjoying genuine, more durable personal as well as professional relationships. Enhance your reputation as a person who is solid, reliable, and dependable. Build trust from which many long-term personal and professional connections, opportunities, and successes emerge.
“In all things – substance! substance! substance!” is an excellent mantra for many recovering narcissists, to repeat daily during decision points. Practical tips on how to achieve this include:
- Do what you say you’re going to do. Keep promises, agreements, and appointments.
- Conversely, avoid making any promises you can’t keep.
- When not able to follow through, be accountable and take responsibility. Importantly, be pro-active and identify what you will do to rectify the situation going forward. Build trust with your honor and integrity.
- Focus on making a measurable difference in your work and relationships. Avoid actions and decisions that will cause others to feel short-changed, cheated, used, belittled, manipulated, and correspondingly disappointed. A good way to measure is whether people are as happy after receiving what you deliver as when you initially promised, and whether they your substance enough to repeat the interaction again.
3. Use Your Observer Self to Increase Mindfulness
Benefits: Reduce friction, conflict, and misunderstandings. Increase positive and constructive social interactions.
The Observer Self is a useful psychological resource that helps increase awareness in many situations. It is the part of your consciousness that exercises mindfulness, and helps you make intelligent, considerate decisions.
For example, if you’re speeding on the freeway in heavy rain, you can either do so obliviously, or you can “observe” your driving, make a mental note that you’re driving way too fast in bad weather, and consider whether it would be safer to slow down.
This mindful process is your Observer Self in action.
In your relationships with people, when you suspect that your narcissistic tendencies could get the best of you, elicit the help of your Observer Self by asking one or more of the following questions:
“How is what I’m about to say or do going to come off?”
“How might someone feel on the receiving end of my communication and behavior?”
“Could the other person feel used, slighted, looked down upon, or ignored on the receiving end of my conduct?”
“Are my words and actions intended to show how ‘great,’ ‘unique,’ ‘special,’ and ‘superior’ I am?
Whenever we elicit the help of our Observer Self, we’re taking a healthy look in the mirror, which may help us come across as more authentic human beings.
4. Seek Help and Support
Benefits: Increase awareness. Increase belongingness. Begin healing. Reduce struggles in isolation.
Being a pathological narcissist is often a lonely experience with few genuinely close relationships. It may be harder still to discuss inner struggles and insecurities with people in your life.
As you expand in your awareness and develop, seriously consider eliciting the guidance of a qualified therapist to work with you along the way, as well as appropriate support groups facilitated by an experienced mental health professional.
These brave steps require self-honesty and courage, will have ups and downs, but can ultimately be gratifying and rewarding. You’re on a wondrous journey of self-discovery, and you certainly don’t have to do it alone.
5. Permit Self-Forgiveness
Benefits: Facilitate the process of self-acceptance and healing.
As a narcissist increases in self-awareness, there may be an accompanying sense of regret or remorse at the damage she or he has done in life, both to herself and to others. One may think of oneself as a “bad” person and wallow in guilt.
During these moments, it’s extremely important to be gentle with yourself, knowing that you did what you did in order to cope and survive, that it wasn’t easy going through what you had to go through when your own humanity was denied earlier in your life.
Now that you’re more aware, you have a chance to avoid repeating past mistakes, and to create healthier relationships with yourself and others. Discuss your experience with your therapist to further your growth and healing.
6. Return to Humanity
Benefits: Greater authenticity. Genuine relationships. More durable success.
The upshot of all of the work above in self-discovery is that you may begin a steady process of returning to humanity as a more authentic person, with the ability to create healthier and genuinely loving relationships.
Your personal and professional accomplishments, grounded in substance, may achieve bigger and longer lasting success.
Most importantly, you’re more comfortable under your own skin, knowing that as you continue to learn and grow, you’re progressively realizing your Higher Self.
“Once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
Preston Ni is the author of (click on titles): “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists” and “A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self”.
© 2014 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
Can Narcissists Change?
At the end of May 2013, I wrote an article titled 5 Early Warning Signs You’re with a Narcissist. It sparked a number of rich conversations through comments, emails, , and . Not surprisingly, the vast majority of reactions came from people who feared they were currently in a relationship with a narcissist.
Nevertheless, some of them—often among the most heartfelt and desperate of messages—came from people who’d either been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), or felt convinced they met criteria for the diagnosis.
From both sides, the same question surfaced again and again: Is there hope for those with NPD and the people who love them? Is there anything we can do if we see early warning signs or actual diagnostic criteria besides end the relationship?
As simple as they might seem on the surface, questions these resonate with some of the deepest concerns in psychology. Can we change our personalities? More to the point, can people who meet criteria for personality disorders open themselves up to new and better experiences in relationships and in the world?
I’m going to go on record as saying yes—I do believe it’s possible for people to change, even if they’ve been diagnosed with something as deeply entrenched and formidable as a personality disorder.
Trait labels narcissist, or the admittedly less stigmatizing ones extravert and introvert, merely provide a short hand description. They’re a stand in for “this person scored high on a trait measure of narcissism or extraversion or introversion.” They can never hope to capture the whole person.
(Bear in mind that even Jung, who introduced the latter concepts, firmly believed we all possess both an introvert and an extravert side, regardless of how much we tend to one side or the other.
) Nevertheless, when they become diagnostic labels, “narcissist” or “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” these stark descriptions imply something that goes far beyond a tendency or a style; they suggest permanence and a set of stable, enduring features.
I have more hope than this. I believe that rather than simply being “who we are,” our personalities are also patterns of interaction. That is, personality, whether disordered or not, has as much to do with how (and with whom) we interact as it does with our genes and wired-in temperament. So what pattern does the narcissist follow?
Many have suggested that NPD emerges from an environment in which vulnerability comes to feel dangerous, representing, at worst, either a grave defect, or at best, a stubborn barrier to becoming a worthwhile human being (that’s simplifying a great deal of research and theory, but it’s a workable summary); hence, the correlation between narcissism and insecure attachment styles, in which fears of depending on anyone at all engender constant attempts to control the relationship or avoid intimacy altogether. If you devote yourself to directing interactions or holding people at arms length, it’s a lot harder to become vulnerable (needless to say, the “safety” is largely an illusion). People with NPD have learned to ignore, suppress, deny, project, and disavow their vulnerabilities (or at least try) in their attempts to shape and reshape “who they are” in their interactions. Change—allowing the vulnerability back in— means opening up to the very feelings they’ve learned to avoid at all costs. It’s not that people with NPD can’t change; it’s that it often threatens their sense of personhood to try. And their failed relationships often confirm, in their minds, that narcissism is the safest way to live.
Put another way, narcissists can’t be narcissistic in a vacuum. They need the right audience in order to feel a star, for example, so they often cultivate relationships with people who stick around for the show, instead of the person.
Over time, as their perfect façade starts to slip, their constant fear that people will find them lacking becomes a horrifying reality.
The very people who stuck around for the show lose interest when it ends—which merely convinces the narcissist they need to hide their flaws and put on a better show.
Alternatively, even when they fall for someone who could be more than just an adoring fan—someone who offers the hope of a more authentic, enduring love—narcissists still live with the paralyzing fear they’ll somehow be deemed unworthy.
Their terror is frequently awareness, and nearly always managed with bravado and blame, but it’s profound and palpable.
Sadly, their anger at having their mistakes and missteps exposed ultimately alienates their loved ones, and the demise of yet another relationship prompts them to redouble their efforts to avoid vulnerability—in short, it pushes them towards more narcissism.
The sad irony of the narcissistic condition is that, in an effort to protect themselves, narcissists inevitably invite the very rejection and abandonment they fear in the first place.
The key, then, to interacting with someone you suspect is narcissistic is to break the vicious circle—to gently thwart their frantic efforts to control, distance, defend or blame in the relationship by sending the message that you’re more than willing to connect with them, but not on these terms; to invite them into a version of intimacy where they can be loved and admired, warts and all—if they only allow the experience to happen.
As a therapist, I've seen first hand that when we change relational patterns, it often transforms even the most inflexible “trait” into something softer, gentler—not a fixed feature, but a protection that eventually yields to touch and intimacy in all the ways one would hope.
Narcissism is a way of relating.
Not everyone can shift into a more flexible form of intimacy, but some can, and in the next post, I plan to share steps you can take to help you decide whether or not the person you’re with is capable of seeing themselves—and you—through a less constricting lens than the narcissistic world view.
Can a Narcissist Change? What to Expect
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If you’ve ever done research to determine whether someone you know is a narcissist, you’ve probably encountered plenty of articles alleging that narcissists are inherently evil and incapable of change.
These assumptions don’t do justice to narcissism’s complexity, though. The truth is, everyone is capableof change. It’s just that many people with narcissism lack the desire or face other barriers (including harmful stereotypes).
People with narcissistic tendencies may display:
- grandiose behavior and fantasies
- arrogance and entitlement
- low empathy
- a need for admiration and attention
These traits, while often deeply entrenched, aren’t always permanent. In fact, a 2019 study suggests that narcissistic tendencies naturally tend to decrease with age.
That doesn’t mean you have to wait around for nature to take its course, though. If someone’s ready to change, therapy offers a faster, more effective path.
Again, some people with narcissistic tendencies might not have an interest in changing. But others do.
How do you determine whether you or someone close to you is ready to change? There’s no single answer.
“Someone would have to recognize that primarily seeing others as resources, rather than people with their own interests, is causing them to suffer, and be interested enough in their thoughts and feelings to find out how and why they approach others in that way,” says Jason Wheeler, PhD, a New York psychologist.
These following signs suggest someone is open to examining their behavior and exploring ways to create change.
Acknowledging the feelings of others
Many people believe “narcissism” equals “no empathy.” While people with narcissistic tendencies often find it difficult to consider the feelings and perspectives of other people, research from 2014 suggests that empathy, while often low, isn’t always absent.
People with narcissism can develop greater empathy when motivated to do so, most notably when taking on the perspective of a person they see as similar to themselves or when considering the experiences of their children or others who idealize or value them.
Someone who shows affection or concern for certain people may be ready to explore further change in therapy.
Interest in their behavior
Someone who wonders why they act the way they do may be open to exploring their behavior in therapy. This interest might come about after reading articles or books on narcissism, or when someone points out their narcissistic tendencies.
It’s possible for people with narcissistic traits to function fairly well in daily life. Intelligence and a drive to succeed can fuel an interest in not only their own behavior, but the behavior of others. This can lead to progress toward viewing other people as equals rather than inferiors.
Willingness to self-reflect
Self-reflection can be a challenge for people dealing with narcissism because it damages their protective shell of perfection.
A key characteristic of narcissism is the inability to see the mix of positive and negative characteristics that all people possess (known as whole object relations).
Instead, most people with narcissistic traits tend to see people, themselves included, as entirely good (perfect) or entirely bad (worthless). If their assumption of their own perfection is challenged, they might lash out or become trapped in a spiral of shame and self-hatred.
Those who can examine and reflect on negative behaviors — without responding by devaluing the person offering criticism or themselves — may be ready for more extensive exploration.
It’s not uncommon for people with narcissistic tendencies to experience other mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, anorexia nervosa, and substance misuse.
These other issues, rather than narcissistic traits, often encourage people to seek therapy. The desire to relieve existing emotional pain and prevent future distress may be a strong motivator to work toward change.
While therapy can help address issues related to narcissism, it works best when provided by a therapist with specialized training for dealing with narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Even with a qualified therapist, the process can take several years. It’s not uncommon for people to leave therapy once they see some improvement of specific unwanted symptoms, such as depression, or when they no longer feel invested in the work involved.
There are several approaches to dealing with narcissism, but therapy typically involves these essential steps:
- identifying existing defense mechanisms
- exploring reasons behind these coping methods
- learning and practicing new patterns of behavior
- exploring how behaviors affect others
- examining connections between their internal voice and their treatment of others
The key to lasting progress often lies in:
- helping someone see how positive change can benefit them
- helping them explore causes of narcissistic defenses without criticism or judgment
- offering validation
- encouraging self-forgiveness and self-compassion to manage shame and vulnerability
There are a few types of therapy that are particularly useful for dealing with narcissism.
Schema therapy, a newer approach to treatment shown to have benefit for treating narcissism, works to help people address trauma of early experiences that may have contributed to narcissistic defenses.
Other beneficial therapies include:
Dr. Wheeler also emphasizes the importance of group therapy for people with personality-related issues. Group therapy provides an opportunity for people to see how others perceive them. It also allows people to note how parts of their personality impact others.
The causes of personality disorders aren’t fully known, but narcissistic tendencies typically emerge as a type of self-protection.
In other words, many people with narcissism had a narcissistic parent or experienced some type of abuse or neglect early in life. The negative messages and criticism they absorb become their internal voice.
To defend against this negative voice, they develop maladaptive coping strategies, or narcissistic defenses. Their treatment of others typically reflects how they feel about themselves.
If someone you love has chosen to get help for narcissism, here are some ways you can support them.
Offer encouragement and validation
People with narcissism typically respond well to praise. They may want to do well in order to demonstrate their ability, especially as therapy begins. Your recognition of the effort they’re putting in may motivate them to keep going and increase the lihood of successful therapy.
Understand when they’re making progress
Therapy for narcissism can take a long time, and progress may happen slowly. You might notice some changes early on, such as attempts to control outbursts or avoid dishonesty or manipulation. But other behaviors, anger in response to perceived criticism, may persist.
Working with your own therapist can help you learn to recognize improvements and determine for yourself what behavioral change has to happen for you to continue the relationship.
Learn what apologizing behaviors look
Part of therapy may involve recognizing problematic behavior and learning to make amends. But the person will probably continue having a hard time admitting wrongdoing or sincerely apologizing.
Instead of discussing the situation or saying, “I’m sorry,” they may opt to show a gesture of apology, such as treating you to a fancy dinner or doing something nice for you.
When maintaining a relationship with someone who has narcissistic traits, remember that mental health conditions don’t excuse abuse and other bad behavior. Your well-being should remain your priority.
Look out for abuse
Narcissistic behaviors aren’t always abusive, but keep an eye out for:
It’s never wrong to have compassion, but don’t let it keep you from noting abuse or manipulation. You may care about your partner, but you also have to look after yourself.
Don’t treat therapy a miracle cure
Therapy can have a lot of benefit, but it may not be enough to help you and your partner to sustain a mutually fulfilling relationship.
Also keep in mind that small positive changes don’t suggest total improvement. Try to accept and encourage these instances of growth without expecting more of the same to follow right away.
Pushing someone too hard may lead them to resist further change, so it often helps to pick your battles.
You might choose to call out attempts at manipulation, for example, but let self-admiring remarks go by without comment. Balancing this with encouragement for their effort can also have positive results.
Don’t let boundaries slip
Maybe you’ve previously said, “If you use nasty language, I’ll leave for the night.” After a few months of your partner offering some kind words with no put-downs, they devalue you on one occasion during an argument.
You feel inclined to let this go, since they’ve been doing so well. But this can reinforce the behavior, which hurts you both. Instead, stick to your boundary while encouraging them to keep up their progress.
Narcissistic tendencies can improve with support from a compassionate, trained therapist. If you choose to remain in a relationship someone dealing with these issues, it’s essential to work with your own therapist to establish healthy boundaries and develop resilience.
Therapy does require a significant commitment and effort. Even during and after therapy, your partner may never respond in the way you hope. They may struggle with vulnerability throughout life and continue to find empathy challenging.
If they have interest in the process and stick with it, though, small improvements in their behavior and emotional outlook may lead to greater, lasting change.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.