Can Narcissists Change?: Expectations vs. Reality
It is likely you have come into contact with someone in your life you believed to be a narcissist. Perhaps a boss, co-worker, friend or significant other whose overall attitude and personality screamed narcissism. But, while this word or term is used to describe people who display a certain high opinion of themselves and a drive to seek admiration and attention of others, some do not realize narcissistic personality disorder or NPD is a clinical mental health diagnosis. That said, with treatment focused on their mental health needs at a treatment center like Meadowglade can narcissists change?
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5) narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance. They feel a deep need for excessive attention and admiration. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder will often have troubled relationships and lack of empathy for others. However, behind these outward appearances and persona, someone with narcissistic personality disorder struggles with fragile self-esteem and is vulnerable to even the slightest of criticism.
Narcissistic personality disorder, one of several personality disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, causes difficulties in many areas of one’s life including work, school, financial matters and relationships. Someone with this disorder will be generally unhappy with any situation or circumstance where they are not given special admiration or favors, they believe they deserve from those around them. In many cases, their relationships, even those with their spouse, are seen as unfulfilling and people do not tend to enjoy being around them.
What are the Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Overall, someone with narcissistic personality disorder is described as arrogant, demanding and self-centered, although a longer, more specific list of symptoms is defined within the diagnosing criteria. Depending on the individual severity of the disorder, the presence of and severity of each symptom will vary from person to person. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder will have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. They will believe they should be recognized as superior even if their position or achievements do not warrant such recognition. If their current or existing achievements are not “the best” they will typically exaggerate their talents, skills and status to make them better than those around them. Narcissists believe they are superior to those in their circles and therefore can only associate with those who are equally special or talented. If you work with or have a relationship with a narcissist you will likely notice they belittle or look down on those they feel are inferior and expect unquestioning compliance with their demands and expectations. They are generally unwilling, incapable, or unable to recognize the needs and feelings of others and will take advantage of those around them to get what and where they want. They will come across as arrogant, boastful and pretentious and insist on having or being provided with the best of everything such as office space, cars, clothes and homes.
While someone with narcissistic personality disorder is often quick to criticize others, they feel are unequal, they have significant difficulties handling anything they believe is criticism or a slight directed their way. If they feel they are being mistreated or not provided with special treatment they often become impatient, angry and hostile. They easily feel slighted and lack the interpersonal skills to manage these emotions. If they feel rejected or “less than” those around them, they will react with rage or contempt, actively working to belittle others to set themselves apart as superior. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder has difficulty regulating emotions and behavior and lacks the skills necessary to deal with stress and adapt to change. If they believe they are not perfect in every way, they may fall into a state of depression. Despite their behaviors and actions towards others, they often (secretly) feel intense and overwhelming feelings of insecurity, humiliation, shame, and vulnerability.
What Causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Who is at Risk?
Currently, there is not a clear cause for narcissistic personality disorder. As with other mental health disorders and personality development challenges, the root causes of narcissistic personality disorder are likely complex and varied. Depending on the individual it may be linked to several causes including environment (parent-child relationships), genetics, and neurobiology the connection between the brain and behavior and thinking).
Narcissistic personality disorder is more common in males than females and often begins in one’s teens or early adulthood. It is important to keep in mind that while some children show signs of narcissistic personality as defined above, this is often typical of their age and does not indicate they will go on to develop narcissistic personality disorder.
Can a Narcissist Change?
There are different degrees of narcissism. Where someone falls on the spectrum plays a significant role in their ability to change and the likelihood they can. Many people can exhibit narcissistic traits on occasion, very few people meet the criteria for diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. For someone with a diagnosis, the road to recovery can be challenging.
First, the idea to change must be their idea. Narcissists do not tend to see anything overtly wrong with their behaviors and therefore, they do not understand why there would be a need to alter their current behaviors. Although friends and family can offer help and suggestion, in the end, the person needs to desire to change before any work can begin. Some narcissists will eventually and willingly get highly involved in their own therapy. If they are made part of the planning and treatment process and can participate actively in their journey, they may feel a certain acceptable level of power and control that spur their desire to “be better.”
To successfully change, a narcissist must also feel motivated to change. If they do have a reason, they are not likely to be willing to try. One of the most common motivators for narcissists to want to change is because they feel a sense of failure or that they could be exposed within their social circles as a narcissist. While reaching this low can be overwhelmingly difficult for someone with a narcissistic personality disorder, it can sometimes be the catalyst or motivation they need to pursue effective change.
Treating Narcissistic Personality Disorder
When someone with a narcissistic personality disorder chooses to seek treatment, the best and most effective course of treatment centers around talk therapy or psychotherapy. This form of therapy is designed to help the narcissist learn more about their relationships with others. During therapy, they will “talk” through behaviors and emotions with a goal of learning healthier and more effective ways of relating to others. This allows their relationships to be more enjoyable and rewarding. In the case of relationships with significant others or spouses, it provides a door for improved intimacy and closeness.
Talk therapy also helps people understand the root causes of their emotions and behaviors. During therapy, the narcissist can gain insight into what drives them to be competitive and distrustful of others. Talk therapy can also help you better understand and manage feelings, recognize strengths and potential so you can better tolerate criticism or failure, and improve your ability to work with and collaborate effectively with those around you. Because deeply rooted personality traits can be difficult to change, it may take several months or even years before improvement begins. During this time, it is common to see therapy as a waste of time because it isn’t visibly working. Attending all therapy sessions or even completing a treatment program at Meadowglade can help you achieve lasting results.
Today there aren’t any medications approved for use in treating narcissistic personality disorder. Although. If the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder occur simultaneously with another mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, appropriate medications may be used to address the symptoms of the other disorder. In these cases, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications may be helpful in alleviating some of the symptoms experienced from both conditions.
During therapy, your mental health team at Meadowglade may recommend certain lifestyle changes which could be beneficial to your recovery both short and long-term. First, it may be beneficial to avoid alcohol and drugs. These substances can trigger negative behaviors and may hinder your ability to use essential coping strategies you learned during therapy. Self-care is also an essential element of ongoing recovery. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder often struggles to properly handle stressful situations and moods. Beginning and continually following a self-care routine can help someone with this diagnosis better manage symptoms and overall mood. Consider trying things like yoga and meditation to reduce stress and anxiety and exercise to enhance positive mood. The benefits of treatment and the ability for one who struggles with narcissistic personality disorder to change will depend on several things including the severity of their symptoms and their desire and willingness to actively work towards change. For some, these vital elements to their success may not be present yet, or in the future. For those who are ready and willing to seek help and work towards healing and change, the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder will often improve over time with adequate treatment. The path to recovery can be long and challenging however, with the appropriate treatment and the strong, supportive support system of the team at Meadowglade, recovery is within reach. If you or a loved one struggles with narcissistic personality disorder and you are ready to seek help, contact the team at Meadowglade today. Let our knowledgeable staff work with you to create a treatment plan that focuses on your unique needs and goals.