People fall in love every day. They get married. And they hope to live happily ever after.
But what happens when you find out that the person you are committed to (married or not) is a narcissist? Can a narcissist change for love? Will they love you enough to change?
We cannot definitively say that a narcissist cannot change. Anybody can change. Narcissists change from day to day and person to person in the ways that they convince people to be committed to them. But honest, real change is something that has not been demonstrated among the narcissist population. There are, however a few couples that have experienced acknowledgment of narcissism and some steps toward relating in more healthy ways.
So what are the things that can cause narcissists to change? Can love? And what are the things that prevent narcissists from change? Let’s take a look at how love affects narcissists.
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Sure, Narcissists Can Change. But Will They?
We actually know that narcissists can change. They do it every time they meet a new potential supply. And it only makes sense when you think about the stages of narcissistic abuse: idealization (love bombing), devaluation, and then discard. First, the narcissist puts you on a pedestal. You are the most perfect person in the world. Next, he starts to see you as less than that perfect person he first thought you were. And because he thinks in terms of black and white, he has a very difficult time seeing you as good enough. So, he starts to devalue you until he sees no value at all anymore. And then it is the discard phase. He can’t get rid of you fast enough–once he has a new supply waiting in the wings.
This cycle goes on forever for the narcissist. They are constantly changing. But will they change their narcissistic ways? Will they be able to look beyond the shame and deep secrets they have likely been hiding since they were a child?
Chances are they will not, especially not beyone a short amount of time. At least that is what history has shown. And also why there are little to no cases of narcissists changing for the better online.
What Makes a Narcissist Change?
So, since we have established that narcissists CAN change at least for a little bit, let’s take a closer look. Narcissists can indeed change for the sake of love, when they first meet a new person that they are interested in forming a bond with. Just to clarify, we are not talking about real bonding here, but a narcissist “bonding” with an idealization.
Unfortunately, the things driving that “bond” are not things that will last for very long. They first think they have found the most perfect person in the world. They are everything the narcissist ever wanted. And they know for sure in their heart that this time it is going to work. I do actually believe they think this at the beginning. But then reality sets in. The new person doesn’t live up to the fantasy of the narcissist. And things start to go downhill. At this point, the narcissist may even regret that they changed for this person. And they will then start to pull away through the devaluation phase and start looking for a new “perfect” person.
At the point they find the next person, they will again be ready to change. And so the cycle continues.
The problem here is that it is not real change. It is just change for the sake of manipulating the circumstances (or better yet, the people). So no, this is not real change. It is not the kind of change that will be instrumental in the narcissist finally getting healing and becoming emotionally healthy in their new relationships.
What Makes a Narcissist Refuse to Change?
So now that we have established that narcissists really don’t change in a permanent or productive way, what actually makes the narcissist refuse to change?
It goes back to what made the narcissist narcissistic to begin with. There are a couple of predominant thoughts regarding this. Let’s take a look at each one.
Narcissism Due to Abuse or Neglect
First, it is believed that one source of narcissism is extreme neglect or abuse in the first few years of life. Children don’t learn how to bond in healthy ways. And they fear the ire of parents or other adults they should be able to trust. This causes them to make up a new person (the narcissistic mask) that is good enough for the adult to accept. And it keeps them hopefully under the radar so they won’t be severely punished, abused, or invisible.
As they get older, narcissists find it to difficult to take off the mask and be themselves. They fear someone will see the “terrible” things they are hiding behind their mask. So they keep that mask on permanently. And they get very angry if anyone comes close to removing that mask.
Narcissism Due to Parents Placing Kids on a Pedestal
Second, it is believed that the source of narcissism is parents treating their young children as perfect and the best in the world. Kids know they are not perfect. So when their parents treat them in this way, they could crumble under the pressure. They put on the narcissistic mask to hide the fact that they aren’t nearly as perfect as their parents think they are.
As they grow, they need to keep the mask on so teachers, counselors, coaches, spouses, bosses, literally anyone is unable to see the flawed person behind the mask. They are so ashamed of the thought of anyone seeing the real person that they keep that mask on as though their life depends on it.
Is There Genetic Factor of Narcissism That Prevents Narcissists From Changing?
Although we know that environment plays a large role in children becoming narcissistic as adults, what about the genetic factor? Somewhat recently, there has been a new theory that narcissism can actually be somewhat genetically passed on. A test to evaluate the genetic component of narcissism was done in 2014 with 175 pairs of twins. According to Wikipedia, it revealed that, “Of the eighteen personality dimensions, narcissism was found to have the highest heritability (0.64), indicating that the concordance of this trait in the identical twins was significantly influenced by genetics.”
If the environmental factors are so difficult that they are nearly impossible to overcome through treatment, how much more impossible would genetic factors be? I think that this pretty clearly answers the question as to whether narcissists can change for love. You should not hold your breath.
Where That Leaves the Narcissist’s Partner
So, now that we know that the likelihood that a narcissist can change for love is pretty much zero, where does that leave the partner? It leaves you with a few things to think about and work through. Let’s take a look.
You Need to Evaluate the Nature of the Relationship
First, you need to think about the relationship in terms of how significant it is in your life. Dealing with a narcissistic spouse is very different from dealing with an acquaintance that you haven’t known for very long. If the relationship is less significant in your life, it is probably best to just walk away.
But there are several relationships that you can’t just pick up your toys and take them home with you. A spouse, your boss, a parent or other family member, among other relationships are impossible to just walk away from. You will have to think about and work through a few more things in these cases.
You Will Need to See a Counselor
Any counselor you see will need to be trained and experienced in the issues stemming from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They may not be able to heal the narcissist in your life, but they can heal you from the damage you have sustained from being in relationship with the narcissist.
Nobody walks away from a narcissist unscathed. The damage done can range from slight damage to Complex-PTSD. Much of this depends on your own history of mental health as well as the relational position that the narcissist held in your life. If your counselor is experienced in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, they will be able to help you see things clearly very quickly. And you can be on the road to healing. But there is still more for you to do.
You Need to Set Boundaries That Will Make Long-term Relationships More Palatable
Setting boundaries is probably the number one thing you can do to start on the road to health. And honestly, boundaries are good to have in every relationship you have. But in most cases, those boundaries will rarely if ever be crossed when you are relating to most people in your life, as long as they are emotionally healthy people.
There is an amazing book that will help you to set and hold healthy boundaries. It is, of course, called Boundaries, written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. If you have read any of my other articles, you will know that this book was a huge life-changing read for me, along with a handful of other books that you can look at here. Anyway, if you check out any book right now, make it this one!
You Will Need to Decide if You Need to Let Go of the Relationship
Finally, you will need to decide if the relationship is one you can still hold onto or let go of. There are a few mitigating circumstances for this decision.
If the relationship is more casual, you may be able to hold the narcissist at arms length to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse. If you only see them on rare occasions, then it may be better to relate on a limited basis than to cause huge waves. Some examples of this would be distant relatives, old friends from school or college, in-laws of family members, or coworkers that you don’t see or work with often. You can probably sidestep manipulation and control pretty easily in these relationships.
If the relationship is more involved, you may not have the luxury of walking away. You may have to bide your time as you look for a new job if you are working closely with a narcissistic fellow employee. For closer relatives, you may have to see them on occasion as you get counsel going forward.
But if the narcissistic abuse is highly contentious, you most likely will need to let go of the relationship, regardless of how close or distant it is. Remaining married to a narcissistic spouse can be permanently damaging to you and/or others living in the home. A direct boss may ruin any future you have with your job. And while it can be painful in the short term to separate yourself from these relationships, it may be the best thing you have ever done for yourself!
There is a lot to think about here. And these decisions are not made lightly or in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, when asked the question, “Can a narcissist change for love,” in the long run, the answer appears to be no the vast majority of the time. And the sooner you can realize that and adjust your life accordingly, the better your emotional and even physical health will be.
What has been your experience with whether a narcissist can change for love? Let me know in the comments below, or if you need more privacy, contact me here.
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