Can a Malignant Narcissist Ever Change?

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Here is an excerpt from the book ‘Malignant Narcissism: Understanding and Overcoming Malignant Narcissistic Abuse’ that discusses if a narc can really ever change:


After much debate on this topic, which has no definitive ‘official’ answer, myself and the countless other victims I’ve spoken to believe this to be the most accurate response to this question: don’t bank on it.

I did hesitate in keeping this chapter in the book because people reforming and bettering themselves is something I don’t like to count people out on. I think the majority of people who want to change for the better can do so – but I have one exception: narcissists.

Because of this contradictory belief, you may think that I’m being a bit unfair or undiplomatic towards malignant narcissists by saying I don’t believe they can (in most cases) ever change – but narcissists and sociopaths are the only exceptions to my opinion that anyone can change.

I wanted to find a broader answer on this question, and I didn’t want this chapter to just reflect my own opinion, so I sought out other victims’ point of view on this often-asked question. I got a lofty response when I asked this question to people who’ve been in a relationship with a malignant narcissist: it was a resounding ‘no’ after ‘no’ flooding my inbox.

Whilst I’d ideally have liked a varying degree of answers for this chapter, the barrage of people who vehemently disagree that a malignant narcissist can ever change did help cement in my mind that I was correct in my original opinion. It helped solidify that, just like I’d always thought, a malignant narcissist is simply too far in the depths of their abusive, toxic and sadistic world wilderness to ever change. What’s more, even if a narcissist could change – would they want to?

In order to come to my final conclusion of ‘absolutely not – a malignant narcissist can never change’, I did a lot of back and forth in my head to try and break down this belief. I so much wanted to have faith that anyone can change and tried to find valid arguments to help me shoot down this opinion that I’d formed. So, any potential argument I could think of to help me explain why a malignant narcissist could change was promptly (but accurately) dismissed by the group I was conversing with about this question. Here is a breakdown of why a malignant narcissist will never change:

They Don’t Want to Change

Abusive people are often rewarded by their toxic and abhorrent behavior and malignant narcissists are incapable of believing anything is wrong with them or the way they behave. Their intrinsic sense of superiority and consistent and lacking of empathy, readiness to exploit other people, as well as a very blatant lack of willingness to change their behavior, are all elemental to their extreme disorder.
As I mentioned earlier, malignant narcissists don’t go to seek help voluntarily – they’ll only go along with therapy if they have an agenda or manipulative trick in mind. In the group I pitched this question to, one former victim told us that her ex did end up going to therapy to seek help for his narcissism. However, this was ordered by the court after he was arrested for assaulting her, and it was the only way he would have avoided a harsher penalty. His acceptance to get help wasn’t motivated by an authentic want to change, but rather to avoid punishment and appear to be wanting to better himself.
They’re Not Abusive Because of Past Trauma – This Isn’t a Valid Excuse for Abusive Behavior.

Mental illness is no joke, and as someone who has (and, in certain ways, always will) battled with mental health in the form of depression, I understand how misunderstood it can be and how difficult it is to live with. I understand the importance of prioritizing your mental health, and I have the utmost empathy for those who battle with their own mental health demons. However, I don’t buy the notion that people with traumatic pasts have a hall pass to inflict terror and fear into others, and I don’t like the misconception that all narcissists and abusers have had a traumatic upbringing; there is still no final, certain clinical verdict on what causes malignant narcissism, only theories; this, however, is one theory I’m inclined to disagree with.

Some abusers do come from troubled and traumatic backgrounds, just like some come from very privileged and comfortable upbringings with no traumatic experiences. And it goes without saying, there are millions and millions of survivors of malignant narcissistic abuse, cruel sociopaths, and psychopaths. These survivors, who’ve suffered horrific traumas at the hands of others, choose not to abuse as a result of their hurt. Inflicting abuse is a choice.

Much like any other disorder, it’s often a mix of nature as well as nurture at the root of the issue – that’s probably true for every human characteristic, both good and bad. Clinicians are uncertain of what causes narcissism, but there are a number of theories. Some theories suggest that those who have narcissistic traits tend to grow up in households where they’ve been brought up as overvalued, pandered to, spoiled, and raised to believe they should have a sense of entitlement. It’s then theorized that these narcissistic traits, founded in childhood, can sometimes later turn into full-on narcissism in adulthood.

The need that many of us have to rationalize traumatic, abusive behavior based on a story of past traumas can cause abuse victims to repeatedly minimize their own emotional pain, constantly excusing their tormentor’s behavior whilst still looping around the abuse cycle. Additionally, because malignant narcissists have such a limited emotional radar, and for the most part, can only experience shallow emotions, they don’t feel the same empathy you would expect from someone who has been through trauma.

The victims of malignant narcissists certainly endure horrible abuse and are undeniably traumatized by them. Not only can I vouch for this myself, but I’ve spoken with lots of narcissism survivors who’ve endured the trauma of abuse at the hands of a malignant narcissist. Some were abused by narcissists who came from happy, nourishing, loving families with an idyllic upbringing. Those who are full-on psychopaths could have been born like that, and so their upbringing would have no bearing on their abusive ways at all.

It’s important to remember to have empathy for the traumas that survivors of abuse have endured – not the perpetrators. Most abuse survivors chose not to abuse other people, instead, they allow their traumas to guide them on how to treat others with more empathy and respect.