Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of ten personality disorders classified within the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-5) as a ”Cluster B” personality disorder.
To be diagnosed with a Cluster B personality disorder, a person must demonstrate erratic, dramatic, and overly emotional behavioural patterns, among other symptoms.
What is a narcissistic personality disorder?
A narcissistic personality disorder is a complex mental health disorder involving ongoing thinking and behavioural patterns that can cause profound distress and severely impact an individual’s relationships.
Some of the behavioural patterns associated with narcissistic personality disorder include:
- An inability to feel empathy toward others
- Exaggerated feelings of self-importance
- An excessive need for attention and admiration from others
If you’ve ever read or heard about narcissism, you’ve likely stumbled upon some bad press related to the disorder. Terms like ”evil”, ”calculated”, and ”incapable of change” have been assigned to the narcissistic personality.
But does this information have any truth to it? Are narcissists capable of change, and is it possible to recover from a narcissistic personality disorder?
Recovering from a narcissistic personality disorder
The stigma and assumptions attached to narcissism often do more harm than good.
Compared to people without NPD, those with narcissistic personality disorder face many barriers and psychological challenges that are complex and often challenging to treat.
Narcissists are capable of change.
However, we are all capable of change – including the narcissist; it’s just that those with NPD tend to lack a degree of motivation and personal insight.
How can a person change without the necessary insight that tells them that a particular behaviour might be unhelpful?
Harmful stereotypes often discourage those with NPD from seeking professional help. To heal from a narcissistic personality disorder, a person must first recognise that a problem exists.
Typically, people with NPD exhibit the following characteristics:
- Entitlement and arrogance
- A lack of empathy or low empathy for others
- A profound need for attention and admiration
- Fantasies and grandiose behaviours
Change is possible with a narcissist.
The research literature suggests that narcissistic tendencies usually decrease as a person ages – meaning that although change is gradual, it is possible.
The above suggests that narcissistic traits, although deeply embedded, are not always permanent.
Even though narcissistic tendencies improve over time, this doesn’t mean you should stick around and deal with narcissistic abuse.
Your job is to protect yourself first and foremost. Putting up with any form of abuse is unacceptable, and you must put your physical and mental health first, even if this means having no contact with the narcissist.
However, if you think that a loved one with NPD might be ready to change, many therapies offer a quick, effective route to recovery.
Protection from narcissistic abuse
Early intervention for personality disorders like NPD can prevent the condition from worsening and protects victims from narcissistic abuse.
Signs that a narcissist might be ready to change
Change often begins with self-awareness – however, awareness is something that a narcissist usually lacks. Inherently, the narcissist’s sense of self is often inaccurate or skewed.
Thus many of the things they accuse others of saying or doing are projections, the very things they are guilty of doing. Therefore, many narcissists have no desire to change.
Someone who only sees faults in others
If such projections are felt profoundly by the narcissist, e.g., that other people have wronged them, then the world is at fault, and they are the victims of unfair afflictions. However, some narcissists do change.
If you are wondering whether someone you care about is willing to change – there are some ways you can find out, but there are no absolutes as the disorder impacts people differently.
Healing from narcissism
NPD is a complex condition where sufferers see others as resources rather than people with their own opinions, personalities, and perspectives, which is central to the narcissists’ suffering.
Narcissists view others as an extension of themselves.
Narcissists usually view other people as an extension of themselves; they cannot separate their identities from others. Hence, many people with NPD expect their loved ones’ to mirror their moods or emotions.
If the narcissist is happy, you must be satisfied, if they are sad, you must mimic that emotion, less they take severe offence.
”The narcissist must be interested enough in their thoughts and feelings to find out how and why they approach others in that way” (Jason Wheeler, PhD, psychologist).
Other ways to help you understand whether your loved one is ready to make some vital changes include:
1. The ability to reflect on oneself
Many narcissists think in black-and-white terms – meaning that they view people and situations as wholly good or wholly bad. One of the core aspects of narcissism is the inability to view people as having a mix of positive and negative traits, which all humans possess; this sometimes gets referred to as whole object relations.
Narcissists often see people as perfect or terrible; whichever shoe fits the bill, they will idealise or devalue someone based on those perceptions. Moreover, if the narcissists’ self-image of perfection gets scrutinised, they may become enraged or immersed in a cycle of shame and self-loathing.
Reflecting on the self is a challenge for many narcissists since it threatens the idealised sense of self they have spent many years protecting.
A sign that your loved one might be ready to change is when they demonstrate a willingness to reflect on their behaviours without the examination resulting in devaluing others or self-criticism.
2. Being curious about their behaviour
Curiosity is a good sign that a narcissist might be willing to change. Indeed, a person curious about their behaviours and motivations and what compels them to act and think the way they do might be receptive to therapy.
Suppose the narcissist demonstrates an interest in their behaviour and that of others. In that case, it may lead to progress, allowing them to see others as equals rather than inferiors (Crystal Raypole, Can Narcissistic people change? January 2020).
3. The ability to show empathy for others
Although many narcissists struggle to show empathy for others – it doesn’t mean that such a quality is absent for people with NPD. Experts say that narcissists can feel significant empathy for others, especially with the right motivation. For example, a narcissist may empathise with someone with similar traits or experiences.
The narcissist may also demonstrate empathy toward a person who values or idealises them. Narcissists can experience empathy; however, it may show up differently for those with the disorder than those without it. A person who can experience empathy for others might benefit from therapy to help them explore themselves deeper.
Therapy can be helpful for those with NPD. However, treatment must get delivered by an NPD -informed therapist.
The therapeutic process may take a long time, even with a suitable therapist. Effective therapies for narcissistic personality disorder include:
- Cognitive behaviour therapy
- Gestalt therapy
- Mentalisation-based therapy
- Transference-focused therapy
- Trauma therapy
- Substance abuse programs (beneficial for those who use drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms)
To heal from narcissism, a person must undergo a holistic approach to treatment that addresses the disorder’s root cause and symptoms. Inherently, most personality disorders, including narcissism, result from a problematic past.
Therapy must seek to explore and identify what makes a person engage in certain thinking and behavioural patterns, such as:
- Exploring how the narcissist’s behaviour affects other people
- Identifying existing coping mechanisms
- Addressing the underlying cause of the narcissists’ coping styles
- Practising and learning healthier behavioural patterns
- Offering compassion and validation to the narcissist during therapy and beyond
- Teaching the narcissist to cultivate self-forgiveness and self-compassion to help them manage feelings of shame, self-loathing, and vulnerability
We specialise in treating various mental health disorders and their underlying cause, including narcissistic personality disorder at Camino Recovery. Our specialist team recognise the importance of a dual – diagnosis, especially with personality disorders.
Studies show that people with narcissistic tendencies often experience other mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance use disorder.
Further research shows that people with NPD usually seek professional help for other mental health conditions rather than narcissistic symptoms. Therefore, narcissistic personality disorder often co-occurs with other conditions such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.
Thus, recovery from narcissism includes treating concurrent disorders simultaneously. Contact the team at Camino Recovery for more information.