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How do you know a narcissist is trying to change?

Narcissistic personality disorder involves a persistent pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Narcissists typically have an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement, are exploitative in relationships, and lack remorse for how their behaviors affect others. These problematic traits tend to be fairly stable over time. However, in some cases, life events or interventions can motivate a narcissist to re-evaluate their behaviors and make efforts to change. Identifying genuine change in a narcissist can be challenging, but there are some signs to look out for.

Do narcissists ever try to change?

Narcissists are not known for self-awareness or the desire to change. Their sense of superiority, ego-centric worldview, and lack of empathy make it difficult for them to look critically at their own behaviors. However, there are some circumstances in which narcissists may be motivated to modify their conduct:

– After a major life crisis or consequence makes them re-evaluate themselves, like divorce, loss of a job, or deterioration of health.

– When their narcissistic defenses have been challenged in psychotherapy. This can promote some self-reflection.

– Due to pressure from family members, partners, friends who threaten to end the relationship unless changes are made.

– To rebuild their reputation after being publicly shamed or exposed for misconduct.

– As they age and shift priorities in life, some narcissists mellow out on their own over time.

So while it is uncommon, some narcissists can recognize their problematic behaviors and make efforts to change when sufficiently motivated. However, it is estimated only about 1% of narcissists seek treatment. Most are content with who they are.

What are some signs of change in a narcissist?

Genuine change in a narcissist’s entrenched patterns of thinking and behaving does not happen easily or quickly. But there are some signs that suggest a narcissist may be making efforts:

– They take responsibility for their past wrongdoings and apologize.

– They listen attentively and validate others’ perspectives rather than dominating conversations.

– They demonstrate care, concern and sensitivity towards others’ needs.

– They do thoughtful things to serve others without looking for praise or payback.

– They respond calmly to criticism and feedback without lashing out in anger.

– They ask questions to gain insight into how their behavior impacts others.

– They accept their faults and imperfections rather than portraying a grandiose image.

– They follow through consistently on promises to change with behavior modifications.

– They demonstrate humility, gratitude and appreciation for others.

– They seek professional help to gain self-awareness and make changes.

What are some signs a narcissist is only pretending to change?

Unfortunately, it is common for narcissists to engage in manipulation tactics to hook partners, friends and family back into relationships. Their “changes” are motivated by self-interest rather than genuine care. Here are some red flags:

– They express remorse and promise to change when confronted, but then quickly revert back to old patterns.

– They dramatize the efforts they are making to change to impress others.

– They blame external factors or others for their past behavior.

– Their apologies are non-specific or focus on how hard this is for them rather than the impact of their actions.

– They demand credit and praise for every small effort made.

– Everything they do is to benefit themselves rather than serving others.

– They mistreat people they see as beneath them orUnable to give them anything.

– They explode in anger or lash out when old wounds are brought up.

– They gaslight and distort the facts of situations.

– They display new manipulative tactics to get their needs met.

Essentially, pretend change is all for show and about getting narcissistic needs met rather than developing empathy. Unless you see sustained behavioral improvements over a long term accompanied by humility, self-awareness and genuine care for others, skepticism is warranted.

Why is it so difficult for a narcissist to change?

There are a few key factors that make it extremely challenging for those with narcissistic personalities to genuinely change their ways:

Lack of self-awareness – Their exaggerated sense of superiority masks deep-seated insecurities and prevents them from recognizing their destructive behaviors. They are unable to step outside of themselves.

Fragile egos – Their ego is their inner core, and acknowledging imperfections or mistakes feels incredibly threatening. Their defense mechanisms will kick in to deny problems.

Sense of entitlement – They feel entitled to exploit others for their own gain. They lack motivation to change something they don’t think is a problem.

Lack of empathy– They struggle to care about or resonate with others’ needs and feelings. Everything is viewed through a lens of how it benefits them.

Enjoyment of power – Having power over others is central to their grandiose self-image. They enjoy the feelings of control and superiority they get from manipulating people.

Essentially, the narcissist’s entire psyche is designed to shield a fragile self-esteem and elevate themselves above others. Overcoming these deep psychological drivers and behavioral patterns is extremely difficult. Life-altering experiences or long-term therapy are usually required to prompt self-reflection and change.

How can you support a narcissist’s efforts to change?

If you have a narcissist in your life who seems to be making sincere efforts to change, there are some things you can do to encourage their progress:

– Express appreciation for specific positive changes you’ve noticed. Reinforce improvements.

– Be patient. Real change for a narcissist occurs gradually. Expect setbacks and backsliding.

– Set firm boundaries around what behaviors you will accept versus those you will not tolerate. Stick to them.

– Have regular check-ins to give feedback on their progress. Be kind but honest.

– Avoid excessive flattery or praise that feeds their ego. Ground them in reality.

– Don’t tolerate abusive, exploitative or manipulative behaviors, even occasional ones. Maintain consistency.

– Encourage them to seek professional help to gain deeper self-awareness and make sustainable change.

– Protect yourself. Don’t lose sight of your own needs and well-being in the process.

– Be realistic. You can support their growth process, but you cannot force it. The motivation must come from within.

Changing lifelong behavioral patterns is extremely difficult. The narcissist will need ongoing reinforcement of new habits and perspectives. Witnessing your consistency and sincerity may help them persist in their efforts. But protect your boundaries and recognize you cannot single-handedly transform someone.

When is it time to walk away from a narcissist instead of waiting for change?

As difficult as it is, in some cases the healthiest decision is to walk away from the narcissist rather than waiting endlessly for genuine change that may never come. Here are some signs it may be time to let go:

– The emotional toll of the relationship overwhelms any positives. You dread interacting with them.

– Their behaviors show a pervasive lack of care for your well-being and needs.

– Their actions consistently undermine your self-esteem. You feel “not good enough” being around them.

– They monopolize your time and drain your energy. The relationship feels imbalanced.

– They regularly cross clear boundaries you have set. They do not respect your limits.

– They blame you for their behaviors rather than taking responsibility.

– They exhibit extreme envy, rage or paranoia. You feel unsafe.

– They show no remorse for harm caused and promise change lightly.

– They refuse to seek professional help or expertise to make real change.

– Genuine care and concern for others is still absent after a reasonable time period.

If the narcissist is your partner, leaving may be an excruciating decision. Seek support from trusted loved ones, and know that you deserve healthy, mutual relationships. For family members, reducing contact may allow you to heal and move forward. While no one can control a narcissist’s choices, you can make empowered decisions to protect yourself and live freely.


Genuine change in a narcissist’s entrenched behaviors is rare, but possible in some circumstances if they become willing to take an honest look at themselves. However, be wary of manipulation tactics used to hook partners and family members back into harmful patterns. Look for consistent behavioral improvements, self-awareness, and concern for others over the long-term to ascertain if sincere change is taking place. Support their growth process where you can, but ultimately, you need to make decisions that are right for your own well-being, even if that means letting go. With realistic expectations, good boundaries and strong self-care, you will be well equipped to handle your relationships with narcissists while protecting your emotional health.