This question is one I hear so many times.
People write to me and say “I have done the research, and apparently narcissists don’t change. But can a narcissist heal? How can he / she change?”
This was a question, once upon a time I agonised over myself.
With the first narcissistic abuse experience I was so deluded into believing I still loved him, and we were truly meant to be together. I was convinced he really loved me, and that his exclamations of wanting to save our relationship were genuine.
I tried hard to believe that he would be the first narcissist on the planet to truly heal. I spent years hanging on to that hope. I believed love conquers all.
Fortunately in the second narcissistic relationship, I knew that he couldn’t heal and that his cries to save the relationship (coupled with projections / abuse) were just more lies to try and bring me back into his web.
This allowed me to get out and move on with my life A LOT quicker.
In this article I’m going to explain the deep reasons as to why narcissists don’t heal – and what would they actually have to do to make it possible.
Words Are Cheap
It is very common for a narcissist, at some point of their relationship problems, to be sorry, apologise, and speak the words that would make someone believe that they can and do want to heal.
Not all narcissists do this – but many do…
This can be incredibly misleading – even if you understand the dynamics of narcissism. When you are viewing life from a human model you believe signs of genuine remorse and apology equal change.
Or, you have been so worn down by the previous twists and turns, projections, lies, lack of accountability and scapegoating, that the incredible relief of a ‘genuine apology’ feels like it must be real.
Firstly, when dealing with a narcissist, you have no ability to know whether or not these proclamations of taking responsibility and being remorseful are feigned or genuine.
The brain wiring of the narcissist is so set on survival programs and obtaining narcissistic supply (needing energy outside of self to emotionally survive), I think we can safely state it is likely the narcissist doesn’t know moment to moment either.
What we do understand (when understanding narcissism) is the apologies, remorse and promises regarding how the narcissist will make up for atrocious acts, and fix the damage don’t hold – and inevitably the malicious behaviour returns – generally in a much more intensified form.
Why does this happen?
The narcissist despite what he or she has said genuinely cannot help the ongoing behaviour, and his or her False Self despises the fact that he or she had to be humble.
Narcissism is about ‘one-upping’, and cannot bear to be vulnerable. The False Self will start engineering ways to get even and escalate punishment, in order to get back in control and ‘on top’.
The truth is nobody – narcissist or non-narcissist – stops acting out inappropriate or unhealthy behaviour simply because they said they realised and would not do that anymore.
It takes an enormous effort of self-realisation, recognition of one’s flaws (meeting internal woundedness directly) and responsibility to change one’s pattern of behaviour, in order to change.
The Unhealed Triggers
There are ‘triggers’ from you that remind the narcissist of his or her deep, dark and unattended to inner emotional wounds.
These wounds originated in the narcissist’s life long before you arrived on the scene.
These wounds are not just the ‘modified’ internal wounds that non-narcissists have.
These wounds are so significant that the narcissist submerged (killed off) his or her True Self and created a False Self (another person) in its place to try to get away from the wounds.
The only problem with this strategy is: the internal wounds did not go away. They remained and the more disowned they were, the bigger they got – just like an untreated cancer that becomes more and more invasive and malignant.
The narcissist has disowned these wounds, but can never divorce these wounds. The narcissist is eternally tied to them.
To try to compensate the narcissist needs to create a bigger and bigger False Self which is grandiose, perfect in every way and more special than other people.
The False Self however is pathological. It isn’t solid, it is insecure, deeply takes offence and childishly personalises any ‘slights’. It is an ineffective barrier to internal self-demonising thoughts and feelings. It needs to grab energy and attention outside of itself to try to avoid the internal emotional agony.
Of course it often fails…
What this means is: While walking on eggs shells you are sooner or later going to land on a trigger.
Something you say, a way you look, a certain stance with your ‘body-language’, the compliment you didn’t give, the level of approval that was not forthcoming from you, the success you gained that had nothing to do with the narcissist, the enjoyment you derived from something or someone else, the mention you made of someone or something else other than the narcissist – let alone (heaven forbid) any slight, critique or comment you may make that is not aligned with the grandiose version of the narcissist’s False Self which is trying to escape inner self-loathing – by being magnificent and above anyone’s reproach.
Bang the trigger goes off, and the narcissist explodes with narcissistic rage. Callously devaluing you, or worse still engineering a way to punish you.
So what happened to the ‘genuine’ promise the narcissist granted you of no longer reacting maliciously?
What happened to promising you NOT to turn on you, hurt you, cheat on you, smear you, or threaten you with breakups or any other ‘weak point’ which the narcissist uses cruelly against you?
It’s all gone completely out the window…
It’s like you never received those words, or promises. Which true to narc form may have been delivered in gushing ten page letters of undying ‘love’ and ‘heartfelt remorse’.
In fact the narcissist has switched back to the insane twists, turns and deflecting behaviour that makes you think you are completely losing your mind…The adoring ‘saint’ is nowhere to be seen.
And of course you being ‘mean’ to the narcissist’s False Self is the total justification to the narcissist for treating you this way.
There is NO reasoning with that…
So it happened… you hit the trigger, and the horror show has just begun all over again.
What Is Really Necessary?
This is what astounds me with traditional cognitive therapy.
The inner wounds which are causing the problems are not accessed, confronted, faced or released.
This means that the reasons as to why a narcissist disowned his or her True Self, and is living life through a pathological self are not faced.
These wounds are exactly what would need to be confronted in order for the narcissist’s disordered condition and deranged brain pathways to reverse.
Whilst the narcissist’s original trauma is still submerged and locked inside the narcissist, the disordered defence mechanisms of the False Self will jealously, vengefully and vehemently stand guard.
It is a perpetual bomb of malicious cruelty to anyone who threatens the False Self, waiting to go off at the slightest provocation.
It would ONLY ever be when these wounds no longer exist that the narcissist can lay down these defences.
The same applies for everyone’s significant inner wounds and defence mechanisms.
How on earth can talk therapy reach, face, embrace and release wounding of that magnitude?
I don’t believe it can…
I have heard of so many narcissists in the community who hit the ‘apology’ stage, who want joint therapy with partners, and will even take on anger management or meditation or mindfulness classes themselves.
I am still never to hear of this having positive results.
I have never heard of a joint therapy session go well with a narcissist.
Regarding the first narcissistic experience I had, it was a complete and utter three ring circus and nightmare. He ran rings around the therapist, and as soon as she started to put some pieces together (after a private session with me) he discredited her and refused to continue.
So much for doing ‘anything’ to save the relationship.
The second narcissistic experience was proclamations of therapy to sort out my ‘paranoia’ (of course he believed I should just ‘trust’ a man who pathologically lied, smeared, abused by proxy and committed adultery), and in his words ‘To work out better communication between us to avoid our arguments!!’.
In no way was he even close to owning his outrageous behaviour (off the planet) was completely unliveable and due to horrendous childhood wounds.
So I broke off the relationship and declined the offer…thankfully…
I can only imagine how much more damaging, deranging and abusing that whole experience would have been had I not. And of course there was NO possibility of a healthy outcome.
Please be aware if the narcissist is going to anger management, meditation or mindfulness teachers, before long he will be wanting to run the group, volunteer as a group speaker, or will have buddied up to the teacher in order to be acknowledged as an incredible, special and amazing human being.
It becomes all about getting additional narcissistic supply – it’s NOT about getting better.
Both of these men in my past stated they would do ‘whatever’ it would take and had at times been ‘deeply remorseful’.
Both never faced or worked on their childhood wounds. Both stated our problems were all to do ‘with communication’.
I know many of you have heard exactly the same excuse for cruel, maliscious and conscienceless behaviour which non-narcissistic people couldn’t even contemplate let alone act out.
Truly – the proof (as they say) is in the pudding.
What you will discover is that when a narcissist states they want to take responsibility and heal – if you confront them with the fact that it is their horrendous unhealed wounds causing the abusive behaviour, and that needs to be directly addressed, you will see narcissistic wrath at its worst.
Or you will experience total devalue and discard.
The narcissist’s False Self will never allow you to know the sordid truth – that he or she feels completely hollow, broken and defective – and that his or her entire life is a masquerade trying to hide that fact.
Accepting the Truth
It’s sad, and it’s tragic because narcissists are the product of abuse, sometimes bad genetics, and often cruel violence, abandonment or pathological engulfment.
They did not ‘choose’ logically to kill off their True Self and live a pathological life – being more and more taken over by a painful, empty, angry , demanding and never appeased False Self.
However, we have to realise the truth.
There is no helping someone who won’t (or can’t) help themselves.
Being attached to a narcissist is not like being attached to a helpless person such as a quadraplegic. I totally understand the devotion people have when they sacrifice their lives to lovingly assist others.
The narcissist, however, as this helpless to ‘get better’ person is viscious, calculating and he or she will abuse you all the way to your demise. THAT is why you need to stop trying to fix this person.
Whilst the False Self is on guard there is no breaking through to a narcissist, and no getting them to work on these deep inner wounds – which are EXACTLY what they have been avoiding, deflecting and projecting on to other people their entire life.
To meet the inner wounds is equal to annihilation for a narcissist – it just can’t be done.
Sam Vaknin describes it as the narcissist intuitively knowing that he or she does not have the inner resources to deal with the onslaught of these inner wounds. His belief is that a narcissist would risk a complete psychotic and catatonic breakdown if he or she did face these wounds.
Knowing what I know about energy healing – I do know it is possible in theory for a narcissist to energetically claim and clear wounds and re-connect back to the Source of wellbeing that all of us are connected to at some level…even narcissists.
It would be excruciating and gruelling, and incredibly painful – but (I believe) it could be done.
However, here is the sticking point.
The narcissist is addicted to narcissistic supply worse than a heroin addict is addicted to heroin. The narcissist literally feels like he or she would disappear into oblivion if not getting an energy supply (attention) from the outside. The narcissist has ‘killed off’ his or her connection to being an energy Source from ‘self’.
What this means is: the narcissist when feeling any emotional low (frequent) will frenetically need to get a ‘hit’ to try to offset the pain.
Deep inner healing and personal transformation for anyone is all about being with the pain and resisting these urges to self-avoid – and dealing directly with the pain instead.
The narcissist’s False Self is its own entity which has taken over the narcissist.
The False Self has all the reasons, all the excuses, and all the justifications to make what the narcissist does as ‘okay’.
It’s like a devil on the narcissist’s shoulder talking him or her into the most outrageous reactions and acts possible. Many narcissists (Sam Vaknin agrees) report that whilst doing these acts – it is like an out of body experience – it is like the False Self has completely taken over – and the narcissist is watching from the side lines unable to stop it happening.
That takes ‘knee jerk reaction’ to a whole new level.
So, is the False Self going to consistently go to a healing space over and over again, go within and leave alone the outside world and narcissistic supply in order to face and release deep inner traumatic wounds?
The answer is FIRMLY “No”…
What I have observed is that it is only narcissists in deep narcissistic injury ( life has hit SO hard), and are literally on their knees, who will dedicate time to inner healing. The reason is because when life kicks someone that hard – the ego is temporarily too injured to operate.
Life can be a HUGE humbler in the face of shocking catastrophe.
However, the narcissist’s brain has been established and hard wired onto obtaining narcissistic supply for most of their life.
Therefore as soon as a therapist grants the narcissist enough attention (narcissistic supply) for the False Self to reinstate itself again, those brain pathways start firing again, and the narcissist’s humility is incredibly short-lived.
He or she is back to the grandiose, entitled conscienceless version of hunting narcissistic supply – and on the story goes…
The Narcissist’s “Healing Cell”
I remember years ago (unfortunately I can’t remember the source, so if anyone knows please tell me!) I came across an article regarding a person’s theory about how a narcissist could heal.
Knowing what I know now I agree…
It goes like this…
Solitary confinement with no possibility of contact with the outside world, or the gaining of narcissistic supply.
Then, a committed effort to meet and release the original emotional traumas.
Then, stimulation and re-learning of empathy, compassion, connection to life and others, and integrity. Effectively re-parenting where these brain pathways left off, in order to catch them up to present time.
Truly – what narcissist is going to go through that? What facility is there to have that happen?
Additionally there would have to be every method possible to stop the narcissist committing suicide, because if narcissistic supply was removed, the narcissist would not want to live.
Please note I am not stating this is the case for people with mere ego issues or even narcissistic tendencies.
I believe everyone – co-dependents, and even ‘normal’ people all have varying degrees of survival mechanisms which are creating them to be not aligned in the true harmony of Who They Are.
All of these fears emenate from inner wounds that we closed down inside of us and tried to protect.
I have worked with thousands of people with confronting and releasing inner wounds, as well as confronting and releasing my own inner wounds, and I know the courage and commitment it takes to face them, to let them go and be free of them.
And I know that the people who decide to do this, need to commit to dropping all addiction (avoidance techniques) to be willing to be with and meet their pain in order to finally deal with it, and be liberated from it.
That’s what personal evolution and growth is all about.
Quick fixes, opting out, and self-avoidance just doesn’t cut it!
I have seen people who have had enough of living a life through their inner wounds, absolutely make the decision enough is enough and do the work.
Interestingly, I have been receiving many more than normal emails from people claiming to be narcissists who have had enough of the pain, and want to heal.
I refer all of these people onto the Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program. Their healing is identical to the healing for co-dependents. It is ALL about healing the traumas of abuse, and releasing fear, pain and survival programs.
These people may be in narcissistic injury and will discredit the Program later, or maybe the pain has become greater than the False Self – and maybe they are not fully NPD.
It is individuals suffering with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) who I believe are incapable of doing this.
My definition of NPD is when a person has crossed the line into malicious, pathological, and conscienceless behaviour.
Additionally this list in my recent article “Are You With A Narcissist?” Covers NPD typical behaviour and communication.
I have never heard of one credible case of a person operating at this level admitting their inner woundedness and doing the inner work and healing – and I don’t for one millisecond believe that cognitive therapy would even touch the edges.
I hope this helped explain this delicate subject for you, and I look forward to answering your comments and questions.
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