The leopard cannot change its spots. A leopard may conceal itself in its surroundings but if you look closely enough, you’ll eventually see them so well camouflaged. I consider a narcissist to be not unlike the leopard in that he or she may remain hidden for a time, but if you give time, some time, their failure to blend in and hide their true colours, becomes impossible.
The subject of change is open to debate. It is a question that has been asked time and time again. It is a difficult question and one that there is no straight forward answer to but I will give you my opinion and please note, this is my own personal opinion.
I believe that generally, no, these people do not change. We are told by many professionals that they cannot change, it is their personality, it is their essential nature, it is who they are. Change would involve the person with NPD recognising that the problems lie within themselves, having a conscience, learning to empathise. ‘Can anyone learn to empathise?’ Empathy is described by the Cambridge English Dictionary as, ‘The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.’ Feelings are emotions that define who we are.
If someone looks at themselves in the mirror and doesn’t like what they see, they may resort to cosmetic surgery. They may go for a face lift or a nose job in order that they may get to like the reflection that they see staring back at them. Does a narcissist like what they see in the mirror? Most of the time I would think that they do but they don’t take a close look. They live in denial. They know that if they look too closely, they will see themselves for who they really are. Rather than their delusional image of their superiority being shattered, they take a step back from the mirror. They don’t want to see what’s really there. By having blind spots, they can carry on regardless, fooling themselves that when relationships don’t work out for them, it’s always someone else’s fault. Never their own.
Are there exceptions?
Yes, I believe that there are. Everyone in life has their difficult times and we learn to deal with life’s problems and move on. What happens to a narcissist when their problems become so overwhelming that they wonder, ‘Could this be me? Could I be the one that has a problem?’ When every relationship that they have in their lives bites the dust, some may have this wake up moment. Most won’t, blaming everyone else for their own failures. Change is an inside job. They need to want to change and sadly the majority never feel the need to change. The road ahead would be a very difficult journey, trying to change who they are, trying to change a lifetime’s beliefs and behaviours. Can it be done? If they have reached that point in their lives where they don’t like what they see in the mirror, where they realise that their strength will come from change and not control, then maybe, but don’t count on it.
My personal opinion is that there is a possibility of change for those on the lesser end of the scale. Their behaviour may be modified for a time but I believe they tend to slip back into their old ways over time. Just how long that time will last remains to be seen.
Dr. Lynne Namka, says that people with severe narcissistic traits have limited emotional intelligence – and tons of psychological defenses – standing in the way of recovery, being unable to see the depth of their pathology as to know their shortcomings would send them into great shame which would trigger depression. I would go along with this train of thought believing that there is little hope for the more malignant narcissist. I have yet to read of someone such as this changing for the better over the long term.