Narcissism like many other mental disorders is a complicated one to understand. The easy way would be to dismiss them altogether thinking that they will never change. But like every other mental illness, this is also curable. As long as they go to therapy, and are determined to control their narcissistic responses, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“Underneath the so-called narcissistic personality is definitely shame and the paralyzing fear of being ordinary.” — Brené Brown
7 Steps to Changing Your Narcissistic Responses
There’s a better way to deal with the issues that trigger your rage.
Written by Dr Elinor Greenberg
The common “wisdom” is that narcissists do not want to change. When I tell people that I work with a number of clients who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, they say, “Why? They aren’t really interested in psychotherapy.”
The truth is that while many narcissists are not ready to do psychotherapy because they find it too painful to take a close look at themselves, some people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder actually do want to change. I know this because the more motivated ones stay in therapy.
It is not easy for them to admit their flaws, deal with their underlying shame, and do the hard work necessary to create a healthier way of functioning. Their therapy is not easy for me either: I sometimes become the object of their rage. When they are not idealizing me or pretending to be nicer than they actually are, they are devaluing me. I have had to get used to being yelled at when something I say or do “triggers” them. But when the therapy works, it is all worth it.
My narcissistic clients come to therapy and tell me things that they admit to no one else:
- They realize that they behave inappropriately when they become enraged.
- They know that they are overreacting, but do not know why they do it or how to stop.
- They are tired of living with their rapidly fluctuating self-esteem and constantly having to chase new sources of validation.
- They have lost confidence that the next promotion, car, or mate will make a lasting difference in their life.
- They keep sinking into shame-based, self-hating depressions and feel helpless to prevent their own overly harsh inner attacks on their self-esteem.
“Narcissism has more in common with self-hatred than with self-admiration.” — Christopher Lasch
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
If you are reading this because you think that you may be narcissistic and are looking for a way forward, I want to assure you that there is a path you can take. Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be looked at rather simply as an adaptation to a childhood home environment that left you with unstable self-esteem, low emotional empathy, and a particular set of coping skills that have now become automatic and habitual.
As with any habit, your narcissistic responses are now encoded in your brain as a series of neuronal connections that fire together automatically in certain situations. You can choose to learn new coping skills that you like better. With continued practice, the new, non-narcissistic strategies will eventually replace the old narcissistic ones. Most of us regularly update our computer apps and our smartphones but do not think to update our coping strategies.
Choose What You Want to Change
Here is a simple seven-step plan you can use on your own that is based on what has worked for many of my narcissistic clients. It is very important that you be the one who chooses which issues to work on. People around you may be suggesting lots of things that they wish you would do differently because those behaviors hurt them. I understand that, but you have to do this for yourself, not for them. For the moment, you have my permission to ignore everyone else’s input. To succeed, you have to begin with something you care about deeply. It has to be a behavior that impacts you negatively in some way. That will keep you motivated.