The Narcissist and the Mirror-image
Consequences only work if someone understands them and if they care. For example, ending the relationship with the narcissist only matters if the loss of the relationship means something to the narcissist about himself. If it doesn’t, this is no threat and therefore, no consequence. The narcissist doesn’t care about what you think of their behavior. They live behind Teflon armor and your feelings, accusations and complaints can’t touch them. In order for narcissists to be motivated to change their behavior, they have to dislike their own behavior and the way it makes them feel so much that they don’t want to feel that way anymore, and they have to be able to remain focused on that even when they are upset.
This is the only thing that will motivate a narcissist to change something they are doing: their own feelings.
Because they are experts in justification, denial, compartmentalization and blame shifting, it is very hard for this situation to come about. They have to realize their own behavior is the problem before they can stop doing it. In our example involving the dog, the narcissist was able to justify his behavior for years by blaming his wife for causing it and by claiming it was just an uncontrollable reaction when he got angry. And it probably was, because he had no idea how to go back and rescind permission for himself to behave that way, and no idea how to react a different way than the way he had always reacted. However, once a consequence was introduced to the situation that forced him to stop and think, he controlled himself. He did not go back to that behavior even when the external consequence – the dog – was gone because he did not like the way doing those things made him feel. He did not like thinking of himself as the kind of man who hits women.
While the negative external consequence may have been the vehicle through which the behavior modification was possible, it is the negative internal consequence that made it a true change. If it were solely dependent on external consequences, the change would not have been permanent, and abuse would have started back up as soon as the dog was no longer present.
This is true for most behavior modification and most motivation for change. People have to truly feel it or it won’t last. The difference with narcissists is that because of their disorder it is much harder for them to see that their behavior is a problem. Narcissists justify their trouble behaviors in many different ways, and it’s very hard to see something is wrong or should change if you feel justified in doing it. How can it be wrong when you have a reason?
Looking again to our domestic abuse example, what took the narcissist so long to change his behavior was that he felt totally justified in hitting his wife. He didn’t like the way it made him feel afterward and he knew it was not the right thing to do, but it was her fault for upsetting him and pushing his buttons. She should change, then the problem would be solved and he wouldn’t have to feel bad about himself. In this way, narcissists neatly and effectively remove any possibility of seeing a problem with their own behavior.
The narrative is, “No, it wasn’t wrong because of this.” Or “Yes, it was wrong but you made me do it.” Narcissists do understand right from wrong. They just don’t believe they did anything wrong because they have “reasons” and those reasons are always feelings. The problem is always somebody else causing feelings in them. This is of course, not true. People are responsible for their own feelings and their reactions to those feelings. Narcissists see themselves as simply reacting to things that are happening to them, rather than as someone who is in control of things happening. As long as this is true, behavior is very difficult to change.