Yes, You Can Change A Narcissist — If You Follow One Key Rule

The who, how, and what you need to know about converting your narcissistic to the good side.

Couple sitting at a picnic table, him looking at her, she is smiling KIRAYONAK YULIYA / shutterstock 

Some people may say that narcissists cannot change, but I believe they are wrong. There is a basic truth you must consider before trying to change a partner whom you have labeled a narcissist, however.

No one embraces change unless they have a stake in the happiness and personal growth it will bring, and the selfish need for control and power is likely to resist you every step of the way.

In other words, in order to change a narcissist, your coaching must be their idea. You are wasting your time if they are not 110% on board and the frustration and resentment that follows are not worth your effort.


In addition, your relationship must be safe, and tolerating abuse while hoping for change is counterproductive. It reinforces the very thing you want to change. If your partner is reactive and scary, it is best to exit the relationship and encourage them to seek support from someone else.

Finally, changing a narcissistic partner can be challenging because they rarely acknowledge that they are the problem. That said, your person may be at their “rock bottom” and ready to take responsibility. Just be cautious that their apparent readiness is not a ploy to rope you in again.

This brings us back to the initial rule, which is that your narcissist must authentically want to change. 


RELATED: How To Deal With A Narcissist — 8 Smart & Simple Steps

Questions to ask yourself while trying to change a narcissist

Is this person truly a narcissist?

If you have decided that you have a coachable partner, find out if they have a diagnosis of narcissism, whether their behavior stems from the dynamics of your negative and challenging relationship, or if their actions are a reflection of a self-absorbed culture and society.

Your assistance to a diagnosed narcissist will be limited by the aspects of narcissism they are ready to address. While coaching, change that stems from the poor dynamics between you will of necessity include and involve your change. The partner who has adapted to society and becomes self-absorbed will also benefit from an inclusive approach.


That means the who, how, and what of change is crucial.

Is your partner a narcissist or are you simply in a toxic relationship?

It's important to exercise caution when labeling someone a narcissist, as it is a mental health condition that can only be diagnosed by qualified psychiatrists or psychologists after thorough assessments and clinical interviews.

Allow me to share an anecdote from a recent encounter with a patient who was feeling overwhelmed and bewildered by a so-called narcissistic partner. Having inched her chair just a breath away from mine, she handed the phone to me reveal a text message filled with anger and disappointment, indicating a partner who had lost control of their emotions and lacked the ability to communicate effectively.

In this particular case and several answers later, it seemed that the issue was one of deteriorating couple dynamics that led to a prevalence of self-centered behavior rather than genuine narcissism. It's possible that the challenging environment of your relationship necessitates adopting a "me first and me only" attitude for their survival.


In this case, the prescription is a relationship overhaul. 

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Is this person a narcissist or have they absorbed narcissistic traits of society and culture?

Another reason for the prevalence of narcissistic traits is the influence of social media, celebrities, and movies that have led your person to believe they are only valuable with a physical appearance or public image that is comparable to or better than others. 

In fact, W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., head of the University of Georgia psychology department, and San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, Ph.D., analyzed NPI (Narcissistic Personality Inventory) data from 85 studies and found that between 1982 and 2006, college students’ narcissism scores significantly increased. Follow-up studies conducted until 2008 indicated that this trend was continuing to rise.


Furthermore, the recent emphasis on self-esteem building, while valuable in theory, often lacks a comprehensive understanding of self-esteem while promoting a belief that "I am special". This has inadvertently contributed to a culture of self-promotion, potentially fostering narcissistic tendencies in individuals.

Having narcissistic traits does not make your partner's personality disordered. It's worth mentioning that in recent years, labeling a self-centered partner as a narcissist has gained popularity but may not be helpful or accurate. Your partner is not a narcissist because you say so!

Is your partner willing to change? 

Now that we know a little about narcissism, you can decide if the issue is your toxic relationship, the influence of a self-obsessed culture, personality traits of narcissism, or potentially falls in the category of a full-blown narcissist.


If they can take personal responsibility and be accountable, and if they are consistent in their desire to change, you may have the right person to work with. Your partner needs to want to be a better partner and person all the time not just when they need to please or manipulate you. 

RELATED: 8 Scary Signs That You, Yourself, Are A Narcissist

Reta Faye Walker is a therapist who specializes in healing relationships. She offers one-on-one sessions, couples retreats, and courses to help couples get back on track.