Contrary to popular belief, narcissists can change. They cannot change or heal their narcissism, but they can (and do) change their behavior. The problem has never been that narcissists cannot change. The problem is that the narcissist is generally unwilling to change. Changing a behavior means that the narcissist must admit that their behavior was wrong. Generally they are unwilling (or unable) to do that.
However, depending on the circumstances, the narcissist can indeed be motivated to change.
Now, don’t misunderstand this. The motivation is always a selfish and internal one. It has nothing to do with other people, which is why appealing to a narcissist generally will not work. Telling them how much they are hurting you or upsetting you does not sway them. It means nothing to them, in practical terms. They’re just words, and typically is interpreted as blame which they connect to shame.
An important distinction to make here is that we are not talking about remorse—we are talking about shame. Remorse is felt for other people, and narcissists are not capable of remorse because it is connected to empathy, which they generally don’t have. Shame, however, especially pathological, unreasonable shame, is an old enemy of the narcissist. It triggers rage in them and puts them on the defensive.
Now there’s a fight, and an angry narcissist is impossible to get through to. Their disorder specifically prevents this, regardless of what you say or how you say it. So remember: narcissists don’t care about your feelings at all. They only care about theirs.
Using logic won’t work either, because narcissists believe their feelings are facts. This is illogical and unreasonable, but it is how they operate and you cannot reason with it. There is nothing you can do to create or motivate a change within the narcissist. The narcissist will only change their behavior on their terms, and for their reasons, no one else.
Making the Choice to Change
So, in order to change negative behavior the narcissist must first, be able to understand that their own actions are creating their negative feelings. Secondly, they must hate how the behavior makes them feel so much that they don’t want to feel that way anymore. Thirdly, they must be able to understand that this behavior is a choice they are making, and fourth, they must be able to recognize when the choice is being made and make a different one – even when they are upset.
These are all things that are extremely difficult for narcissists to do. Their disorder was created as a way to prevent them from taking unreasonable blame and criticism as children but has deformed and evolved into something that will not let them take responsibility for anything as adults. They also have serious issues with impulse control, controlling their emotions and self-control in general. These are all things that make even just recognizing, let alone changing problem behaviors extremely difficult. In the end, the task is just too great for many of them.
Yes, narcissists can change their behavior. Since narcissism is a spectrum, some may have an easier time than others. But holding your breath waiting for them to want to do so is usually not advisable. It took them years to get into those patterns and it can take years to get out of them. Many never make it. And even if they do change some of their behavior, they are still narcissists. They can no more change this than you can grow two inches by tomorrow. They cannot feel empathy for other people, they cannot love other people. They cannot become someone else any more than anybody else can. Even the best you could hope for from a narcissist is really no hope at all.