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Why Narcissists Don't Change

Updated on January 11, 2018
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual counselor, hypnotherapist, and a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders.

We always hear that narcissists don't change. But why? Well, most of it is because they can't change. They don't have the insight or ability to see how their behavior looks to other people or evaluate themselves honestly, so how could they even realize something's wrong? But even if they could see and evaluate themselves realistically, there's another reason they don't change and that is because what they do works for them.

Now you might think, How does it work for them if they are so miserable and hate themselves so much? That is a valid question. To answer it, we have to think like a narcissist. If you can see nothing but your own feelings, and you feel so empty and awful all the time, then probably what you'd care the most about are things that make that feeling go away. Just about the only things that do that are getting what they want and hurting other people. Getting what they want helps them feel less empty and more important, and abusing others makes them feel powerful and less of a victim. It also helps them blow off steam. Their self-hatred is poisonous. They can only deflect or deny it so long until it reaches a point where it has to come out.

Hurt people hurt people, as they say, and it's really true. Narcissists take out their own self-hatred on other people because it's the only way they get any relief from it. When they can talk about how bad someone else is, and punish that person, they don't have to keep thinking about what a terrible, unlovable monster they are. There are people who disagree with this and all I can say to them is watch the narcissists you come across. Listen to what they say. The self-hatred is evident in every single thing they do. You can't miss it once you know what to look for.

There is often talk about narcissists wanting positive attention, and it's true. The problem is that any positive attention they receive is self-limiting. It will only last so long, because even if narcissists do receive positive attention, they don't believe in it. So while that is something they really like, it is never enough for them. That's why the nasty, abusive side always comes out eventually. Narcissists like positive attention - such as people thinking they are smart or good looking or whatever, but they don't trust it. It makes them uncomfortable inside because they know the image people are admiring is fake and they feel others will see it, too. They are in a constant state of paranoia and fear that they will be seen through. This is why they may be saints in public but a terror at home. The fear and paranoia, as well as their ever-present negative feelings of self-hatred - have to come out.

Somebody has to be the enemy that they can hate and fight and blame. Somebody has to be the villain. It can't be them; their disorder was spawned as a defense mechanism designed to keep them from ever hearing anything bad about themselves and their denial is absolute. So they take it out on people they have already decided don't care about them, usually because these people have seen what the narcissist is trying to hide. This ends up being everybody, eventually, because their self-hatred and self-abuse causes them to abuse others to try and get relief from it. You can do everything a narcissist wants the second they ask you to and you'll still be wrong somehow, because they want you to be wrong so they can attack you. They are looking for an excuse.

So why would they change when their system works for them? They get what they want and they get to feel better. Those are the only two things they care about, and the way they behave accomplishes both of these things perfectly. They are miserable, sure, but, they don't believe that their behavior is causing them more problems because they don't believe there is a way out of that misery in the first place. All they care about is avoiding it as much as they can. If you pay attention, you'll notice that is what all their behavior is geared toward: making themselves feel better. They don't even notice how their behavior makes other people feel, and wouldn't care if they did. It's not important. What's important is that they need to feel better. If you get in the way of that, there will be a very large problem.

This is why they accuse people of being hateful to them over the weirdest things, like saying you don't love them if they can't buy something or you won't give them something, for example. It isn't that they equate money or gifts with love - though some of them do. It's that getting that one thing is the only thing that can make them feel better and worthy and valuable, and you want them to feel worthless and bad and horrible which is why you won't give it to them. It sounds so stupid and childish to a non-narcissistic person, but they mean it. And of course, many times, that behavior gets them what they want, either because someone gives in out of guilt or simply to shut this person up.

People don't continue to do things that don't work for them, and this is true of narcissists as well. You might say it's not working for them, considering the outcomes of many things they do, but that really all depends on what they were trying to get out of it in the first place, doesn't it? There is a quote that states, "It's not the having, it's the getting," which means the journey to a goal is just as important - if not more important - than reaching the goal itself. For narcissists, it's the opposite. It's not the getting, it's the having. They don't care how they have to get something, as long as they get it. And more often than not, they get what they want - not just because of their manipulations but because what they want is often not what people think it is. Their goals are often very different than most people's. These goals are usually very short-term and center on the same thing over and over.

For example, if we look at a narcissist with a failed marriage that ended when their spouse left because of their abuse, we might say the narcissist didn't get what they wanted. But maybe they didn't want a successful marriage, or a marriage at all. And if that were the case, maybe they got exactly what they wanted. The truth is, their behaviors exist because of years of enabling and reinforcement. About the only time you will see a true change in a narcissist is when their previous behavior is no longer working for them anymore. Then you will see different behavior - although it's still designed to achieve the same goal. Usually however, all you will see is a change of partner, not a change in the narcissist. They would rather discard the person who no longer plays along then change their behavior. Maybe if the whole world could be convinced to stop enabling, reinforcing and giving in to the narcissist's behavior and they could not find anyone else to buy it, there could be a chance they would abandon it altogether.

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