Can Narcissism Be Treated?

One of the most common things we hear at the Marriage Recovery Center on the subject of narcissism goes something like this: “Everything thing I read and watch says that narcissism is incurable and that I should run. You are the only ones who say there is hope!”

While it’s true that an internet search on narcissism will yield a wide variety of opinions on the subject, much of it has not kept up with current research.

“If you recognize aspects of your personality that are common to narcissistic personality disorder or you’re feeling overwhelmed by sadness, consider reaching out to a trusted doctor or mental health provider. Getting the right treatment can help make your life more rewarding and enjoyable.”

– The Mayo Clinic

“Despite the divergences of their approaches, many psychologists agree that while treating personality disorders is not easy, it isn’t impossible.”

– The American Psychological Association

It’s also important to note that most individuals with narcissistic traits do not have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but rather are on the spectrum.  In either case, current research indicates that one of the most effective treatments for narcissism or narcissistic tendencies is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

This Treatment method consists of 4 critical areas which are skills that can be learned.  Research has shown these four skills to be very effective in helping overcome behaviors that might ordinarily be thought of as impossible to change.

  • Distress Tolerance

    Distress tolerance skills help us learn to manage the distress that we face in life in a healthy way.  Instead of focusing on how we want a situation that is out of our control to change, we focus on learning to accept things as they are, even if we may not like it.

  • Mindfulness

    When we practice mindfulness, we are focusing on the here and now, and we notice what things are like without judgment.

  • Emotional Regulation

    Emotional regulation is a vital part of the healing process. We have to learn to take charge of our emotions.  No one makes you angry, no one forces you to act out.  You choose to do that based on what you believe to be true.  There are nine emotional relational skills in DBT.

    1. Recognizing your emotions
    2. Overcoming the barriers to healthy emotions
    3. Reducing your physical vulnerability
    4. Reducing your cognitive vulnerability
    5. Increasing your positive emotions
    6. Being mindful of your emotions without judgment
    7. Emotional exposure
    8. Doing the opposite of your emotional urges
    9. Problem solving
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness

    You must improve your relationship skills and become a better friend and partner.  In order to do this, we focus on six key skills needed for interpersonal relationships.

    1. Knowing what you want.
    2. Asking for what you want.
    3. Negotiating conflicting wants.
    4. Getting information, finding out what the other person wants.
    5. Saying no in a way that protects the relationship.
    6. Acting according to your values – not passive nor aggressive but being clear and respectful. Ask what type of relationship do I want with other people? Loving committed? Set positive values for each of your relationships.

Taking the First Step

These are just the beginning skills needed to help overcome maladaptive personal tendencies or personality disorders.  It will take work and lots of emotional effort.  Ongoing therapy is necessary to fully take charge and become the person you want to be.