Is narcissism treatable? This is a topic that stirs up a lot of controversy and a question that we get asked often. As a therapist who has spent many years working with clients with narcissistic traits, my answer to this question is yes, but there is one caveat. And that is the person must be fully invested in the process. I understand that I am going against the current here in that many of my peers outside the Marriage Recovery Center would conclude that there is no cure. I would agree that we cannot “cure” narcissists of their condition, but we can give them the tools and help them change their thoughts, perceptions, beliefs and consequently, their behaviors.
“Narcissism is an eminently treatable disorder that can be approached using a variety of therapeutic models.”
Despite what many people think, there are experts that say narcissistic traits, and even the personality disorder are treatable, and research continues to emerge that supports this. In Understanding and Treating Pathological Narcissism, author John S. Ogrodniczuk says that, “Pathological narcissism has long been considered one of the most challenging conditions to treat in psychotherapy.” Note that he says challenging, not impossible. He goes on to say, “Narcissism is an eminently treatable disorder that can be approached using a variety of therapeutic models.”
My firm belief that people can change if they want to is not only supported by clinical data, but also by the Christian concept of an all-powerful God who has the power to change people and restore what we would consider to be beyond repair. This concept is vitally important to my practice and has shaped how I approach treating people with narcissistic traits. Below are five basic tenets that I challenge the men that I work with in The Core group to consider and to evaluate against their beliefs and attitudes:
- There is a higher power that is greater than me; I am not the final answer.
- I will one day answer for the wrongs I have done; I need accountability.
- I cannot cure myself; I need help.
- God cares about you; help is available for those who seek it.
- There is nothing beyond God’s ability; change is possible.
Theologically speaking, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and narcissistic traits are treatable, especially when one humbly surrenders to God and lets go of pride and self-promotion.
Anyone can change, but not everyone will.
I have personally seen the transformation that can occur when the appropriate intervention is applied and the change process is embraced. Again, the key being that the person is fully committed to the process and willing to do the necessary work.
Not everyone that I work with comes out a changed man. Many people come to me wanting to fix their marriage, or perhaps they’ve been given an ultimatum that they must go to counseling or face divorce, but they are too resistant, prideful, or focused on wanting their spouse to change. Some expect change after a few sessions rather than accepting the truth that change is an arduous, long process. Many say they are ready for change, but they are not willing to see or do things differently, so they stay stuck in what I call thinking errors. These thinking errors and resulting protective behaviors are often a result of things that happened earlier in life. Self-protective behaviors are defense mechanisms that are deeply ingrained, and we have probably had them for most of our lives, so it is no easy task to break these patterns. But if narcissistic behaviors are learned, which I believe it is, then they can be unlearned. We can learn new behaviors to replace them, even if they are not natural to us. Contrary to what many people believe, things like empathy and learning to be vulnerable with our spouse can be learned and it is what we teach in The Core program.
A Comprehensive Approach to Treating Narcissism
In my practice, my approach starts with helping people examine why they do what they do, to understand the thinking errors that are driving the behaviors, and finally, to learn to change their behaviors by changing their thinking. What I have found is that often, people will change as they learn that their protective behaviors are what are actually causing the relational difficulties. Again, I want to emphasize that we don’t “cure” people, but rather help them become the person they want to be, and work towards the marriage they want to have.
So, I conclude with this thought: I believe narcissism is treatable because theology, clinical data and science all support the fact that humans are capable of change. We at the Marriage Recovery Center specialize in the treatment of narcissistic and emotional abuse and have developed a comprehensive treatment plan that involves treating both the perpetrator and the victim. There are many things need to be considered – trauma, personality disorders, addictions etc. and we approach it from a holistic perspective, not just putting a quick fix band-aid on the surface problems, which are never the real problems. To learn more about our comprehensive treatment program contact our Client Care Team or call (206) 219-0145 to get started.