The greatest irony (or should I say, tragedy) of being in a relationship with a narcissist is that narcissists tend to choose mates that are highly sensitive, empathetic, unconditionally loving, and forgiving… exactly the kind of mate that could them heal. But instead of allowing the mate to heal them, the narcissist ends up destroying the mate. In my opinion, before the narcissist’s traumatic abuse begins to take its toll on the victim, this hopeful possibility is extremely obvious. There is no way the narcissist could possibly miss it. So, then, why does the narcissist destroy his victims, instead of allowing them to heal him? What prevents the healing from taking place?
Why is it that, instead of finding the courage to feel gratitude…instead of thanking their lucky stars that they found someone so willing to love, and forgive and help them heal… the narcissist sets about his diabolical mission to destroy the the very person who was sent to save them? In this question, I think, we find the absolute, most maddening, mind-boggling aspect of the narcissistic relationship. With the possibility of love, and happiness, right in the palm of their hand, why does the narcissist reject it?
Over time, as the relationship inevitably deteriorates, and the victim suffers more and more trauma, which leads to the victim exhibiting more and more narcissistic behavior themselves, it’s easy to see why the narcissist would no longer trust that the victim could, in fact, help them heal. But, why, in the beginning- when hope abounds- does the narcissist so vehemently reject his own salvation? It’s a sick, and needless, tragedy. Truly.
This tragic mystery has boggled psychologist, counselors, therapists, and all manner of mental health professionals, for as long as personality disorders have been acknowledged as a true disorder. So much so, that the medical community has deemed personality disorders ‘incurable’, and many healthcare professionals refuse to even attempt to treat personality disordered patients. But could they have overlooked something? In looking at the bigger picture, they missed an opportunity for healing in the details of the narcissist’s disorder?
Could it be that the narcissist is truly incapable of changing? Or could there possibly be some light left at the end of this tunnel? Could the narcissist learn to do something different? Could he learn to change? In my opinion(which I know doesn’t account for much, as I am no professional, or anything), the answer is ‘yes’, and ‘no’.
On the one hand, the narcissist is absolutely, 100% NOT capable of changing. The reason lying in the workings of the narcissist’s brain. Let me me give you a crash course in neurobiology, in case you’re unfamiliar.
See, any time we experience something in life- whether it be a smell, a new taste, or the feeling of love- we have these thingies in our brains, called neurons, that fire. For example, if we reach out to another person for connection, a neuron fires. If that person rejects us, another neuron fires. If we experience this same situation enough times, a synaptic connection forms, and the more likely it is that any time we reach out for connection, the rejection neuron will fire…regardless of the other person’s actual response. (Note: I’m pretty sure I got all the terminology there correct, but the process is the important part-LOL)
Over time, and especially when the experience is infused with intense emotion (such as shame), the connection becomes rigid, and literally blocks other connections from forming. The forming of various connections is what categorizes “growth” in our brain (that added complexity of connections). The lack of complexity is synonymous with a lack of growth in a person. A rigid connection, literally, prevents the brain from learning any new information in that area. This is exactly what has happened to the narcissist’s brain.
As a child, or adolescent, the narcissist experienced rejection, humiliation, or shame, when he reached out for love and connection, or just from being himself, that he came to believe that he, himself, must be defective in some way… unlovable. It was the only explanation he could give himself for why those, who were supposed to love and care for him, caused him so much pain. His brain formed a seriously strong connection (called a neural net) between love/connection/attachment, and shame/pain/worthlessness. The narcissist’s brain, basically, became hard-wired to see every loving, or potentially intimate, interaction through a lens of shame.
At that point, shame, or rejection, was no longer a state of being (as we experience such emotions), but became a stable personality trait. This means that, no matter how another person responds to the narcissist’s bids for love, and connection, he will almost always experience their response to him as though that person were criticizing, rejecting, humiliating, or shaming him. We see this evidenced by the narcissist’s hyper-sensitivity to any perceived slight, or criticism.
So, from that perspective, the answer to whether, or not, the narcissist can change is a resounding ‘No’. His brain simply isn’t wired for growth, or change.
On the other hand… There is one exception, to the narcissist’s perception of “all things cause pain/shame”, and is during the idealization phase of a relationship, when the narcissist is experiencing a “high” from falling in love.
I have a theory that the release of extra dopamine & serotonin, and all those “feel-good chemicals” in the brain, creates a sort of “window of opportunity” where the neural nets might be more receptive to disruption…which is what would be needed in order for the narcissist to break the cycle of toxic shame. The question is- How do we disrupt such strong neural connections?
I believe that the answer lies, partly, in the subconscious mind. You see, most of the decisions we make in our lives come not from our conscious mind (as we like too think), but from our unconscious, also called our “automatic self”. In the unconscious is where we store all our core beliefs. These are the set of principles that dictate how we feel about things, how we act, and who we are. This is where the narcissist’s belief that he is “unlovable”, or “defective”, is stored. I believe that by using a process I call ‘subconscious re-scripting’ (or any other of a number of methods for reprogramming the subconscious), that the core beliefs of the narcissist could be changed, therefore allowing for a different experience of love, and intimacy, for the narcissist.
Also, I believe that with the use of mindfulness meditation, and the teaching of compassion towards his self, the healing of the narcissist’s toxic shame could be accomplished, thereby disrupting the synaptic connection that keeps him stuck in intimacy avoidant behaviors. This is a huge part of healing narcissism, as much of the abusive behaviors the narcissist exhibits, are for the express purpose of avoiding connection with others (remaining separate from them).
From that perspective, the answer to our baffling question, then, becomes ‘Yes. The narcissist can change.’
The trick, of course, would be convincing the narcissist that change is needed. That in, and of, itself would be a grueling task. One that, perhaps, is impossible. But, maybe, that’s only because we approach the narcissist’s change from the position of needing him to take responsibility for the horrible things he has done.
Perhaps, if we let go of our need for the narcissist to be accountable for his narcissism…at least in the beginning (when he is, literally, incapable of that), and we focus simply on helping the narcissist to resolve painful feelings he IS aware of having, he could effect enough change, that the motivation to follow through the rest of way, with his healing, would arise naturally.
Of course, that is all wild speculation…and from a woman with no formal degree on the subject. So, what do I know?
Until Next Time
~The Narcissist’s Wife