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You Can’t Make The Narcissist in Your Life Change

But You Can Decide That You Don’t Deserve Their Emotional Abuse

By Natalie Frank, Ph.DPublished 3 years ago 20 min read
Photo by: nicubunu on Devian Art (CC BY 3.0)

There have been an almost endless supply of articles discussing narcissists in the news and popular press recently. It’s what they call a hot topic and a lot of people (myself included) are weighing in on the subject.

Since I write so much on the topic of narcissistic personality disorder and narcissism, a term I use to imply a less extreme version of the problem, I frequently get emails asking questions about it. By far the most common ones I get come from adult children who were raised by a narcissist or someone who is in a romantic relationship with one. After a lengthy explanation of what the person is experiencing, the question posed is some version of, “Should I stay in the relationship?”

My heart goes out to these individuals because they also have usually read a lot of advice along the lines of, “How to Make Your Narcissist into the Loving Partner You Want,” “How to Make Your Narcissistic Parent Love You,” or “How to Make Your Narcissist Boyfriend Miss You.” Then there are the ones that look a bit more like warfare they’ve likely come across such as, “How to Shut Down a Narcissistic Mother,” How to Make a Narcissist Addicted to You “How to Make a Narcissist Fear You,” or “Five Secrets to Beating a Narcissist You Love.”

If you look online you will find literally hundreds of thousands of articles with advice about changing a narcissist into what you want them to be. Just out of curiosity, I searched for “How to make a narcissist” leaving the rest blank and got 26,700,000 results. When I put in “How to beat a narcissist” I got 2,080,000 results. Then when I put in “How to change a narcissist,” I got a whopping 21,900,000 results. It’s obvious that there are a lot of people out there having problems with a narcissist in their life.

Here are two of the stories I’ve heard from people who have written to me. (Related with permission. Some of the facts changed to protect the identity of those in the stories).


To the outside world you would think my father and I had the perfect father-daughter relationship. He would hold my hand when we went walking and whenever we saw a neighbor he would stop to brag about my latest achievements.

I played my part, smiling and saying thank you when congratulated. I even tried to pretend to myself he actually was proud of me for a moment. But he wasn’t. He never was. My achievements were only tools that were useful to him for impressing the neighbors, “one upping” them when they talked about their own kids.

Before he was done there would be enough subtle hints to suggest he was really the one responsible for the whole thing. He would even manage to work an insult into the conversation about something else, making it sound like a perfectly reasonable part of the conversation. “I’m glad she’s at least good at something since she has no friends to speak of. It gives her something to do. But isn’t it a wonderful achievement?” And all the while I stood there and smiled like I was supposed to.

As soon as there was no one in sight again, he dropped my hand. He would say that my achievement really wasn’t anything special but what else did he have to tell the neighbors? He didn’t want them to think I was an imbecile who couldn’t do any better than their kids. They’d think he was a bad parent, or worse, that it was because I’d inherited his genes. He wouldn’t take the blame for my stupidity.

The irony is I always got straight A’s, always set the curve, always was top of the class, always was the one selected to represent my class in any kind of special event, and had just found out I was valedictorian. When I’d told my parents, my father just laughed. “Valedictorian of middle school? Come back and talk to me when you are valedictorian of Harvard or Yale.”

In my home there was one major rule where my father and I were concerned. Anything good that happened was his doing, anything bad that happened was my own. If there was nothing to blame me for, he just made it up. If there was nothing legitimate in his mind to punish me for, he’d make that up to.

He loved to humiliate me in front of my friends. Once he remarked about how “Miss Straight A Fancy Pants” had finally fallen from grace receiving a terrible grade. I’d failed. He talked about how he might have to put me in some institute somewhere for imbeciles. Of course, he said this with a laugh, as if it was all just a joke. It wasn’t. It was an intentional insult to make me look bad in front of my friends. And as for failing, anything lower than an A+ was failing (and my school didn’t give A+’s so there was no option but to fail), but in this case I really hadn’t received an A on a test.

So, what was he punishing me for? I’d gotten a B. The reason? He’d been in the middle of reading an interesting article he refused to put down until he’d finished it and had gotten me to school late so that I hadn’t had time to finish the test. When I pointed this out, he started yelling about how I always tried to blame him for my poor work, my lazy study habits, my complete lack of intelligence.

By the time he was done he’d convinced me what he’d said was true. It wasn’t even about the B anymore or why I’d gotten it or whose fault it really was. It was all about all the things I was lacking.

My father has a way of making me believe everything he says by twisting the truth and changing reality. I’ve overheard him talking behind my back to other family members and neighbors convincing them I’m defective and making himself look like a stellar parent by sticking it out and raising me.

They’ve all started treating me like he does. Not so openly, but just little comments, or slights here and there. Turning family and others against me is just one of his punishments for disagreeing with him, something I’ve learned never to do, or not achieving something that he could use to his benefit.

He constantly insults me about things I can’t change, things that I will need to succeed in life, a lack of intelligence, personality, and character. I’m not even attractive so it will be hard if not impossible to convince a man to marry me so I probably won’t even have someone to support me.

I don’t even try to argue anymore. It’s just easier to go along with what he wants and to believe what he says. And I’ve started believing.


I knew the father of my child wasn’t good for me by the time I learned I was pregnant. I’d already found out about the other women he was sleeping with and he had no problem flirting with other people in front of me.

But by then I figured it would be better for my child to have a father, convincing myself it wasn’t so bad and he could always change. I tried to make it work but my whole life became about making him happy, doing more and more for him, and accepting less and less from him. There was never any physical abuse, but I think that emotional abuse can be just as bad and sometimes worse. There was a lot of that.

He resented any time I spent with our daughter Jenna.* She was just a baby, but he thought she was fine left to her own devices in her crib most of the time. Except when she was crying. Then I had to stop it because it annoyed him, interrupted his sleep, made it so he couldn’t hear his television show or God Forbid, she embarrassed him when we were out in public. He thought his baby crying in public would make people think he wasn’t the perfect father.

As Jenna got older, he would put me down in front of her, tell her things I’d supposedly done than never happened. He’s someone who makes the world fit his needs.

He was still seeing other women, even though he’d promised he wouldn’t. He was on all the dating sites. One night when we were on vacation in Italy (his choice without any input from me), my laptop wasn’t working, so he insisted I use his – a very unusual occurrence. He left it open for me and went to shower. When I went to use it, he’d left his email up so I could see all of the women he was communicating with on several different dating sites.

When he came out of the shower and I confronted him, he became furious. It became all about me going into his computer, though he’d left it open and insisted that I use it. He said he didn’t think he could ever trust me again. He yelled and screamed, but left the computer open on the bed, got dressed, and left again with the computer still open and unlocked with his email up.

He’d left me with no money, no contacts, no way to go anywhere or see anything. I was so upset I couldn’t even leave the hotel to walk around the city. He was gone until morning. He came back in a good mood. He laughed and said that I had to understand that one woman couldn’t satisfy his massive libido. He needed other women but I was the lucky one he had married.

Then my brother committed suicide and my husband came to the funeral acting loving and wonderful. It was an act for others not for me. He followed me back to my parent’s house which I thought was to comfort me but it was really to tell me he was divorcing me. He’d met a model in Italy and they were going to be a fabulous bi-coastal couple.

I was in shock from my brother, shock that he wanted a divorce, shocked that he wanted me to sign the divorce papers that he had drawn up and we’d never discussed together.

When I got upset he started yelling how I was abusing him, he’d just lost his brother in law to suicide and I was trying to block his happiness! He just wanted me to sign the papers, saying he’d let me and our child stay in the house until the end of the month.

At that point, I just shut down. He intended to take everything leaving us with nothing and expected me to just go along with it because I should know that he deserved it all. The irony was the down payment for the house had been given to us by my parents, and since he could never find a job that he felt was worthy of his abilities, he never worked for more than a month or two at a time.

All the money he made he kept and I had paid every house payment, refinancing it so that I could pay it off, so it was completely free and clear. He threw the divorce papers in my face and stormed off telling me he’d be back later to pick them up.

When my mother called, I broke down, and then she had to deal with my relationship when she’d just lost her son. She sent a lawyer. It took him five minutes to glance through the papers before snorting and throwing them on the table. He said it was ridiculous.

My husband wanted everything, the house, which I was to pay the taxes for, my savings which he thought he deserved as payment for having to stay with me in a relationship that I made hell on earth for him.

His defense for all the women he’d slept with was I had been unable to satisfy him so he shouldn’t be held accountable for looking elsewhere. He said he could have asked for money for forcing him to sleep with other women but had decided to use “beneficence.”

He wanted back payment for the amount of “childcare” he’d had to do for his own child, He probably stayed with her for an hour or two on a few occasions when there was no other choice. He couldn’t have her impinge on his time.

He wanted palimony in the amount of $10,000 a month to pay for his needs despite marrying a very wealthy woman he’d been cheating on me with. He didn’t feel it was fair to not have the money to live the way that he deserved.

When he found out I wasn’t signing the divorce papers and we would be deciding things in court, he tried to make me think I was crazy and did a good job of it for a while.

He would say something then claim he never said it. He would still get furiously jealous if I so much as spoke to another man although he already had a fiancé before we were even divorced.

He called my friends behind my back and tried to enlist them in an intervention for all of my “problems”. They didn’t fall for it and they told me how he was trying to manipulate them into thinking I was crazy and needed help. My lawyer referred me to a very good psychologist who helped me see a bit more clearly what was going on.

The divorce was settled. I kept our daughter, the house, and all the money. My husband received nothing and was expected to pay child support. I waived the alimony I could have gotten. It would just be an added avenue for more manipulation. After the judge ruled, he actually went up the bench and tried to charm her. She told him he could step back or go to jail for contempt.

He began writing letters to the judge, my parents, my friends, even my boss with ludicrous claims. He’d been trying to publish op-eds in all the papers but they were rejected. He has gotten a couple of letters to the editor accepted though they took out all identifying information so they aren’t having the effect he was looking for.

I’ve had to get a restraining order which forbids him from contacting anyone in my life. The more he gets blocked from what he wants the angrier he gets and I am worried about what kind of manipulation he will try next to hurt me. My psychologist says if he attempts anything, to keep records and report it immediately.

Even after everything he did, I felt like it was me. I was the problem. I wasn’t enough, If I could just have changed, I could’ve been the wife and mother he wanted. If I’d been there more for him when he needed me and stayed out of his way when he didn’t, he’d have wanted to be with me. If I was more adventurous in bed, he wouldn’t have cheated. If I’d helped him find the career of his dreams, he’d have been happy and fulfilled.

My psychologist is trying to help me see things differently. I can’t get over not being able to change him. She told me that often narcissists can’t change. Or won’t.

*Names changed

Narcissistic Tendencies vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Before getting into the question, I want to differentiate between people who may have narcissistic tendencies or some narcissistic symptoms, and those who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). We throw the term “narcissist” around a lot. It may be used to refer to anyone who seems self-centered or selfish or someone we’re in a relationship with where things seem to be much more about them than us.

These situations can be annoying for sure. However, they are not at the level of the stories presented above.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is something far more serious than selfishness and being self-centered. Some of the criteria for this diagnosis according to the DSM-5, the primary diagnostic manual for psychiatric disorders, are:

a) Has a grandiose sense of their achievements such that they expect to be recognized as exceptional without any actions or accomplishments to support this. They greatly exaggerate their achievements, abilities, and personal characteristics which supports their sense of self-importance.

b) Spends much of their time fantasizing about the perfect love, their brilliance, their attractiveness, and unlimited power, success, and money. It comes to the point that the fantasies become real in their minds despite there being no or only limited support for any of these things.

c) Believe they are ultra-special, completely unique, and superior to most other people. Because of this, they think that only other high-level, special individuals are capable of understanding them or relating to them and that is the only kind of person they should associate with.

d) Needs to be constantly admired, revered, and envied and they will go to great lengths to make this happen. They will lie about certain people to tear them down and make themselves look good in comparison. They will start rumors about how they helped others, although they didn’t deserve their help, having others spread the story. They will train people to think the way they want them to think through rewards, punishment, manipulation, and exploitation.

e) Are extremely entitled and becomes upset if someone does not provide them with the special attention and benefits they believe they should receive

f) Will exploit anyone to get what they want. They don’t recognize the rights of others and don’t have the ability to take someone else’s perspective.

g) Lacks empathy, doesn’t recognize the rights, needs or emotions of others as things that are valid

h) Believes others are envious of them or at least presents that externally, while they are often the ones who are envious of others and will do what it takes to have whatever belongs to other people, or at least make sure the other person no longer has it.

i) Acts arrogant, haughty, dismissive, and doesn’t believe they have to follow the same social conventions others do.

Can Narcissists Change?

People with Narcissistic Tendencies

The question most people who are in relationships with narcissists have is "Can narcissists change?" This is usually asked with the intention of the individual learning what to do better to encourage the narcissist to change. People rarely accept that the narcissist is at fault not them.

If we are talking about the first kind of narcissist, the ones who have some narcissistic tendencies that are annoying and perhaps problematic in relationships, depending on how severe they are, many can change. Although this is dependent on whether they have empathy, perspective-taking skills and are able to recognize and accept that others have rights.

It still takes a lot of work for them to get rid of the behaviors and beliefs that are causing harm in their relationships. Plus, they obviously have to perceive there is a problem and decide to change it.

Unfortunately, many of these individuals don’t want to change and have internalized that self-help message that if you truly love someone you won’t try to change them. So if you care about someone you would accept them warts and all.

Of course, there’s a difference between someone leaving their socks on the floor, and them not picking you up to take you to the ceremony where you’re getting an award because they got caught up in a game of basketball they just had to win.

So, with this crew, it comes down to that old joke about psychologists. How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One but it has to really want to change. These people have to first recognize and become aware of the fact that they are hurting others in their life, and then have enough empathy and to want to stop, even if for no other reason than to improve their relationships.

The key here is to tie change into their desire to have happy, satisfying relationships with others, and to the person they care most about in their life. If there is a risk of losing that person, they will often become willing to change some things to prevent this from happening.

Those With Narcissistic Personality Disorder

As for those with NPD, unfortunately, I would have to say when someone has enough symptoms that they receive this diagnosis, or would if they were willing to go to a mental health professional, they can’t see there is a problem so they don’t see the need to change anything. Anything that is problematic in their life is someone else’s fault, never theirs. So in their minds, if anyone ever needs to change it is the other person.

If they are unable to genuinely care about anyone but themselves, their relationships consist of manipulation and exploitation, they knowingly and sometimes intentionally hurt others to get what they want or just to create a certain image for themselves, and they have no empathy or ability to see anyone else’s perspective, I would have to say the prognosis for positive change is very poor

But here is what you should know. While you may not be able to get the narcissist to change, you can come to the realization that you do not deserve what they are doing to you. You are not crazy – they are trying to make you feel that way to maintain control and keep you in your place.

What you do deserve is to be happy, to have relationships that don’t make you miserable and question whether you are a worthwhile person, to be able to relate to others without having to always feel like you’re walking on eggshells, having to watch every word, every action. You most definitely don’t deserve a life where every time someone hurts you, you try to figure out what you did to cause it so that you can prevent it from happening again.

You probably can’t change the narcissist in your life. But you can decide that the life you are living and the relationship you are in, are not what you want and that you deserve better.

If you need extra support or help dealing with your situation, here are a few hotlines that have advocates available who are specially trained to assist you as you make decisions about your life and your relationships.

National Domestic Violence Hotline- Even if you aren’t being physically abused, their advocates are trained to help those in relationships with narcissists. You can talk to a live advocate or use their chatline if that makes you more comfortable.

BPD Central [Recommended by NAMI] Provides information about BPD & Narcissistic Personality Disorder, treatment referrals, resources, and online support groups for several communities including those coping with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Out of httpsthe FOG: [Recommended by NAMI} Information and resources for caregivers, parents, friends, and loved ones of people living with BPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They have many online discussion forums for different issues.

. . .

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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About the Creator

Natalie Frank, Ph.D

Psychologist by training, writer by choice. Managing Editor (Serials, Novellas) LVP Press. Behavioral health & other topics; fiction & poetry. Other articles: Medium, Hubpages. My first volume of poetry, Disguised I Breath, In Love I Hold.

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