It’s Narcissist Friday!
Is it possible?
I was recently accused of teaching that narcissists never change, that change is impossible. I know many people believe this to be true, but I do not. Instead, I have taught that narcissists rarely change—because they don’t think anything is wrong with them.
There are several factors in determining whether a particular person can change his or her narcissistic behavior. We have to acknowledge that there is a spectrum of this abusive behavior. We also have to acknowledge that we use the term “narcissist” in a popular sense, rather than as a professional diagnosis. I don’ t know if someone who is diagnosed as a narcissist by a psychologist is capable of real change. Some, like Wendy Behary, claim to have success working with these folks. I am not a credentialed psychological professional, and I do not work with diagnosed narcissists. Here we talk about those users and manipulators more popularly called narcissists.
We also have to distinguish between the behavior of the narcissist and the heart of the narcissist. I don’t know if the narcissist can change his/her heart. It may be possible, with sufficient motivation. Yet, since narcissists value others and relationships so lowly, I would be hard-pressed to know what that sufficient motivation would be. (There is a way to change the heart, of course, and I write about that below.)
I do know that narcissists can change their behavior. As I have said before, they do it all the time. With motivation, they can stop abusing. Good counselors can help them learn to live kindly with others. They may even learn not to be afraid of losing whatever they are protecting. If they can learn not to hurt others, and if those others have relatively low expectations for heart connections, then I would think narcissists could change sufficiently to restore relationships.
We forget that many marriages of the past were functional relationships. Today we seem to think that marriage partners should always be “in love,” meaning romantically infatuated. Not only was that not a requirement for most of history, it is not necessarily the primary goal for marriage today. With children and property and work involved, a good marriage can just be one where the couple gets along as good friends. No, I am not suggesting that should be enough for everyone, but I am saying that can be a satisfying and legitimate relationship for some. So changing from narcissistic behavior to kind and cooperative behavior might work for some relationships. I do think many of those we think of as narcissists could make that change if they wanted.
But to love? That’s the real question. Could the narcissist learn to love? If narcissists have difficulty in relationships because they don’t know how to love, or are unable, then how could that change? It would take a new heart.
I only know one way to get a new heart.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
There is a way to get a heart that feels and cares. There is a way to get a living heart that is able to connect with others. A new heart that both receives and gives love. That heart comes from Jesus. That heart comes when His life is exchanged for yours.
I know that we all wonder if a narcissist can be a Christian. One of my favorite passages of Scripture directly addresses this.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
So, no narcissist could be a Christian. If someone was a narcissist and came to Jesus for salvation, that person is no longer a narcissist. He/she may act like a narcissist, but the identity has been washed away and victory is possible. The behavior may remain, just as much of our old behavior continued after conversion, but that behavior can be changed. Narcissists can learn not to do what narcissists do, just like thieves can learn not to do what thieves do—and be free of the evil motivations—because of the new heart in Jesus.
I cannot say whether your narcissist is a Christian. All I can say is that a real Christian is both able and motivated to change. I can also say that no heart change is possible without Jesus. If your narcissist has never truly submitted to Jesus, come to Him for new life, then the best that can happen is some changed behavior. So, when a narcissist contacts me, that’s where we go. I place the challenges of changed behavior and heart motivation before them and invite them to new life in Jesus.
To summarize: a narcissist can change some behavior, but not his/her heart. Only Jesus can change the heart.