It’s Narcissist Friday!
Last week I wrote about narcissists who claim that they have changed so their spouses/supply will welcome them back into the relationship. Many sad stories have come from those who have fallen for that deception. Of course, there is no foolproof way to determine if someone has actually changed or if that person is just playing a game. But it seems to me that there are some things that would indicate real change.
So, what would a changed narcissist look like? The following points are all about a male narcissist who wants to return to his wife. We all understand that some women are narcissists and that not all narcissistic relationships are in marriages. Adjust these as you see fit.
1. He finally understands it is not all about him. Narcissists will talk about their needs, their efforts, their pain, their loneliness, their revelations, their decisions, their inconveniences. But they will not talk about you or your needs. The broken relationship has been a burden on them, but they don’t acknowledge how the relationship was a burden on you. They will tell you over and over how they have changed, how they accept your anger, and how they are struggling to be alone. All about them. Is it a struggle for you to be alone? Are you struggling with your anger? Do you have rights and expectations in the relationship? The narcissist doesn’t talk about that because he doesn’t think about that.
When the narcissist can honestly see and admit how he has hurt you, then he may be changing. When he finally stops thinking about his own struggle and sees yours as valid, then maybe change is happening.
2. He begins to think about what he can give, rather than what he can get. The narcissist makes deals. He expresses what he wants, and you are supposed to do it. He may not even realize that there should be another side to the deal. And, when he does, you don’t know if he will fulfill his side. As long as the narcissist is bargaining, he is manipulating. What if he stopped making deals? What if he just gave, like a loving person would? When he gives you more money than agreed upon because he knows you can use it, even when it makes the month tight for him, he may be changing. When he takes care of chores you need (not chores he needs or likes), because he knows you need them, maybe he is changing.
3. He stops blaming you for the break-up. Narcissists are experts at blaming the victim. Their whole game is to make themselves look good. That will mean you have to be the one who caused the problem. That’s what they think, and that’s what they will tell others. Eventually, you may begin to believe it. Once you do, he wins. Now, if he stops talking about what you should do to change and sees his own failures, then maybe he is changing. If he comes to the relationship without trying to make a deal where you have to give something or give up something, then change might be happening. If he openly and honestly discusses what he did to hurt you, and accepts it from your point of view, then maybe.
4. He goes back to friends and tells them the truth. There is little doubt that the narcissist has already talked to friends about what you have done. He probably did it long before you began to see the truth about him. Certainly, once you started talking about separation, he tried to get them on his side. Now he should go back to them and tell them it was his fault, not yours. He should admit to them that he is manipulative and controlling and that he has hurt you. At minimum, he should speak supportively about you. If he were to do this, maybe he is changing.
5. He’s willing to take time. Restoring the relationship is about winning your heart again. Is he willing to take the time, to proceed gently, to do that? Does he assume certain privileges because he has had them before? Some narcissists simply do not accept that you are committed to separation. They think they just have to say the right words or make the right deal and you will yield. They search for the magic answer so all this will stop. If he is patient, maybe he is changing. If he puts the relationship at such a value that he is willing to take time, perhaps even years, to bring it together again, maybe he is changing.
6. He’s willing to lose. Most narcissistic relationships end when the narcissist says they do. Many end because he finds someone else. Others end because “she is unreasonable.” They will redecorate the story until it is your fault. Whatever it takes to win. Narcissists must win. Their image cannot afford to lose. But if he is willing to do what you want, because you want it, maybe he is changing. I have known men who lost their marriages and blame themselves. No, they were not narcissists, at least from what I could see. But they would tell you that there was a time in their marriage when they were selfish and abusive and lost the best thing they ever had. They understand why the person they hurt is better off without them. Bottom line: they were jerks and they lost. If the narcissist is willing to accept that, then maybe he is changing.
By the way, going online to tell as many as will listen how much suffering you have caused, even when you seem to blame yourself, is just another way to win. Becoming the “expert” on narcissistic relationships because you are one, may be a victory in itself. If he is blogging about his struggle or counseling others, he may have found a different way to come out ahead.
7. He’s no longer angry. Change is hard, but kindness and understanding are patient. We can understand frustration when there is one goal and it isn’t happening. But if the above things are in place, and the narcissist is kind and not angry (over time), then maybe real change is taking place. We have talked before about why narcissists are angry. If there is anything that makes them angry, it is you pointing out their failures by setting boundaries or separating. They get frustrated when they cannot find those magic words or manipulate you into changing your mind. They watch the clock and/or the calendar waiting for “all this” to be over, then get angry when it takes time. If the anger has stopped, maybe he is changing.
Beware of the anger adapting. Anger can change to resignation. Shrugging his shoulders and saying “whatever” may be just a different way of expressing anger. The “sad sack,” the defeated victim, is able to manipulate in much the same way as the angry person. Don’t be fooled. There is a difference between honestly acknowledging your failure and becoming a broken-down moping servant.
So, there you have it. I am sure that you could add to this. My first thought as I read back over this list is: What will the narcissist think? I am aware that narcissists watch this blog. My hope and prayer is that they would see the pain of their spouses and accept the real need for change. My expectations are far less.
I would expect one of two responses from the narcissist. Some will make this into a list with check boxes. They will work on each area until they are satisfied they can communicate that to their spouse. They might even show the list to their spouse someday. Just more bargaining.
The more likely response is that this is ridiculous. “No one could possibly do all of these things. You are suggesting that the narcissist go completely soft, take all the blame, and become a doormat.” Well, perhaps I am. Perhaps this list is tough with expectations that are high. But they are not too high for regular people, people who do stupid things and want to rebuild their relationships. Nothing on the list above is actually unreasonable. Yet, I acknowledge that they might be difficult. I also acknowledge that they are inconsistent with narcissism.
So, can a narcissist really change? Is it even possible? Next week….