Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question, as is fitting for such a complex disorder. Narcissists typically follow a similar pattern in all of their relationships, but a narcissist’s ability to change under any circumstances often depends on where they are on the spectrum.
A person who exhibits full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is probably less likely to change in any situation than someone who occasionally behaves in narcissistic ways.
It’s clear that they have conflicting feelings when their old love moves on, but what about when they do? The excitement of a new relationship, and the possibilities that it represents, may be a motivating factor in getting a narcissist to take stock of themselves and how they treat others.
That is, a narcissist looking for a fresh start might be compelled to change—at least certain things. However, narcissistic patterns are deeply ingrained, and they often progress unconsciously.
To understand how a narcissist operates in a new relationship, and if they have the capacity to change, continue reading.
Possibilities and Impediments
The simple fact of the matter is that not all narcissists can change, regardless of the circumstances. They first have to recognize that they have a disorder, which many cannot, and that this disorder has a negative impact on themselves and others, which many refuse to do.
Without recognition and self-reflection, the narcissist’s ability to change their behavior, even for the sake of love, is severely impaired or outright impossible.
Still, there are possibilities, especially for someone on the lower end of the narcissistic spectrum. Many people who express a lot of narcissism are compromised by other disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or addiction. Addressing these issues can help an individual regain his or her sense of empathy and self-worth.
For those with diagnosable NPD, however, change almost certainly requires therapeutic intervention. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have some special quality that will compel change. I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of “magical thinking,” wherein you fall into an endless cycle of forgiveness and disappointment.
Ultimately, though, the capacity for change in a narcissist is up to them. If they have been negatively affected by their continuing narcissistic behavior, they might be ready for some introspection. And a new relationship might just be the galvanizing factor to urge them to make the leap.
Motivations and Meaning
First, for any change to occur, it must be the narcissist’s idea. Pushing them into change, or demanding that they must change for the relationship to move forward, is a sure way to alienate yourself from them. They will cut you out of their lives if you try to control or dominate them.
This doesn’t mean that you have no recourse in nudging the narcissist toward change. It simply means that you must do so in subtle ways, appealing to their potential desire to change.
In the end, the change itself arises from the hard work and commitment from the narcissist themselves. Simply put: you cannot change a narcissist, no matter the depth of the relationship.
If a narcissist has a clear motivation to change, then there is a much higher possibility that they can address some of their behaviors and work to alter them. This is where the new relationship comes in.
If the narcissist has frequently failed at relationships before, then the motivating factor is to prove themselves capable of maintaining a relatively healthy relationship.
While the fear of failure can provide underlying motivation, the narcissist also needs to engage in some self-reflection in order to understand what needs to be changed.
As experts point out, most narcissists don’t want to change their ego-driven sense of superiority, but they often recognize that their manipulative and aggressive behaviors are negative. This can lead to true change.
Capacity to Love and Learn
The possibilities represented by a new relationship can occasionally be enough to jolt the narcissist into reconsidering their bad behavior. But the pull of the narcissistic agenda is sometimes too irresistible, too ingrained.
Most of the narcissists I have known throughout the years eventually return to their established patterns of behavior.
What a narcissist means when they say “I love you” is not usually what you mean when you express love. This post can help you understand the emotions they typically experience. A narcissist will often mean something akin to “I am in love with the way you are making me feel” or “I love that you adore me so much.”
While this is somewhat disappointing for most of us, it may be the full extent of what the narcissist can experience.
Indeed, many narcissists become, over time, ruthlessly practical about matters of love. They need something—attention, admiration, sexual fulfillment, someone to care for them—so they will commit to a relationship that fulfills one or more of these needs. To the narcissist, this is love because they care about what the other person can provide for them.
In a new relationship, the narcissist is often full of passionate declarations and will mimic intimacy. But in order for that to generate the desire to change, there must be a willingness on the part of the narcissist to acknowledge that a relationship is a mutual endeavor.
They must recognize their tendency to exploit others, as well as have a clear motivation to change.
There is no simple answer as to whether or not a new relationship can spur a narcissist to reflect and to change. I would suggest, based on my own experiences, that it is rare for a narcissist to find the motivation to enact real and lasting change.
This is especially true of young narcissists (too little has challenged their behavior) or of older narcissists (too much has already been established).
Still, there may be instances when—like Goldilocks’s porridge—the circumstance is just right. As long as the narcissist initiates the process, finds some compelling motivation, and understands what patterns need to be changed, there are possibilities.
Just beware of counting on it without caution and check out the following post for some common signs of narcissistic rage.
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