Many people claim that therapy won’t help a narcissist — and by narcissist, I mean someone diagnosed or who qualifies for diagnosis with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) — but therapy can, in fact, help. The real problem is that narcissists rarely seek professional help because they see the world through a distorted lens that causes them to believe the problem is with other people, not themselves. As psychologist Mike King bluntly states, “…a narcissist isn’t going to believe there is anything wrong with him and would laugh in your face.” So the real question is, how do you convince someone who doesn’t think they need help to get help?
No one can change another person; that person has to want to change. But you can help a narcissist to see the potential benefits of therapy. Most people seek therapy to feel better, so emphasizing how therapy helps you feel better is probably the best way to convince a narcissist to give it a try.
Having said that, it’s vital to understand the nuances of how you can go about doing that, particularly with a narcissist who is hypervigilant to any criticism. By understanding how therapy can help reduce narcissistic symptoms and internal pain, it can help you clarify the benefits of therapy to the narcissist in your life.
The Problem with Narcissism
Pathological narcissism forms when a child fails to develop a sense of self. This happens when they come to view their true self as worthless and even hateful. They bury their true self deep inside and construct a false self-image in its place.
They infuse the false self with grandiose ideas of omnipotence and omniscience, but their false self cannot support those ideas and it can’t provide an internal support mechanism to soothe the narcissist and help them create a strong sense of self-value. That’s why the narcissist needs sources of external validation.
Because they harbor this secret true self which they view as loathsome, the narcissist lives in almost constant fear of that true self being exposed to the world. They are literally terrified of that possibility, and as a result, they become hypervigilant for any threats.
Threats come in the form of any kind of criticism, and that makes the narcissist hypersensitive to the slightest suggestion of any error on their part. If someone does suggest they’ve done something incorrectly, they often explode in their characteristic narcissistic rage.
The rage is designed to distract from any failings on their part and to discourage any further inquiry. They can’t accept any criticism because it would be a confirmation of what they secretly believe — they are worthless.
Narcissists also need that external validation to feel good about themselves, and as a result, they’ve developed many other tools to get the people in their life to prop up their self-esteem with lots of praise. They lie, distort, gaslight, and punish the people around them, all in the effort to earn their unconditional and undying love.
While you can see all the reasons a narcissist needs therapy, you can also see that you can’t just tell them they need help, but will therapy help them and how?
How Can Therapists Help Narcissists?
Most narcissists seek therapy because they need relief from some very unpleasant feelings they are experiencing or to please someone they consider to be important. They often leave therapy when they start feeling better or when the person they care about is happy with what they’ve done.
Still, if the narcissist stays in therapy, they can develop strategies to avoid future pain. While it’s still all about them rather than changing to stop hurting other people, at least they can get some benefits.
They will often begin the process of examining their childhood situation and the defense mechanisms they developed to cope with the difficulties they experienced. This is relatively safe for them because they can do this without feeling judged.
Once they can see how and why they developed the coping mechanisms they did, the therapist can then gently begin helping them explore new coping mechanisms. The narcissist can then form new, healthier coping habits while simultaneously inhibiting those old unhealthy behaviors. With enough practice, those new habits are encoded in the brain.
The next step is difficult for narcissists because they actually feel a lot of shame about what they have done, but the skilled therapist can help the narcissist begin to understand how their behavior impacts other people. This process can help them develop empathy for other people, and it also gives them less incentive to be so grandiose.
By this point in their healing process, the narcissist is now feeling better about their life and calmer too. They can begin to truly explore the trauma from their childhood and they can develop empathy for themselves too. They can form a more realistic image of themselves which helps them see other people in a more realistic light. From here, they can revive a healthier true self.
How to Convince the Narcissist to Get Help
Now that you understand more about how narcissism develops and how therapy can help them, what can you do to help them get the therapy they so desperately need? While the choice is ultimately not yours to make, here are few things that will help you convince them to consider therapy:
1. Point Out the Benefits to the Narcissist
Don’t frame the benefits in terms of how they will change the bad narcissistic behavior; rather, point out how much they will help the narcissist get what they need. You don’t want to seem as though you’re criticizing the narcissist’s behavior or they’ll refuse. Instead, you need to show them how therapy can help them get what they want.
For example, you might say something like, “It seems as though you’re very frustrated by the lack of cooperation you get from some people. Therapy really helped me understand the motives of other people so I could better convince them to do things I need done.”
In that statement, you’re not blaming the narcissist for the lack of cooperation, you’re empathizing with their frustration. You’re also pointing out how understanding people’s motives can help with interpersonal interactions and getting your needs met.
2. Use ‘We’ and ‘Us’ Instead of ‘You’
When you’re trying to convince a narcissist to do something, it’s important not to isolate them or make them feel like the problem is unique to them. By using the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ instead of ‘you,’ you can create a comradery with the narcissist. You’re letting them know that you understand them and care about their needs.
Here’s a sample statement you could use to convince them, “I know it’s really difficult for deep-thinking people like us to get other people to see our vision for our lives (the relationship, the world, etc.), and when I talked to a therapist, I learned how to better communicate my needs and ideas. Since we’re so similar, I bet therapy could help you too.”
You can see by this example that you’re relating to the narcissist and you’re not judging them. In fact, you’re letting them know that you have some of the same difficulties as they do.
3. Use ‘I feel…’ Statements
For many narcissists, it takes the threat of losing something or someone they really care about or need to motivate them to do something. If you feel like you will go no contact if the narcissist doesn’t seek help, you want to explain to them how their behavior affects you and why you can’t stay with them unless they get therapy.
When doing so, it’s most helpful to use ‘I feel…’ statements instead of saying something like, ‘You make me feel…’ For example, “I feel as though you don’t even like me, let alone love me, when you say something like, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. Why do I even ask your opinion.’”
By taking ownership of your own feelings when you speak about the impact of the narcissist’s behavior on your own psyche, you help the narcissist to empathize with you and see how their behavior can affect other people.
4. Empathize with Them
A very effective technique with a narcissist is to empathize with their emotional pain. Let them know that you see they are frustrated. For example, you might say something like, “I can see that you are very frustrated by how you feel you’re being treated. I used to be like that, but a therapist really helped me understand how to process those kinds of negative feelings.”
With this kind of statement, you’re letting the narcissist know you have felt the way you do and pointed out that therapy can help with those feelings. You’re opening a space for them to acknowledge they may have other negative feelings as well, and you’re pointing out how therapy helped you and can help them too.
One caveat here is that you should avoid using feelings like insecurity or fear to describe how they are feeling since the narcissist will be reticent to admit they have those kinds of feelings. Also, you don’t need to lie about having had therapy. If you’ve never had therapy, you might say something like, “A friend of mine was like that, but therapy really helped her,” or “I’ve read that psychotherapy can really help you to process your feelings.”
What Not to Do
There are a few things you should never do when trying to convince a narcissist to do anything. Among these are the following:
- Don’t tell them they’re wrong: Avoid telling them the way they do something is wrong. Instead, couch that in terms of understanding their frustration with how things are unfolding and suggesting there may be a better way.
- Don’t tell them there’s something wrong with them: This is a bad strategy for getting anyone into therapy, but it’s almost guaranteed to fail with a narcissist. They are highly sensitive to any kind of criticism, and if you suggest there is, they will push back hard.
- Don’t tell them what or how they should go about getting therapy: Remember that the narcissist has convinced themselves they know everything they need to know. If you try to tell them how to go about something, they’ll be unlikely to accept your help. Even something as simple as acknowledging that someone else knows something they don’t can be threatening to them.
The key to getting a narcissist to seek therapy is much like what my father used to say about training a horse — you need to make them think it was their idea to do it. By gently pointing out, in a non-judgmental way, how therapy can help them get their needs met, you’re giving them a selfish motive to seek help. You’re telling them how it can help them get what they want and need. By empathizing with them, you’re letting them know they are not alone.
Of course, the added benefit is that it will help them reduce their narcissistic tendencies and re-establish a healthy true self. It will also genuinely help them feel better, about everything and everyone, and it will give them an internal support system that eliminates the need for constant external validation. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, but only if they agree to get help.
Now that you have a better idea of how you can convince a narcissist to seek therapy, you’ll definitely want to read this post about the 10 best mental health programs for narcissism. If you are able to convince them, you’ll know where to look for help.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel