Does The Narcissist Really Want To Change?


“But I can change.”

A phrase so often said by some of our kind. You will, more likely than not, have heard this sentence at some point during your entanglement with us. Usually it is uttered as part of a Preventative Hoover when the narcissist sees that there is a considerable risk that you are going to depart the Formal Relationship and in so doing threaten the provision of fuel from the chief source. It also makes an appearance as part of the Initial Grand Hoover to draw you back in, should you have managed to take those first steps towards escape. You will hear it in Benign Follow-Up Hoovers although following the effluxion of time you are more likely to hear the cousin, namely, “But I have changed.” Occasionally it appears within the devaluation phase, following an unpleasant episode as part of the further manipulation to keep you bound to the narcissist and providing fuel. Accordingly, its use will occur at different parts of the narcissistic dynamic.

To some, the sentence contains the magical words that the empath is waiting to hear. The empath’s inherent desire to fix, to heal and to repair longs for that acknowledgement by the narcissist that they can alter their behaviour, make new and fresh choices, learn from the mistakes and choose a better path. The declaration of a willingness to change is welcomed by certain empaths and they selflessly accept this statement, believing that all people have some good within, that it is a case of recognising this and applying a different approach.

To others, the words are welcomed but with caution. Perhaps the devaluing behaviour has been so deep and savage that the recipient is wary, fearful of their hopes being raised too soon. Their inherent desire to see change, for the good of both people in the relationship wants to agree, to grab this offer with both hands and see to its implementation, but dare they hope that it can be done? Indeed they can, for in that moment, as the cool, hard logic of caution makes its presence felt, it becomes overrun by the soaring emotional thinking that cries out – “He has realised. He knows he has done wrong. He wants to make amends. He wants to change.” The emotional thinking brings forth those twin sisters of pressure – Hope and Guilt. The empath, chained to the concept of hope, sincerely wishes that  the person that they love will change and become a better person. Guilt also weighs in, whispering, “What if it is genuine, what if he can change and you do not give him a chance, what a bad person you will be for doing that?” The emotional thinking will win out.

Rarely will this protestation of being able to change go unheeded. Rarely will the opportunity not be given to the narcissist who states that this can be done. It is only the informed, those who can apply their cool, hard logic and resist the rising tide of emotional thinking who can repel the allure of those enticing words. For everyone else, they are drawn into allowing the narcissist a further opportunity to keep they, the victim, in place.

Yet, who is it of our brethren who issues this plea? What is meant by it and can it really happen?

You will rarely hear it from the Lesser Narcissist. He sees no reason to change. He or she does as they want. If he smashed up the house or physically attacked you, well it was your fault that it happened and once the ignited fury has abated, the best you will get is that the reset button is pressed and nothing is said about the previous behaviour. The statement of change might be issued if the Lesser faces a fuel crisis and in absolute desperation it is blurted out in order to prevent the cessation of his primary supply but come the morning after, the intention will have evaporated and any suggestion of change will be rejected. The crisis has been averted, the wound healed and fury abated and the entitled Lesser is not going to make those changes, not when of course it was your fault ll along.

If reminded of his intention, he will brush it to one side, telling you he will look into it, that he is busy with something else at the moment but you can talk later, that he has to go to work, that he has someone to see and you will be left dangling. He will not return to the discussion about making a change or seeking help and fearing a further explosive episode you do not press further and there the matter is left.

You will rarely hear it from the Greater Narcissist. He sees no reason to change either. Oh, we know what we do but that is borne out of necessity and it is what must be done. Our needs, superior to yours, require this behaviour and if you cannot accept it, well we can easily find someone else who will, because, after all, we are the prize, the champion and the ultimate, so it is your loss. The Greater will not issue this plea as a Preventative Hoover or such like to stop you leaving. True, he will not want his primary source to escape. This is a matter of fuel provision but often more of pride and superiority. After all, the extensive fuel matrices of the Greater school ( see The Fuel Matrix – Part Three ) means that even if the primary source had the audacity to escape he has plenty of other sources to turn to in the meanwhile. He will however not want to suffer the wounding of this primary source escaping and will want to stop it, but he will use charm and threat to achieve this, not the plea that he will change. It is beneath him.

The only time you might hear these words uttered by the Greater Narcissist is purely because he sees the opportunity for more Machiavellian behaviours through manipulating his victim by engendering false hope. He will see the opportunity to increase his trade craft through agreeing to engage in therapy. He will see it not as a chance to change, but rather an opportunity to learn more about himself (and why not, since he is such a fascinating creature), understand more about his ways and indeed take on the challenge of therapists and the like. If he agrees to changing his behaviour and enlisting external advice and assistance he will also lay down terms and conditions for this occurring in order to further his own agenda. You will however never hear the Greater Narcissist use the phrase “But I can change” as part of some desperate plea.

Accordingly, this leaves us with the school which uses this manipulation often, far more often than the other schools and that is of course the Mid Range Narcissist.  The Mid Ranger uses this manipulation for the following reasons:-

  1. He sees him or herself as a good person. Their perspective means they genuinely regard themselves as decent people and therefore since they are decent, they will, well, do the decent thing and look at making a change;
  2. They regard themselves as giving and they are prepared to make that sacrifice if it means saving the relationship;
  3. They consider themselves to be something of a tortured soul, they have “their demons”, there is something eating away at them and they wish to address it;
  4. They need to be saved and you are the person who can save them. They lack the pig-headed arrogance of the Lesser or the sneering superiority of the Greater.

What is behind those driving factors?

  1. The narcissistic perspective. They consider themselves the one who does good and it is other people who cause the problems, but because they are SO good they will prove that by addressing the issues which have been raised. This is not because they actually believe there is something wrong with them in terms of culpability but rather it is actually an opportunity for them to show the world that they are good and it is other people who are the problem.
  2. This is the victim perspective coming to the fore. The world is a horrible place and no matter how much they try to help others, the world keeps trying to bring them down but that doesn’t matter because guess what? They will rise above it and they will be the one who takes one for the team, who makes the sacrifice and does so for the greater good.
  3. This is the victim perspective once again. They do not see that they are disordered. They do not recognise that they manipulate. They are incapable of doing so because they have no insight or awareness. They do however regard this whole concept of being a ‘tortured soul’ as a magnificent device for drawing fuel. Sympathy, concern and compassion all come flowing. This is not an acknowledgement that there is anything wrong with the Mid Ranger but rather he blames ‘the demon’ (whatever that might be) because blame-shifting is a key defence mechanism and blaming you, the neighbours, the weather or an intangible concept will all work for him.
  4. This is the victim perspective once more but also all part of the sympathy grab for attention. The Mid Ranger wishes to draw pity and compassion but then also be revered, for he is the fallen hero who has been saved and is then able to rise once more, in the magical thinking that plays out in his mind.

The Middle Mid Ranger and Upper Mid Ranger have sufficient cognitive function to realise that their behaviour causes a problem. This is where many victims (understandably) are fooled into thinking that the narcissist is actually showing insight (indeed this often causes them to either think that the narcissist is not a narcissist, or that he is but he can actually change) . The MMR or UMR may acknowledge that his actions cause hurt and problems, however, he or she will never accept ownership of the hurt and problems. For instance, they might say,

“I know that when I disappear for a few days you are worried sick, BUT I need space because you are always pestering me.”

“I understand that you are hurt when I say certain things BUT I am under pressure at work at the moment and you aren’t helping when you question me about why I am home late.”

They can see the consequence but they will not own the consequence. They are configured not to do so.

As is always the case, the uninformed victim accepts the third party explanation as the cause of the errant behaviour or self-flagellates and the victim blames him or herself. So the cause of the problem is regarded as pressure at work or the pestering of the victim.

The Mid Ranger will state he can change and moreover he will also act on the declaration which again sows the seeds of false hope and ensures the victim remains in situ and providing fuel. This is just a further part of the manipulation.

The Mid-Ranger may become more attentive, does not dole out silent treatments, removes the manipulations and stops sulking for a few weeks. This is a Respite Period and he has implemented this because when you said you would not leave, you became painted white again because you did what he wanted. You succumbed to his control and your gracious behaviour provided fuel. The golden period returns and this is what powers his altered ways. It is not because there is any recognition that he must change because it hurts you. The alteration is because you have done what he wanted, thus his split thinking makes you ‘white’ once more and this is what keeps the devaluation at bay, but only for a while.

Naturally, the unwitting victim, having seen changes effected (but not knowing the real reason behind them) is conned into thinking that these changes can happen again and therefore when the plea “But I can change” is made at a later time, the victim is swamped by hope because it happened before (thus it can surely happen again) and thus the cycle continues.

If you return to the Formal Relationship through an Initial Grand Hoover or a Benign Follow-Up Hoover you are painted white once more and the golden period returns, creating the illusion of changed behaviours. Until it tarnishes in due course.

The insidious manipulative manner of the Mid Ranger means that these changes come in many forms. He will alter his actions at home. He will cease the affair shelving the IPSS as your Respite Period Golden Period draws him back to you. He will help out, he will show that inkling of charm once again. He will of course herald his new-found redemption to third parties because this will garner fuel and maintain the facade and of course accords with his complete conviction that he is a good person. This will also provide him with ammunition to hurl at you at the appropriate time, in that he made the changes and if things have faltered it has to be your fault then.

The Mid Ranger will readily attend therapy sessions. This allows him to do several things:-

  1. Show you he is willing and a good person;
  2. He can maintain the facade, “Dawn wanted me to go to therapy and because I love her so much it was the least I could do.” (now tell me how wonderful a husband I am).
  3. He will use the therapy sessions to advance his own agenda. Often the victim will not know what is discussed owing to confidentiality. Therefore the Mid-Ranger, convinced of his own goodness and lack of culpability, will manipulate the therapist  (and will do so convincingly most of the time). Thereafter, the Mid Ranger will tell the victim that actually the therapist said that the victim is the abuser and that the narcissist is the victim. This might be true, an exaggeration of the observations of the unwitting therapist or a lie. Either way, this will leave the victim undermined such is the conviction of the narcissist. Ally that with the fact the victim has seen some changes, their own eroded self-worth and reduced critical thinking and it comes as no surprise that the victim is confused or even believes what the narcissist is saying.
  4. The narcissist can hold it over the victim. “I did as you asked and got some help. They told me there is no issue.” (Now you owe me and I am going to ensure I extract that debt from you repeatedly).

The desire to change is motivated by entirely different reasons than you realise and this desire is not genuine. The change is short-lived, never permanent and any and all behaviours associated with it, no matter how genuine they appear, no matter how earnest the pleading, no matter how many tears are spilled (and the Mid Ranger will turn on the waterworks) it is all part of the manipulation.

They cannot and will not change.

Grasp that understanding so that when you hear “But I can change”, cool,hard logic prevails and you resist the allure of hope. People are inherently optimistic. Empathic people even more so, but the dark side of this hope is vulnerability and our kind and in particular the Mid-Ranger count on that and exploit it.

23 thoughts on “Does The Narcissist Really Want To Change?

  1. Bettie says:

    Currently watching one N pretending to be undergoing change, therapy and all that..will just sit here and call out the stupid at the right time.

  2. Pauline says:

    When is the moment the narcissist knows he no longer “loves” his partner? Is it when devaluation starts? Or maybe during devaluation he still believes he has feelings for her?

    I know that during love bombing and golden period narcissist believes he is in love but when is the recognizes “I don’t love her anymore”?

    1. HG Tudor says:

      When devaluation commences.

      1. Pauline says:

        Thank you. And what if the IPPS escapes during the devaluation. Typically narcissist will try a Grand Hoover (lots of “I love yous” and “I will change!” promises). Does that mean that narcissist already knows he is lying to her about his love or is it that her sudden escape changes his feelings and he thinks he really fall in love with her again?

  3. cb says:

    They only seem to “apologize” if I’ve expressed clear strong concern/emotions about what they did to me.

    If I simply just go quiet and “don’t have time to meet them” “sorry can’t make it Tuesday”
    then they do not wonder at all if their cheating, stealing or lying might be hurting me.

    Feels a bit like “sorry for you crying, but not for hitting you”

  4. Fuel on the Shelf says:

    “They can see the consequence but they will not own the consequence. They are configured not to do so.”

    I still struggle to make sense of this. If they are smart enough to see it why can’t they own it? Why can’t they be “re-configured” in some way to own it?

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Because the narcissism will not allow that to happen otherwise it fails as a self-defence mechanism.

      1. Fuel on the Shelf says:

        Is it possible to breach that self defense mechanism? Or is that like trying to exorcise a demon?

        1. HG Tudor says:


  5. wounded says:

    I’m finding myself embroiled in yet another drama in which I am questioning the motives of someone. This time I am wiser and much more aware. Someone that I used to work with and have babysat for has engaged in an affair with a co worker (who has cheated on his now ex a total of three times). The entire arrangement happened in a span of less than six months; originally I was wondering if it was the gentleman that was popping up red flags but now I’m actually questioning this friend.

    It could be the misguided choices of a 22 two year old – she’s never lived on her own, has two kids with two different gentleman, the current father she is living with and now cheating on. She has mentioned his cheating several times, bemoaned how he does nothing around the house and is not romantic etc. What really caught my attention however was that despite me explaining what had just recently happened to me so she would think twice about continuing in this vein, she came over with her boyfriend and son and then proceeded to talk about her “extra” and snap chatting him with the BF was in another room.

    She got a tattoo (thankfully not matching) with her boyfriend the whole time texting the extra, invited the extra out to her birthday party that her boyfriend and father of her child was also attending, and then asked my friend (victim of a narc) if she and her extra can hang out at my house after the party. This time my husband and I used a united front and said unequivocally no. She has latched on to my friend, publicly stating on Facebook “my best friend” and loving all of her posts.

    I’m not going to be drawn in again and have pretty much closed myself off. I don’t know if she’s actually a narc or high in those characteristics but I’m leaning towards the former. Regardless, watch me walk the holy hell away.

    1. K says:

      I think she is a narc. There are a lot of Red Flags.

  6. Veronique Jones says:

    Yes My partner used all of this when I eventually left him not to me to my kids he knows that they are my weekness especially my son he is only 17 so I went back I don’t know if he is a narcissist he goes long periods of being ok but the times it is bad is he says things like some random guy was looking at me like he wouldn’t take no for an answer or accused me of cheating makes me feel guilty for wanting to spend time with him we both work long hours at different times sometimes I go days without seeing him there is more so I think he is a narcissist I have reduced my fuel to him a lot but he doesn’t seem to care to much I feel a bit stuck between a rock and a hard place I would never do anything I know would hurt my son but there is zero passion left in our marriage

  7. Michelle says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of the numerous narcissists I know claim that they would change. I think most of them would choke on those words. I once received one of those “I’m sorry you feel that way” apologies. I also know narcissists who claim to have changed or learned a lesson, e.g. claiming that they used to be very entitled and now aren’t, or that they were at fault for the ending of a past relationship. I assume they said these things to appear to be self-reflective for the benefit of their facades. I did know one narcissistic person who changed to some degree, but only after a literal near-death experience.

    1. windstorm says:

      I only know one narc who changed, too. And it was after a near-death experience like you said. He actually died and was brought back to life in the hospital. He is still just as much a narc as ever, but he’s more aware of the needs of those around him and doesn’t take us so much for granted. He seems to value and appreciate everything about life much more now, including family members.

      1. Michelle says:

        Exact same here, a “died on the table” scenario. Literally died and came back. The one I knew became much more spiritual and interested in more than just the events in life, but it was a very child-like spirituality, what you might expect from a kid in elementary school. It was this tiny seed of seeing a deeper meaning in things and developing an appreciation for it.

        1. windstorm says:

          My Pretzel MnM’s heart stopped while he was talking to someone at work, 20 feet from a paramedic and 5 minutes from a hospital. I wouldn’t say he got more spiritual – he’s very skeptic of all religion and spirituality. I’d say more that the fragility of life and the importance of family willing to step in and care for him was was brought into crystal clarity.

          He will never “love” us, but he more highly values the people and situations that provide his fuel instead of taking everything for granted. I believe he sees his life more as a gift and a blessing than he did before.

          1. MB says:

            WS, I love your picture! And a sweet baby bonus. Thank you for posting it.

          2. windstorm says:

            Well, it seemed you wanted to know what we looked like and I understand that. I feel the same way. Thanks for outing yours up. I’ll only leave mine up for today, then it’s back to a Japan pic. All hell would break loose if someone recognized me and spread the word.

          3. MB says:

            WS, take it down. You don’t need to deal with hell breaking loose! I’ll imagine you just the way you are now. I think of you every time I see a spider as it is!

      2. Caroline R says:

        Hi Windstorm,
        Your comments have made me think about my N-grandfather (N-Mum’s Dad, a lesser) and how he responded to us after two heart attacks.
        I was moved up in the fuel supply chain once my grandma died. He laid on the charm. It made me feel uncomfortable because I wasn’t used to it.
        The thing that caught my attention though was your new photo. It’s beautiful. Is that your newest tiny lamb?

        1. windstorm says:

          Yes, thank you! That’s my youngest granddaughter.

    2. Trocadero says:

      It made me laugh, one of his lame hoovers through work. ‘I miss you and you are ignoring me but ok. People change,you know’. I was so tempted to answer him ‘I didn’t know there was sth that you see wrong with you’ (need to change comes from exactly what my friend) but I however ignored the hoover. How pathetic. If I had asked him two days later about what he said about changing, I seriously think that he wouldn’t have even remembered the statement (if the hoover had been successful). Still fascinated by the ease the words come out of their mouth.

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