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:-
- 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;
- They regard themselves as giving and they are prepared to make that sacrifice if it means saving the relationship;
- 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;
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:-
- Show you he is willing and a good person;
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
10 thoughts on “Does The Narcissist Really Want To Change?”
I am exploring the possibilities of there being other driven forces behind these manipulative and callous methods of self protection for a narcissist.
I have felt the beast and been aware of its presence in a few narcissists. One of them, has even described it to me in the best way he knew how.
What I have gathered, is that sometimes there can be an awareness that it exists and sometimes the victim has no idea whatsoever.
In fact, they would say it is a negative feeling and not a “beast”
The depletion of “fuel” is experienced as a loss, so manipulation and control has to be exerted over subjects as a means of survival.
What I do want to mention, is that some narcissists have periods of disassociation. I think each “beast” is different for each narcissist.
I also think that the influence it has over the victim of narcissism can change over time. The beast can have an ever presence in the worst case scenario and in the best case scenario, the “beast” can linger around, waiting to spring into action.
Also, voices or interjected thoughts can be experienced, which I have been told from a few narcissists. Fleeting thoughts of doubt, insecurity, irrationalities, etc.
Three narcissists have told me of bad thoughts that concerned them. I strongly feel there was no manipulation at play, I wasnt an IPPS in each situation.
However, in times of stress…it became harder for them to debunk these bad thoughts. The lines became blurred, causing huge shifts in their realities…and dissociative states.
I am speaking on my experience and experiences told to me by narcissists
One of the narcissists I knew when I was younger switched between these dissociative states when “the beast” had taken over and come to the forefront of this narcissist’s personality. It became “Ever Present”
I was a young girl and had no understanding of what was going on. I was desperate to not interact with the beast, but with the person, whom I loved deeply and unconditionally.
Calling the narcs name was not enough. Shaking was not enough.
I had to muster up a flight or fight energy with great intensity and emit an emotion of dismissiveness towards the beast, and protection and love for the narcissist.
It worked. The N’s facial features changed and the narcissist became aware of themself and spoke to me.
It lasted seconds.
So I did it again, and again, and again, and again.
Each time I was able to circumvent “the beast“ I asked as many questions as I possibly could, before the beast took back over.
I asked: what’s wrong, what is happening, can you make it stop, what can I do, can this be fixed, who should I call?
I did this many times a day, and over time, I was able to speak to my loved one…in their true self when I wanted, most of the time.
The beast would try to trick me, though and have me think that I was talking to the true self of thIs particular
person. It loved to deceive.
What I had to do, was tell my narc to put our secrets in their mind and hide them. We had code words, hidden from the beast. Things went this way for a few years.
As I said, I’m speaking of my experience. I’m still making sense of it all.
This made me nauseated. My stomach turned. I want to puke. So gross. This was my life with MMRA. Apologies and short-lived change time and again.
He said he was not a “metrosexual, just a man, with all his failings” cheese and rice what the f*ck was I thinking. Never again.
I’ve read this article before. This so exactly describes my relationship with my middle mid-range narcissist ex-husband. Almost all of these things happened and happened exactly as described. The therapy thing was used as a manipulation at the very end, it was confusing because most therapists do not understand narcissism (even if they say they do which was my experience) and the one that he had was very likely a narcissist himself. They can also use it with others to say look I’m trying and she’s still leaving me what an asshole she is. When my emotional thinking does not have a hold on me I realize how absolutely boring, and like other narcissists my ex is. He’s frankly just weird. But my tendency to want to fix things and to be taken care of overrode all common sense. Both of my parents are narcissists, according to HG so this is what I was used to. Wanted the ex to take care the way my dad never did, only I didn’t realize until recently that they are both narcissists. They are just different kinds so it doesn’t look exactly the same
That is what happened to my sister. Her father was a Lesser, so when the Mid Range Victim came along she didn’t relate the two and doesn’t see the abuse because the manipulations are different.
Yes, my father is a lesser as well. I tried hard to find a man who could take care of me and my children financially as I was quite traumatized with regards to money. In many ways I believe my ex-husband is worse than my father, it is much more direct to be hit by somebody than to suffer the mental confusion offered by a middle mid-range narcissist. They’re not only financially abusive but mentally emotionally and psychologically. They are not as obvious which for me made it harder to spot. I do hope your sister gets away at some point. It can be frustrating to watch as once you understand you can see it so clearly with others. My daughter still lives with him and she does not see it yet, but as she is currently the primary source there have been small things that have happened that have caused her to question. On that I just have to be here and wait. Fortunately my relationship with her is strong.
That’s great that your relationship with her is strong and I think you’re right to be patient. My sister was to marry this year but Covid came along and put that on hold. Silver linings where you least expect. I’m hoping it gives her more time to see/question and that that happens for your daughter as well.
#3 & #4 at the bottom were bullets i dodged by a hair but seeing Mr Tudor’s insight & validation into that really really helps my confidence. Its interesting that literally the only person that believed me about him was a therapist (a lady i met socially after i left) who had prior experience helping spouses of Narcissists. Thank God for her & Mr Tudor!
This is one of those things where I feel like it’s Fool me once… shame on you. Fool me twice… shame on me. There are people that recognize they cause chaos and destruction in their lives and the lives of those around them. A non narc addict for example. While it’s rare, people can and do over come addictions if it’s something they truly want to commit to. But that change has to come from within, the people around won’t stop it. Also our “rescuing” nature keeps some of us in the dynamic for longer because we really believe deep down inside our role is to save this person. Perhaps we grew up neglected and abused from a narc or alcoholic parent… and we are still trying to fix those wounds of the past. Where it gets bad Is if it’s repetitive… and we keep putting up with it over and over. My narc has some extremely convincing Hoover’s… boy… he sure knew how to fuck with me making some headway with logic. your kind creates a constant world of doubt in their victims.. really it’s a miracle so many of us can find their way out.
My narc never told me he could/would change. He did apologize on numerous occasions, but without the added caveat. He would just tell me how much he ‘cherished’ me and that would convince me he was willing to try again.
Having also been convinced his ex-wife was likely the narcissist, and being imbued with the thinking she put him through a horrible ordeal, I once suggested he must have bent over backwards trying to meet her requirements.
He said he ‘tried to meet her halfway’, but that he saw no need to change.
Everything you just said confirms for me that he was the narcissist in that relationship.
It was her that needed to change, not him.
Thanks for another excellent article, HG,and very detailed, too.