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 all 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.

8 thoughts on “Does the Narcissist Really Want to Change?

  1. lonerose99 says:

    HG can you direct me to more of your mid-range posts, or is there an overall index on them? I do believe that is the type I knew. Just about all the info you post and in your videos resonates to my experience with him.

    1. HG Tudor says:

      You can search as against “mid range” and I would recommend you access the HG Mauls Series in the Knowledge Vault (see menu) which will give you more information on LMR, MMR A, MMR B and UMR.

  2. Allison says:

    This post comes right on time, I’m genuinely laughing!! I heard from my daughter’s paternal grandmother that her son (whom she is aware is an alcoholic and narcissist) has embarked on a 2-month “no alcohol detox” with his girlfriend. Mmmmm, yes… most interesting, most compelling indeed… we shall see how THIS episode of “As The Stomach Churns” goes. In the 27 years I’ve known him, he’s not been without alcohol (and a drug of choice) well, ever. I did all the classic moves, hiding the drink, cleaning up his messes, paying his bar debts, waiting up late, driving him everywhere because he was too drunk after even a simple night out. At 49 years old, methinks this little deal will not go well. She must have issued an ultimatum or is doing that codependent thing where she thinks if she does this WITH HIM, it will be different. Gosh… the new IPPS is so helpful, so eager, such a try-hard, such a doormat, such a fool… she really thinks she can change him. She’s rather addicted to it. How their dysfunctions do fit like lock in key. I’m delighted he’s no longer my problem.
    Thanks, HG!

  3. A Victor says:

    This is probably the most difficult piece for me still. Especially regarding my parents. My ex was a known no-win situation for a long time. But them…why couldn’t they love us enough to want to get healthy?

    1. Melmel says:

      AV I just read your comment and it’s something I have been mulling about in my mind too. Mostly because I believe that my mother actually believed that she could shield us from it, and in many ways she did. She thought that if we were shielded, we would be unaffected by their toxicity. I have just realized this week that all the times she tried to guide my behaviour to develop and seek out healthy relationships, it never really sunk in because I saw the effect he had on her and deep inside I think I felt like: if it’s so bad, why aren’t we escaping? And seeing her behave in the opposite way as what she advised me to do when confronted with similar conflict. She raised us single-handedly and did a pretty good job for all her faults. We looked to her to show us right and wrong, and we saw her spirit crushed over and over and over again until we thought it was normal and that we were crazy and belligerent and self-absorbed for seeing it and responding.

      It wasn’t that she didn’t love us enough to want to get healthy… She didn’t love herself enough to see that no amount of love and nurturing and guidance would protect her children if she remained chained.

      1. A Victor says:

        Melmel, I am sorry you had to go through these things. My first husband watched his mother’s abuse by his father, it has to be one of the most challenging things for children. And the lessons learned from it are devastating many times.

        My parents could not love us enough to change, both of them being narcissists. But that is an ongoing battle in my mind, I fight against the fact that they cannot change, it’s settled one day and not the next. The irony that came to mind as i read your comment is that she used to “protect” us from him when she was the one physically abusing us. And she did not protect us from his moods in any way. It is strange to think of this now. Also, for all her complaining about him, she was never actually a victim of his, she was never crushed. Same with him toward her. But she liked those pity plays a lot.

        I am glad you are here, in a place where the tools offered can bring us peace. It sounds like your mother did the best she knew in a very difficult situation, the narcissists make us not even able to love ourselves with their treatment of us. And there are many reasons we might stay, I stayed because I had no means of support, I thought we could work it out, it was better for the kids, I still loved him etc. I loved my kids more than myself but was not functioning from a place of logic at all. What finally woke me up was the realization that I could lose my children had his actions been reported. Actions that had been going on for years but due to an illness he had combined with my ET, had gone under my radar until there was absolutely no way i could keep my head in the sand. Your mother may never have had such a wake up call, that is too bad. Again, glad you are here, I hope you find what will help.

        1. Melmel says:

          Wow AV that sounds absolutely hellish and crazy making. You must be such an extraordinary person to withstand all that, raise 4 kids who are possibly empaths, and make an escape from your husband.

          Reading this, I feel such an enormous sense of gratitude for my mother. For what she endured, and how she protected us. I have very strong narcissistic traits, and she was always coaching me to behave in ways that were less instinctual to me with respect to those. I always felt like this was excessive criticism for a child (and it was), but having kids now, I see where it came from. I see that the inner critic that I have now as an adult can be a friendly voice offering wise advise on how to quiet my Emotional Thinking.

          Thank you for all your wise comments and sharing your experience. Having lost my mother many years ago, I often wish she were here so we could discuss these things frankly as one of the last conversations we had is (now looking back) proof to me that she knew what my father was (she was exceptionally intelligent and well-read), and wanted desperately to save me from my own entanglement. I see also that she knew then that she was totally powerless to help me “see the light”, and unfortunately had run out of time.

          I read many of your posts without commenting, but they always offer insight and wisdom both to reflecting and reconciling my past, and also making sense of the present.

          1. A Victor says:

            Melmel, I am not extraordinary, everyone here has been touched by this, some more extremely than others, mine is not so bad. Yet, yes, hellish and crazy making, that was true. It still can be if I let my ANC slip but I don’t let it really, I can’t afford to. I didn’t escape him but I did force an ultimatum, in a way, so that he left.

            I am glad if my comment helped give perspective regarding your mother. I don’t mean at all to paint either her or myself, or any other non-narc, as a saint but usually we did at least try. The narcs don’t try.

            I am sorry to hear that you lost your mother, it would be nice to share what you’re learning here with her. I’m sure she would be happy that you’re learning what you are, it will help you.

            I am glad if my comments help you, or anyone, in some way, it makes them worth writing. They almost always help me, unloads the thought and I can then let it go, so worth it in that way at least. Thank you for your kind words, Melmel. I am glad you have arrived here.

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