While it’s theoretically possible to heal NPD (some psychologists like Masterson and Kohut specialize in healing narcissistic and borderline disorders and have had results), in the real world, it’s exceedingly difficult and has rarely worked. As a self-diagnosed narcissistic young man recently said to me, for a full-blown narcissist to be cured (rather than simply treated for symptoms) would be no less daunting and excruciating than undergoing a skeleton transplant. It’s a good analogy.
Full blown NPD is almost always so deeply ingrained in the personality–since early childhood in most cases–that to remove it would practically remove the person’s whole personality. Its removal could even kill them (they would be driven to suicide as the False Self gives way to the true one).
But not quite. There is a tiny, atrophied but still-living seed deep inside every narcissist that never got to grow into a plant: the True Self.
Back in November, I wrote a post called “Could Reparenting Actually Cure a Narcissist.” That was around the time I became deeply interested in whether or not such a therapy–one that addressed the root causes of NPD rather than treating symptoms–could actually work, and since then I’ve have read a lot more about it and know a lot more than I did.
At that time, I came up with a series of 4 steps (based on the work of various professionals who specialize in NPD) that might be able to cure NPD in some cases:
Stage 1: The Narcissistic Crisis. A narcissist may enter therapy when their entire world falls apart and they have lost their primary (or all of their) sources of narcissistic supply. Like an addict without a fix, he will be in pain and may submit to therapy at that point–anything to diminish the pain of loss. The therapist must not offer the patient any narcissistic supply during this time! They must simply listen and make the narcissist feel safe enough to open up and talk.
Stage 2: Cold therapy/cold empathy. The therapist must continue to not give the narcissist any supply while not enraging them either. It’s a delicate balance and the narcissist is likely to project their anger and frustrations onto the therapist who is refusing them supply. Working from the rage and frustration, the therapist can guide the narcissist to think about the reasons why they feel so much rage, and start to address the trauma and hurt behind the rage. This may take a very long time and the narcissist is likely to leave therapy. Another reason the therapist must not give the narcissist any supply is because once the narcissist gets supply, like a drug addict, they may feel good enough to leave therapy.
Stage 3: Reparenting. The therapist takes the place of the mother who abused/rejected the narcissist as a child. Physical contact may be necessary and a waiver can be signed to allow limited nonsexual touching. At this point the narcissist will be in great pain and will internalize the unconditional support/maternal “love” the therapist will be giving, mostly through listening and not judging one way or the other. The therapist must remain empathetic and at the same time detached enough to not allow the narcissist to try to manipulate them (which they will be trying to do).
Stage 4: Retraining and Internalizing the Conscience. When the painful emotions from the past are addressed and released, the therapist can start the recovering narcissist in an intensive brain-retraining program in pro-social behaviors and developing a conscience, just as a young child would. This would probably require institutionalization in a very restrictive setting, such as a hospital or high security rehab center. The narcissist would need to “earn back” privileges by having none to begin with. They would be forced to ask permission to do anything at all, and rewarded and punished for bad or good behaviors. At the same time they would attend classes on empathy and given opportunities to practice and eventually internalize this new brain connection.
I have no idea if such a program would actually work, but in the best case scenario, I think it could. Most narcissists won’t stick it out though, so maybe it could be instituted on narcissistic prisoners, who cannot leave prison, or those in mental hospitals (depressed narcissists are often hospitalized).
Today I read an article by Melanie Tonia Evans, called “What Would It Take for a Narcissist to Heal?” Her idea for curing a narcissist is remarkably similar to what I’ve proposed (and others have proposed):
The Narcissist’s “Healing Cell”
I remember years ago (unfortunately I can’t remember the source, so if anyone knows please tell me!) I came across an article regarding a person’s theory about how a narcissist could heal.
Knowing what I know now I agree…
It goes like this…
Solitary confinement with no possibility of contact with the outside world, or the gaining of narcissistic supply.
Then, a committed effort to meet and release the original emotional traumas.
Then, stimulation and re-learning of empathy, compassion, connection to life and others, and integrity. Effectively re-parenting where these brain pathways left off, in order to catch them up to present time.
Truly – what narcissist is going to go through that? What facility is there to have that happen?
Additionally there would have to be every method possible to stop the narcissist committing suicide, because if narcissistic supply was removed, the narcissist would not want to live.
Please note I am not stating this is the case for people with mere ego issues or even narcissistic tendencies.
I believe everyone – co-dependents, and even ‘normal’ people all have varying degrees of survival mechanisms which are creating them to be not aligned in the true harmony of Who They Are.
All of these fears emenate from inner wounds that we closed down inside of us and tried to protect.
I have worked with thousands of people with confronting and releasing inner wounds, as well as confronting and releasing my own inner wounds, and I know the courage and commitment it takes to face them, to let them go and be free of them.
And I know that the people who decide to do this, need to commit to dropping all addiction (avoidance techniques) to be willing to be with and meet their pain in order to finally deal with it, and be liberated from it.
That’s what personal evolution and growth is all about.
Quick fixes, opting out, and self-avoidance just doesn’t cut it!
I have seen people who have had enough of living a life through their inner wounds, absolutely make the decision enough is enough and do the work.
Interestingly, I have been receiving many more than normal emails from people claiming to be narcissists who have had enough of the pain, and want to heal.
I refer all of these people onto the Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program. Their healing is identical to the healing for co-dependents. It is ALL about healing the traumas of abuse, and releasing fear, pain and survival programs.
These people may be in narcissistic injury and will discredit the Program later, or maybe the pain has become greater than the False Self – and maybe they are not fully NPD.
It is individuals suffering with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) who I believe are incapable of doing this.
My definition of NPD is when a person has crossed the line into malicious, pathological, and conscienceless behaviour.
Evans goes on to explain why therapies that only address the narcissist’s behaviors (like CBT) don’t really work because they never even get close to addressing and releasing the original trauma that caused the NPD.
The most effective therapy for someone with NPD would be pretty much the same trauma therapy that works on people with other trauma-based disorders such as C-PTSD and PTSD–because NPD *is* trauma-based. But she also admits that a narcissist sticking out such a program for the duration (and it can take years) is highly unlikely. They are most likely to flee therapy during the painful process of retrieving memories and releasing painful emotions, because narcissism is all about masking painful emotions. She explains it this way:
It’s sad, and it’s tragic because narcissists are the product of abuse, sometimes bad genetics, and often cruel violence, abandonment or pathological engulfment.
They did not ‘choose’ logically to kill off their True Self and live a pathological life – being more and more taken over by a painful, empty, angry , demanding and never appeased False Self.
However, we have to realise the truth.
There is no helping someone who won’t (or can’t) help themselves.
Being attached to a narcissist is not like being attached to a helpless person such as a quadraplegic. I totally understand the devotion people have when they sacrifice their lives to lovingly assist others.
The narcissist, however, as this helpless to ‘get better’ person is viscious, calculating and he or she will abuse you all the way to your demise. THAT is why you need to stop trying to fix this person.
Whilst the False Self is on guard there is no breaking through to a narcissist, and no getting them to work on these deep inner wounds – which are EXACTLY what they have been avoiding, deflecting and projecting on to other people their entire life.
To meet the inner wounds is equal to annihilation for a narcissist – it just can’t be done.
Sam Vaknin describes it as the narcissist intuitively knowing that he or she does not have the inner resources to deal with the onslaught of these inner wounds. His belief is that a narcissist would risk a complete psychotic and catatonic breakdown if he or she did face these wounds.
Knowing what I know about energy healing – I do know it is possible in theory for a narcissist to energetically claim and clear wounds and re-connect back to the Source of wellbeing that all of us are connected to at some level…even narcissists.
It would be excruciating and gruelling, and incredibly painful – but (I believe) it could be done.
However, here is the sticking point.
The narcissist is addicted to narcissistic supply worse than a heroin addict is addicted to heroin. The narcissist literally feels like he or she would disappear into oblivion if not getting an energy supply (attention) from the outside. The narcissist has ‘killed off’ his or her connection to being an energy Source from ‘self’.
What this means is: the narcissist when feeling any emotional low (frequent) will frenetically need to get a ‘hit’ to try to offset the pain.
Deep inner healing and personal transformation for anyone is all about being with the pain and resisting these urges to self-avoid – and dealing directly with the pain instead.
The narcissist’s False Self is its own entity which has taken over the narcissist.
The False Self has all the reasons, all the excuses, and all the justifications to make what the narcissist does as ‘okay’.
It’s like a devil on the narcissist’s shoulder talking him or her into the most outrageous reactions and acts possible. Many narcissists (Sam Vaknin agrees) report that whilst doing these acts – it is like an out of body experience – it is like the False Self has completely taken over – and the narcissist is watching from the side lines unable to stop it happening.
That takes ‘knee jerk reaction’ to a whole new level.
So, is the False Self going to consistently go to a healing space over and over again, go within and leave alone the outside world and narcissistic supply in order to face and release deep inner traumatic wounds?
The answer is FIRMLY “No”…
What I have observed is that it is only narcissists in deep narcissistic injury ( life has hit SO hard), and are literally on their knees, who will dedicate time to inner healing. The reason is because when life kicks someone that hard – the ego is temporarily too injured to operate.
Life can be a HUGE humbler in the face of shocking catastrophe.
However, the narcissist’s brain has been established and hard wired onto obtaining narcissistic supply for most of their life.
Therefore as soon as a therapist grants the narcissist enough attention (narcissistic supply) for the False Self to reinstate itself again, those brain pathways start firing again, and the narcissist’s humility is incredibly short-lived.
He or she is back to the grandiose, entitled conscienceless version of hunting narcissistic supply – and on the story goes…
So the prospect of someone with NPD being healed (at least for those at mid-spectrum and above) does look pretty bleak, even though in theory (and in very rare cases) they could be.
Dr. James Masterson has apparently had some success though. I’m currently reading his book “The Search for the Real Self” (which I’ll be reviewing at a later point). In the book are two case studies of two men named Walter and Frank, both who suffered from NPD. Both were cured of their disorder using psychoanalytic techniques. Particularly moving was Frank’s story, because his narcissism was more severe and it took over five years of incredibly painful and intensive therapy for him to be healed of NPD and begin to experience actual emotions of empathy and love. I think the fact that this disorder was ever healed at all to be very hopeful.
But never, ever try to fix a narcissist yourself. You can’t.