Q&A Ask Elizabeth: Can a Narcissist Change?

Can A Narcissist Change?

Today we have a reader who wonders if a cheating narcissist can change and be happy long term.

Dear Elizabeth,

I lived with a narcissist for a long time and knew he was cheating on me with someone else. We broke up a few times and I finally refused to take him back. He is now living with the other woman.

My main question is, can a narcissist change for the other woman and can they be happier in life long term?

– WasItJustMe?

First I must start by saying that I shy away from arm chair diagnosing other people’s psychological disorders– so I can’t say whether your ex actually has narcissistic personality disorder or is just frankly, a garden-variety jerk. Let’s say that for the sake of discussion that your ex is a bona fide “sufferer” of narcissistic personality disorder.

In this case, he is unlikely to change, as these people are impervious to treatment, nor do they believe that treatment is even necessary (they do believe they’re pretty perfect as is, after all). If this is what he truly  has, then no, change is unlikely.

However, if narcissist is just a label, then sure, he can probably change. Will he cheat on his new girlfriend? It’s hard to say. Would I personally think it was a good idea to date someone who started their relationship with me by cheating on someone else? Never. The person has shown themselves to be not trustworthy as the very basis of the relationship. It’s not a bet I would take if this was Vegas, and certainly not with my life.

But I don’t think that the label is the important thing here.

What I’m hearing in your message is a lasting sense of hurt and betrayal from someone who you invested a great deal of your time and attention into. That guy cheated on you then took off and is now living with the other woman. It is only human to wonder if he’s happy, if he’s changed, if he’ll cheat on her also, if you’re really better off by finally not taking him back. If..if..if.

In the wake of a breakup, it’s easy to beat ourselves up with the “shoulds” and the “ifs.”

Remember that you already know what a relationship with him is like. It sounds pretty dang painful, from your message. The other woman may or may not ever experience the same kind of pain coming from the man, but over the long term, the narcissist can dish it out pretty well.

Narcissists aren’t known to “suffer” per se from their affliction, so we’ll never know what he thinks. But do we really want to go there with someone who lacks empathy and the basic ability to care deeply for us? I’d venture to say “No.”

The main point here is that you put your foot down. You finally said “no more” to a relationship that wasn’t serving you. This is to be commended. It is a statement to the world that you are valuable, you are worth more, and that you refuse to settle for crumbs. I’m proud of you for doing it. Living well is always the best revenge, and it sounds like you’re working on doing just that.


Do you have dating and relationship questions? Send them in here for Elizabeth to consider answering in a future Ask Elizabeth column.

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