If you’re reading this article, then it’s likely you’re coming to terms with some personal narcissistic tendencies.
Maybe people have dropped some hints to that effect, or perhaps you’ve read something that struck a chord as describing your own behavior.
In any case, the fact that you’re looking up solutions to this issue is a huge step in the right direction. You have enough self-awareness to realize that there’s an issue to be attended to, and enough self-direction to want to improve things.
Furthermore, it tells you that you haven’t ventured into full-on narcissist mode yet: if you had, you wouldn’t be trying to fix anything. You simply wouldn’t care about how your actions affect others at all.
Before we continue, please take a moment to acknowledge that this is amazing of you, and that you should be proud of yourself. It’s one thing to be aware of a personal issue, and another thing to take action to improve it. By doing so, you’ll have far closer and more fulfilling personal relationships, and you might heal some much-neglected inner trauma in the process.
Let’s look at some of the steps you can take to curb—and even reverse—narcissistic tendencies.
1. Find yourself a great therapist.
This is at the top of the list because it can be almost impossible to recover from narcissistic leanings without professional help.
Many people who have these leanings avoid therapy for a number of different reasons.
Although they seem to be brimming with arrogance and self-assuredness, most have extremely low self-esteem. This is why it’s so important to them to be loved and admired by others. If they aren’t, that reinforces the soul-deep feeling that they’re somehow unworthy or unlovable.
To open up to a therapist means letting the mask drop to show who they truly are. It means being immensely vulnerable, and to someone who has trouble trusting others at all, this is terrifying.
As a result, instead of finding a therapist who can help them unpack the heavy stuff they’ve been carrying, they find one who fits with their comfortable behavior patterns. For example, someone they can charm, impress with their knowledge, or win over as a friend.
This defeats the purpose of seeing a therapist to begin with.
If healing from your narcissistic leanings is important to you, you’ll need to find a good therapist whom you’re willing to open up to. Not someone you find attractive and want to flirt with or fool into believing that you’re fine. This will have to be a person whom you can learn to trust; someone you can respect and who you might be able to let your guard down enough to be real with.
If you’ve ever seen the film Good Will Hunting, you might remember the scenes in which Will is interacting with his therapist (played by Robin Williams). He bantered with his doctor, challenged him on numerous topics, and showed off how smart he is, all by keeping conversation light, quick, and joking. As soon as the therapist started to get underneath his protective shell, he changed tact and went on the offensive to protect himself.
He mocked the therapist, insulted him, even went so far as to be cruel about his late wife. These are all types of misdirection and obfuscation so as to shift attention away from himself. This was his go-to method of self-preservation for so long that he didn’t know how to behave any other way.
Although that character wasn’t a narcissist, the pattern of redirection is one that many narcissists use as a means of self-defense. If this seems familiar to you, that’s not surprising: it’s a method that many use to keep themselves safe. That said, if you do want to heal from these tendencies, you’re going to have to be brave and let someone “in.”
The best thing about a therapist is that they’re around to help you without judgement. Your therapist isn’t going to throw what you’ve said to them back at you during a heated argument like a friend or partner might. Even more importantly, they’re not there for you to impress. You don’t have to “sell yourself” to this person or charm them into liking you.
They’re not there to like you.
They’re there to help you.
Take your time and search around for a therapist who has experience with narcissistic and other types of personality disorders. Then book appointments so you can spend some time getting to know a few different ones.
Next, choose the therapist you feel will help you the most. This might not be the one you’re most comfortable with, but the one whom you respect most and whom you feel might be able to challenge you out of your comfort zone and into the healthier life you’re seeking.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
2. Determine where your narcissism stems from.
This is the next step, and you’ll undoubtedly need your therapist’s help to sort through it.
Although there isn’t one specific cause of narcissistic personality disorder—or even simply narcissistic tendencies—there’s often a shared causal factor in those who share these traits: some type of childhood trauma or abuse.
Many narcissists experienced something extremely traumatic in early childhood, or had ongoing mistreatment at the hands of their caregivers[1,2]. In fact, the types of narcissistic behaviors that these people may exhibit will depend a great deal on what they experienced during their formative years.
As an example, a child who was neglected by their parents or guardians may have learned that the only way they were going to get their needs met was by aggression or manipulation.
In contrast, someone whose parents demanded perfection might have learned to lie and adapt to various circumstances like a chameleon: this way they would only ever receive praise and positive feedback, rather than condemnation or physical harm.
3. Be open to input from those you love.
This is one of the most important things you can do, but it will also be the most difficult. This is because you’ll have to face the consequences of your actions; namely hear directly from people who have felt hurt, used, and otherwise mistreated by you.
Even though your actions in this regard weren’t intentionally cruel or manipulative, they have caused damage to others.
For someone with narcissistic tendencies, this is the last thing they want to hear. They want to be loved and respected by others, so to find out firsthand that other people don’t think as highly of them as they think—for reasons entirely of their own doing—may be painful. Even devastating.
Hopefully, if you approach those you care about the most and ask them to be honest with you about how your narcissistic leanings have affected them, they’ll be able to talk to you about it with empathy and patience. After all, if you’re that close to them, they probably have some inkling as to your past and how you got to where you are now.
In this regard, the old quote, “When you understand everything, you can forgive everything,” comes into play. It’s easier to not take things personally when one recognizes that certain toxic traits in yourself stem from a place of deep wounding, rather than malice.
Even so, you’ll need to be willing to not just listen to what these people have to say, but to hear them and take their feedback to heart.
4. When they give you feedback, take action to remedy the situation.
This builds upon the previous tip. When and if those close to you let you know how your behavior affects them, you’ll need to do two things:
- Apologize for past actions
- Change your behaviors so these actions won’t happen again
Words of apology are all well and good, but they mean little if they aren’t followed through with changed behavior.
For example, if your partner tells you that they feel hurt and used when you just eat the food they’ve prepared and duck back into your office to play video games, don’t try to defend your actions. Apologize for having behaved like that in the past, and ask them how they would prefer the situation to unfold in the future. If they say they’d like you two to sit together and finish your meal before you go back to annihilating orcs, that’s a fair request to make.
The same goes for if they tell you that they’d like to do things together that they want to do as well, not just your choice all the time, that’s also a fair thing to compromise on. You might be a pizza fanatic, but it’s not unreasonable to order Thai or sushi now and then to make them happy too. After all, there are two of you in this relationship: it’s not all about you.
As you can imagine, you’ll receive different feedback from various people depending on what your relationship is like with them. A close friend might tell you that they don’t like how you criticize everyone around you, while family members might feel neglected from lack of contact.
You get the idea.
5. Recognize that other people don’t exist for your benefit.
For many people, their narcissistic tendencies evolved as a way of getting their own needs met, by any means necessary. Since they’ve suffered through immense hardships, they’ve had no choice but to put their needs and priorities first, ahead of any pleasantries or courtesies toward others.
While this has aided them in their continued survival, it has undoubtedly affected others quite badly.
Many narcissists (or those with narcissistic leanings) see those around them as means to an end in order to achieve a particular goal, or attain a position, item, and so on. As such, they’re not seen or recognized as individuals in their own right, but tools that can be picked up, used as necessary, and discarded.
Do you make an effort to keep in touch with others on a regular basis? Or only when you need or want something from them?
On that same note, when you do need something from that person, do you take part in what’s colloquially called “love bombing” (e.g., praising them, expressing your appreciation for them, getting them gifts, and so on) in an attempt to manipulate them into doing what you want?
What if they aren’t available at that time, or they just aren’t interested in helping you out? Does your attitude toward them suddenly change to contempt and abuse? Or do you just cut them out of your life like flicking a light switch to the “off” position?
These people have lives of their own outside of your wants or needs. They have difficulties of their own to contend with, personal relationships to navigate, and so on.
6. Be aware that you don’t have the right to control or redesign others.
Another trait that many narcissists have in common is the idea that they have the right to redesign others to better suit their personal whims. For example, instead of seeing a romantic partner as an individual with their own interests and personal esthetic tastes, they’ll be viewed more like putty that can be molded to suit the narcissist’s whims.
Let’s say they meet someone whom they’re physically attracted to and their personalities mesh well too. That’s great, until the narcissist starts suggesting (or even demanding) that their lover make “a few changes” to better suit their preferences. Depending on the individual, they might drop subtle hints or be overt in their requests. If their requests aren’t met, they might get more aggressive or abusive in their demands.
For example, let’s say a narcissistic man has always had a preference for pinup-type women with red hair. He might meet someone who doesn’t fit that esthetic, but she has the potential to with just a few tweaks. So, he might start off with comments like: “That color red would look incredible on you,” or “You’re so beautiful, but you’d look even more incredible as a redhead.”
This might work on his partner, but if it doesn’t, he’ll escalate to the next step: negative comments for the purpose of changing her mind. “You know I love you, but that hair color doesn’t suit you,” or “You’re looking really tired these days—you know that hair color is aging you, right?”
Little digs like that are made to wear the other person down so they relent, at which point there will be praise and love bombing like crazy. Until the next adjustment is needed. Like wearing more or less makeup. Or a different clothing style. He might even go so far as to buy her clothes and jewelry for holidays/birthdays in the style that he’d prefer to see her in, rather than what she likes.
Furthermore, he might mock hobbies and interests she has and try to push others onto her that he prefers instead.
In simplest terms, he sees her as a doll that he can dress up and adjust however he likes, not a person with her own thoughts and emotions. And if she tries to express or assert those, he’ll withdraw affection and get cold—even give her the silent treatment—to punish her for not doing what he wants. If she absolutely refuses to comply, he’ll likely disappear and pursue someone else instead without a second thought.
If you’re prone to this type of behavior, stop to consider how you’d feel if another person tried to make adjustments to who you are on a fundamental level. Your response to that would likely be anger, frustration, and maybe even a sense of betrayal about the fact that they only want you for esthetic value, not for who you are.
As such, keep in mind that others likely feel the exact same way, so appreciate and respect them for who they are, not what they could potentially be in order to fit in with your wants.
7. Learn your “triggers” and how to manage them.
As mentioned earlier, it’s believed that one of the main causes of narcissism is abuse and/or neglect in childhood and adolescence. It’s likely that you endured repeated bouts of mistreatment over the years and were on the receiving end of certain patterns.
An example of this would be if you had a parent or guardian who would get drunk and call you a particular name or insult you with a specific phrase. As such, when and if you hear that phrase or name as an adult, you might feel a massive wave of anger toward whomever said it—even if it was said innocently rather than as an attempt to hurt you.
You’ll likely lash out brutally at whoever says that thing in order to prevent them from doing it again in the future, thus projecting your anger at past people toward the one who’s in front of you now.
Furthermore, you might fly into a rage to deflect from the fact that you’ve been hurt by what they said. Instead of showing any kind of vulnerability, you redirect attention and go on the attack instead. After all, if you hurt them, they’ll stop focusing on you and turn inward to deal with what you’ve inflicted upon them.
Work with your therapist to identify your greatest triggers, and develop coping mechanisms to help you deal with them. For example, if you get a sudden wave of rage, consider going for a walk outside instead of punching a wall or screaming at someone.
It is a good idea to seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to get a handle on your narcissistic tendencies.
8. Understand that people are all fallible, and cultivate more compassion for them.
One major trait that many narcissists share is that they’re willing to simply end a relationship that they feel no longer serves them. If the person they’ve been friends or lovers with suddenly isn’t giving them the attention that they want, or falls off the pedestal they’ve put them on by having personal issues of their own, all of a sudden that person is no longer useful to them.
As such, they can just switch their emotions “off” and walk away without a second thought. Most narcissists always have at least one other interest in the wings so they can redirect their attention elsewhere whenever needed.
If you care about the people in your life, recognize that they’re all flawed, perfectly imperfect individuals who are going to have to deal with their own messes over the years. They’re going to screw up and potentially hurt your feelings. They might get ill, or injured, or have emotional breakdowns that will require your support.
If you don’t feel that you’re in a place to be able to offer love and friendship during times of difficulty, consider waiting to have these kinds of relationships until you and your therapist have chiseled the edges off your narcissistic leanings.
9. Change your behavioral patterns when you observe them unfolding.
We touched upon this earlier when we talked about being open to feedback from those you love. That’s an important approach, but it’s also important to be able to observe how your actions affect others via your own senses.
Some of the things that narcissists do in order to feel safe don’t just have devastating effects on others—they can also damage the person who’s doing them. That’s because they get caught in cyclical patterns that end up trapping and hindering them rather than allowing them to grow and evolve.
The good news is that any of these behavioral patterns can be changed for the better. It’s a matter of cultivating some solid self-awareness so you can recognize when you’re doing them. From there, you can make the conscious effort to change what you’re doing.
Here’s an example: I know three different narcissists—two male, one female—who all repeat a specific shared behavioral pattern: all three of them have been engaged to people several times, but none have ever married.
When I’ve asked them candidly why they’ve never followed through, they’ve simply shrugged and said that the relationships fell apart or that their fiancé/es turned out not to be the people they thought they were.
In reality, this behavior served a twofold purpose:
By getting engaged, they “lock” the other person into a committed relationship to make themselves feel more secure. That other person believes that they’re moving toward a lifelong partnership and behaves accordingly. They’ll share their bank account with the person they think will be their future spouse, be more devoted in terms of healthcare, and so on.
Meanwhile, the narcissist inevitably deals with some calamity that renders them incapable of working full-time or taking on their share of the household responsibilities. That’s no problem, however, since their oh-so-devoted fiancé/e will happily step up and take on more. After all, they have forever to change places if life circumstances require it, right?
And this is where we come to the second purpose: by never taking the next step and marrying the person they claim to love, they always have that door open to run through at a moment’s notice.
Furthermore, since the fiancé/e knows that door is still ajar, they’ll go above and beyond to try to make sure that their “beloved” doesn’t leave them. This plays into the narcissist’s hands quite well, as they’re being loved and pampered the way they need and want to be.
Things inevitably go south after that engagement lasts more than a couple of years, and they start to feel the pressure to marry. This is where the narcissist inevitably discovers something so wrong about their partner that they can’t help but end the relationship and move on to the next target they have lined up.
Furthermore, said target is usually someone with low self-esteem, living in difficult circumstances. As such, the narcissist can swoop in and white knight them out of their misery… only to repeat the same cycle. Over and over again.
This does everyone a huge disservice. The fiancé/es feel devastated that they’ve been dropped like a bad habit. Additionally, they feel used, as they’ve undoubtedly invested time, effort, and finances into the relationship, but received next to nothing in return. And the narcissist never has the opportunity to experience sincere love and devotion firsthand. They’re always seeking the next “perfect” target.
It’s not limited to relationships either. Many repeat this behavior with jobs as well, always looking for the ideal fit for them.
If any of this strikes a chord with you, that’s okay. It’s a perfect opportunity to stop this cycle in its tracks and move toward situations that offer you greater personal fulfillment, as well as more love and happiness for the people who adore you for who you are.
10. Tend to others’ needs as well as your own.
This involves being aware of other people’s feelings rather than just your own. In some cases, this might involve offering support to someone who’s having a rough time even though you’d rather be binge watching your favorite TV show instead. In other situations, it might be a question of awareness: that if you’re feeling a particular way, those around you might be feeling the same.
Let’s say you’re on your way to your partner’s place and you stop to grab coffee and a croissant. You’ve likely done so because you’re feeling a bit hungry and that cafe just happens to make the best coffee in the area.
While you’re there, consider whether your partner might like to have something as well. Sure, you’ve taken this action because you want a coffee and a snack, but your partner might feel hurt or left out if you show up at their house with tasty snacks and didn’t think to get them something too. After all, if you’re hungry at that particular time of day, it’s likely that they are as well.
If you find yourself in this kind of situation, grab another drink and something to share. Or, if you’re not sure whether that gesture would be appreciated or not, ask them. Shoot off a quick text or call them to let them know that you’re at the cafe, and ask if they’d like anything while you’re there.
Even if they’re not hungry and decline the offer, I guarantee you they’ll appreciate the courtesy and thoughtfulness of your gesture. That is, unless you get them something they can’t eat or drink for various reasons, which brings us to the next guideline…
11. Ask others about their preferences and make sure to remember them.
There are few situations as uncomfortable and disappointing as when you get (or make) something for someone and they can’t enjoy it because of health-related or ethical concerns.
The person who has made or bought the meal will feel hurt that their efforts have gone unappreciated, while the recipient will feel hurt and frustrated that the giver hasn’t paid attention to what they’ve said about this situation before. Possibly many times before.
As an example, let’s say you feel like making dinner for your partner to show them how much you appreciate them. So, you invite them over and spend a few hours cooking. Then you serve up what you’ve made with great pride and gusto… only to see their face fall as they tell you that they can’t eat it because they have a food allergy to a primary ingredient. Or their spiritual beliefs prevent them from being able to eat it.
They’ve likely told you about this limitation countless times, but those narcissistic leanings of yours meant that all that info went in one ear and out the other. And you’ll likely be angrier with them for not being able to eat the food than you would be at yourself for forgetting something so important.
This is why it’s so vital to pay attention to what people tell you about their personal likes and dislikes. Being able to do or buy things for someone that they’ll truly appreciate is absolutely wonderful. You’ll feel great about giving them something they love and they’ll feel seen and heard.
Ask people what they like, what they can and can’t enjoy, and why. Make notes about all of this if you think you might forget, and keep adding info as you find out more about them. You could keep a database of this information or write all of it down on a wall calendar. Either way, know that your efforts to learn about them won’t be taken for granted.
On a similar note:
12. Reach out to others “just because,” not simply when you need or want something.
We covered this earlier, but it’s important to reiterate.
Generally, people are quite perceptive. If you have a pattern of only contacting them when you want something, they’re going to recognize that behavior. Furthermore, they’ll be less inclined to help you out because, well, you only ever talk to them when you want something from them.
Would you want to associate with someone who uses you and discards you when you’re not needed anymore? Exactly.
Cultivate healthier relationships with other people by reaching out to them on a regular basis. In fact, create a list of all the people you know, and take some time to think about how you feel about each of them. Determine whether you keep these people in your life because they’re useful to you or because you sincerely care about them.
Do you only keep in touch with that guy from high school because you like to use his cottage? How about that “friend” you only ever talk to when you’re dealing with a crisis?
If you value these people, make a point of communicating with them on a regular basis. It takes just a few seconds to thumb out a text to ask how they’re doing or comment on something they’ve posted online. You don’t need to sacrifice hours of your life going to events with them, but you could put in the barest amount of effort to make them feel seen and appreciated.
13. Learn to acknowledge that nobody is “better” than anyone else.
This is often the most difficult thing for narcissists to get used to, because so much of their personality has revolved around putting others down and demeaning them to make themselves seem better and more important in comparison.
Take a look at some of your past behaviors in this regard as well as other people’s similar actions toward you.
Has anyone ever made you feel “small” by invalidating or downplaying achievements that were important to you because they felt that they deserved more attention? Or that what they’ve done has far outshone what you’ve been able to do? How did you feel at that moment?
Did you enjoy the experience? Or are you still haunted by their words and actions?
Now consider how many times you’ve done that to other people. Maybe you’ve mocked their choice of beverage because it wasn’t cool or expensive enough compared to your own refined tastes. Or you downplayed someone’s academic achievement because you wanted more recognition and admiration. After all, your degree was so much more difficult to attain than theirs; your job is so much more prestigious, and so on.
All of our words and actions have long-lasting effects on people. One insulting or mocking phrase can permanently destroy another’s self-esteem or undermine an achievement that means the world to them.
Is it worth causing that kind of damage for the sake of making yourself seem more important?
In general, think before you speak and consider how you would respond if you were on the receiving end of those words. Furthermore, be observant in terms of your interactions. Basically, pay attention to how people respond when you interact with them.
Do they seem delighted with your conversation or do they end up in tears?
Are they generally in a good mood after spending time with you? Or do they seem offended or upset?
Do they meet your gaze and get engaged in conversation with you? Or do they fold their arms and only offer clipped responses?
The latter examples here are surefire clues that you have not treated them well. Body language can speak much louder than words, and how a person’s posture and facial features change in response to you can speak volumes about how you’ve made them feel.
When and if you realize that you’ve misstepped, don’t be afraid to ask them if you’ve said or done something to upset them. Your go-to response might be to play it off or to tell them that they’re overreacting or being dramatic, thus belittling and invalidating their emotions. Instead, pay attention and listen to their response.
If you’ve hurt them, apologize and ask how you can make amends. In fact, you can tell them that you’re trying to be better in this regard. Ask for their help as you forge a new way forward. Those who love you will be far more willing to understand and forgive if they know they’re helping you, and their support will help you heal from the traumas that caused your narcissistic leanings to begin with.
You can move past this and develop healthier, more caring relationships with others. It’ll just take time, diligent care, and a great therapist to help you get there.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you overcome narcissim and forge healthier attitudes, thoughts, and relationships. Simply connect with one via BetterHelp.com.
You may also like:
- How To Stop Being Emotionally Abusive To Your Partner
- 16 Ways To Stop Being Controlling In A Relationship
- 16 Ways To Be A More Caring Person
- Bertele N, Talmon A, Gross JJ. Childhood Maltreatment and Narcissism: The mediating role of dissociation. J Interpers Violence. 2022 Jun;37(11-12):NP9525-NP9547. doi: 10.1177/0886260520984404. Epub 2020 Dec 23. PMID: 33356780.
- Talmon A, Ginzburg K. The intricate role of dissociation in the relations between childhood maltreatment, self-objectification, and narcissism. Psychol Trauma. 2019 Nov;11(8):909-918. doi: 10.1037/tra0000452. Epub 2019 Mar 21. PMID: 30896223.