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Corrective Life Events: Can the Narcissist Change?

Ouch! There probably wasn't a ready supply of nitrous oxide anesthetizing a medical yank back in 160 ! " person had to tough out the procedure and bear up to the pain or suffer malignant conse#uences when "something was rotten in dental." Okay$ that's a lousy pun but %'m not abo&e bad writing! % like to think it's part of my charm as a blogger$ not a literary genius! The first thing that came to mind when &iewing this masterpiece by 'ara&aggio was my di&orce! (o 'laughing gas' could reduce the pain of that procedure either$ though a pocket of )anax reassured me that should my pain reach critical mass$ a little pill could help me escape the pain***at least long enough to tolerate another 'yank' in the future! +ut today$ % don't want to write about the misery of a rotting marriage and the necessity of remo&ing a decaying molar by the roots! ,hat %'d like to write about is the narcissist's ability to change through correcti&e life experiences$ a term used by -lsa .onningstam in her book /nderstanding and 0iagnosing the (arcissistic 1ersonality! %n other words$ 23ow much yanking can a narcissist's ego endure before sacrificing the malignant tooth***or punishing the toothpuller instead42 .onningstam writes$ 2!!!until recently the natural course of (10 has not recei&ed much attention in the clinical and empirical literature$ and there is &ery little documented knowledge about the factors that might contribute to change!!!Our findings suggested that what appeared to be a narcissistic personality disorder at baseline actually included two types of pathology5 one being a context or state*dependent type of pathology$ and the other being a more long*term and stable trait pathology!2 6"rticle 7ink8 .onningstam's research studied the narcissist's capacity for change through life experiences that challenged illusions$ fantasies$ ambitions$ ideals$ goals$ and high expectations! The term correcti&e emotional experiences was first

proposed by "lexander and 9rench in 1:;6! .onningstam refers to their research and subse#uent studies focusing on the impact of stressful life e&ents as being either correcti&e or corrosi&e! <y guess is that e&ery person has gone through experiences that threatened immature 6grandiose8 perceptions resulting in a more grounded sense of self! ,hen malignant self*esteem has to be yanked out by the roots$ it's hurts for a little bit but e&entually$ our self*awareness is balanced by realistic abilities and thus$ a greater possibility for achie&ing satisfaction in life! ,e might call our ad=ustment an -go*3it$ or a 'reality check'$ or a 'growth experience'! %t hurts$ but only temporarily! Once the pain of disillusionment has passed and our inflated self*esteem read=usts to it's new low 6='est kiddin'8$ non*pathological people gain a more realistic appraisal of the self! ,e accept being 'good enough'$ not perfect! >ome of us perfectionist*types disco&er that our expectations were only illusions and life is pretty darn awesome =ust being ordinary and a&erage! "ccepting oursel&es as human*mistake*making creatures who fail miserably once in a while is liberating***freeing us to make fewer mistakes in the future because arrogance has been abrogated by reality! 1erhaps the foundation to tolerating the pain of a reality check is the stability of our self*esteem***our reliable sense of worth$ e&en in times of failure! +ecause narcissists regulate high self*esteem &ia external &alidation described as 'narcissistic supply'$ they are susceptible to protecting inflated self*esteem from deflation with ego defenses! These ego defenses ser&e as sentinels against percei&ed threats or criticism =eopardizing the narcissist's grandiose self*image! (arcissistic grandiosity is a confabulated pretense against imperfection$ failure$ defeat and the misery of being 'ordinary'! Ordinary$ to a narcissist e#uates to 'inferiority'! +ecause both o&ert and co&ert narcissists manifest grandiosity$ a correcti&e life e&ent might challenge egotistical arrogance and ad=ust unrealistic self* perceptions$ thus promoting change! " correcti&e life e&ent might occur in one of three areas 5

1*correcti&e achie&ements ?*correcti&e interpersonal relationships @*correcti&e disillusionment

Corrective Achievements: "ccording to .onningstam A Bunderson's research study$ " >table 0isorder or a >tate of <ind4$ the successful attainment of goals may 2replace feelings of being underestimated and misunderstood2! "chie&ing recognition for expertise or success in a particular area of interest$ might lessen defensi&e grandiosity protecting the narcissist from unbearable affects resulting from failure$ incompetence$ insignificance! 6>uccess and recognition might also increase grandiosity because the narcissist has proof that sChe's superior to others! +ut that's another essay8! The hope for change is that correcti&e achie&ements will lessen defensi&e arrogance$ en&y$ andCor contempt towards successful 'others'! "chie&ing success in a specific area of interest may balance the narcissist's need for attention$ admiration and applause!

Corrective Interpersonal Relationships: -stablishing a durable$ interpersonal relationship may assist in countering narcissistic notions of self as defecti&e and therefore$ an undesirable partner! <utuality lessens the narcissistic de&aluation of other people$ a defense against conscious awareness of en&y or shame for not being able to create an intimate relationship! +ased on research about the prognosis for lifelong (10$ an intimate partner might facilitate the narcissist's healthy change! 6.onningstam$ 1::68 1lease note that her research is based on a three*year follow*up study tracking enduring changes in the narcissistic personality! 6%n my

opinion$ the most likely person to change in the narcissistic relationship is the partner! "nd not in a healthy manner! %t all depends on whether the narcissist can find a willing sacrifice! +ut that's another essay8! The hope for change through correcti&e interpersonal relationships is that a committed relationship will encourage the narcissist to break through a resistance to trust others$ be intimate with others$ to stop resenting others$ blaming others$ and resisting the urge to &iew themsel&es as better than others! The hope for sustained change is that through a correcti&e interpersonal relationship$ the narcissist will increase hisCher capacity to tolerate the emotional fluctuations inherent to all intimate relationships and moderate rage or mistreatment in order to maintain the &alued relationship! 6Bosh! That sounds like fun! ,here can % sign up448 1lease note5 psychological research suggests that the inability to maintain a long*term committed relationship is an indication of pathological narcissism that is unlikely to impro&e! The prognosis is poor for narcissists who cannot sustain fidelity and commitment! >orry to tell all you hopeful partners that bit of bad newsD % don't fabricate the research**% =ust report it!

Corrective disillusionment: 7ife corrects our hubris e&ery chance she gets***hubris being defined as 'misplaced arrogance'! <ost people can relate to o&erestimating our competence**especially when we were teenagers! "s teens$ we knew

e&erything there was to know about anything and anyone assuming they knew more than oursel&es was a fool! Take our parents$ for example! One ego* crushing humiliation after another and e&entually our arrogance ad=usted to reality! +reaking through the Brandiose >elf rewards us with a more accurate perception of our limitations and ignorance$ coupled with a healthy awareness of real talents$ skills$ and capabilities! ,e call it Browing /p! 'orrecti&e disillusionments can be experienced in the workplace$ in specialized

areas of interest such as hobbies$ athletic acti&ities$ artistic endea&ors$ etc! 1erceptions of superiority that are not supported by realistic assessment of one's skills$ capabilities$ and talents$ will e&entually result in disappointment! -&en disappointment and failure can lay the foundation for a healthier perception of self! The capacity for healthy change is based on the narcissist's tolerance of emotional esteem$ and psychic pain during will ad=ustment manifest periods of correcti&e disillusionment! %f the narcissist cannot sustain threats to his or her self* pathological narcissism as increased grandiosity$ defending an inflated self*esteem by refusing ownership or responsibility for failure! To the pathological narcissist$ failure is a 'humiliation'$ a threat to their superiority! "s many people can attest$ pathological narcissists will maintain their grandiose self*image despite correcti&e disillusionment! Brandiosity means narcissists resist seeing themsel&es as ordinary people whom they =udge to be 'inferior'! %f the narcissist accepts ordinary limitations$ is satisfied with 'good enough'$ and tolerates the re#uisite deflation of inflated self*esteem$ then correcti&e disillusionments may lead to healthy change! 9ailure to achie&e idealistic expectations will hopefully result in a realistic perception of self$ thus creating reasonable opportunities aligned with the narcissist's true capabilities! ,ith a better appraisal of abilities and pragmatic possibilities$ the narcissist will be more likely to experience correcti&e achie&ements promoting healthier self*esteem and eliminating the need for grandiosity! 'orrecti&e disillusionment is summed up in the clichE5 2,hen one door closes$ another door opens!2 The key to opening a new door is acceptance of limitations$ willingness to confront grandiosity and illusions$ the ability to appreciate true skills and discard impossible expectations! ,hen narcissists disco&er that their talents are better aligned with managing a small business than a 9ortune F00$ their potential for life satisfaction increases$ resulting in a realistically grounded and more stable self*esteem! ,hen a fantasy door closes$ a real door opens leading to &iable opportunities!

.ectifying narcissistic illusions with one's true strengths and capabilities$ increases the possibility of success and the growth of healthy self*esteem!

A warning about Narcissist's potential for change: The ne!Two!"unch

There are two criteria that denote a more serious narcissistic pathology that is resistent to change no matter how many correcti&e achie&ements$ correcti&e interpersonal experiences! 7et's call these criteria the ne!two!"unch Realit# Chec$ for anyone hoping relationships$ or correcti&e disillusionments the narcissist

narcissists will e&entually descend their self*anointed thrones5 "...the presence of two narcissistic characteristics!!!lac$ of commitment to others% and intense reactions to defeat and criticism from others!!!are associated with lac$ of improvement over time. In other words% the presence of these narcissistic problems is significantl# associated with poor prognoses and absence of change and hence indicates a more enduring form of N"&." G.onningstam$ /nderstanding and %dentifying the (arcissistic 1ersonality$ page 111

%n my own words and experience$ %'d describe the One*Two*1unch .eality 'heck this way5 ne: %nability to sustain long*term commitments! That means reciprocal efforts to sustain interpersonal relationships with fidelity$ mutual trust$ and personal responsibility for mistakes and failures! Two: >e&ere reactions to defeat or criticism$ resulting in hostility and aggression towards the percei&ed threat 6+aumeister 1::68! .emember$ narcissists ha&e distorted perceptions of reality! The narcissist is paranoid about other people

seeing through defensi&e pretenses! They will defend their egotistical facade as if their &ery li&es were being threatened! "unch: ,ake /p! Bet in reality 'cuz whether you know it or not$ you're out!