How to Stop Being a Narcissist, According to 11 Experts

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Most narcissists may not be aware of their narcissistic tendencies.

However, recognizing that you might have narcissistic traits is already a step forward, and being open to changes is a very positive thing.

Here are some helpful ways in which you can transform yourself for the better, according to experts:

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.

Laurie Hollman

Psychoanalyst

Narcissism is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior) need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  • He believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  • Requires excessive admiration.
  • Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her
    expectations).
  • Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

If the person has 5 or more characteristics, extensive psychotherapy is warranted

If only a few features exist, they can also be addressed in psychotherapy. The traits usually persist for many years and are not generally recognized by the person on his or her own.

Even when another person who cares about the narcissist points out some of these qualities, they are denied or viewed as this is the way all people are. Thus to change these qualities or actually stop them is a very difficult task.

Here are some suggestions if the person is not in treatment:

  • Point out that the person’s view of his achievements is inaccurate and what needs to be done to reach their goals.
    For example, if you are an employer of a narcissist explain specific tasks that need to be done and how to do so as outlined with careful follow-up.
  • Explain that mere association with high-status people doesn’t make you immediately of their status or give you their level of prestige. Hard work and perseverance are required.
  • When the person gets depressed, you might suggest that he or she is feeling slighted and even enraged because they did not receive the admiration they continually seek.
  • A lack of empathy is hard to fathom by someone without it but an effort can be made to point out that people have feelings that may be different from one’s own. Therefore, it is wise to ask others about their feelings, opinions. and points of view to begin to understand that people are different from oneself and need regard and respect.
  • Teaching the narcissist to carefully listen to others without interruption and then paraphrase what has been said is a difficult but good start.
  • Envy is a very sensitive subject. Empathizing with the narcissist’s feelings of envy, shame, failure or sense of inadequacy can gently be done to assuage these deep feelings.
  • Arrogance is very hard to stop because the person actually usually feels inferior and inadequate and their haughty attitude is a defense. Empathizing with these feelings may help the person loosen their guard if they don’t feel criticized but cared for.

Related: How to Talk to a Narcissist

In general, it might seem ironic, but the narcissist needs a great deal of empathy without judgment. The narcissist may unconsciously feel empty inside and have missed out on early formative love and support or have, on the contrary, been incorrectly indulged producing their sense of grandiosity and unwarranted power.

This is why only highly trained mental health professionals can, over a long treatment, actually stop someone from being a narcissist. This person needn’t be regarded as bad but in need of great care and understanding. They are in emotional pain.

Dr. Nahid Dave, MBBS, DPM, MD

Nahid Dave

Psychiatrist

The catch is that most narcissists live in denial, they rationalize their behavior or are even infuriated if the term narcissist is suggested to them. There is a lack of insight.

Contrary to popular belief that they are overconfident and haughty, narcissism is actually an overcompensation for low self-esteem and an ‘avoiding pain’ strategy. A narcissist is often not aware of this fact.

It’s a maladaptive defense mechanism, which avoids pain and involves excessive self-investment. Poor emotional strength is a hallmark, so they cushion themselves with justifications and evidence.

A narcissist is incapable of seeing another person’s pain or complaint as he doesn’t allow himself to be vulnerable emotionally. There could be a past history of childhood trauma, bullying or inferiority complex during teenage or childhood.

The possibility of over-controlling parents also is likely. The people in close relationship with a narcissist often suffer as their needs are ignored.

Here are some ways to help yourself as a narcissist:

Introducing yourself to the possibility of there being two or more right answers

Most of the time they think if I am sure I am right the other person has to be wrong but it is possible to have two or more right answers depending on perspective.

For e.g.; It is possible that the best form of physical exercise could be yoga, running or gym. Each individual may find any of these answers right.

Be open for feedback

Collecting anonymous feedback from colleagues and friends about changes or problems people have from you so you can get an evaluation of behavior.

Being more in touch with the present moment

Listen to what people say instead of facing each day, person and situation with prejudice.

Identify past trauma

Try to notice if you’re avoiding any pain or trauma in your current life or in the past.

Compassion

Compassion is not necessarily an inherent virtue but a skill that can be learned. Compassion toward self and others can be cultivated.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula

Ramani Durvasula

Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Professor |
Author, “Don’t You Know Who I Am?”: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility

To be a narcissist is to have the noise of your own insecurity and need for validation to drown out the needs of others.

A sure-fire way to get your narcissism under control is old fashioned mindfulness – stop, think, and respond accordingly

For narcissists, they tend to operate from a place of arrogance and entitlement, and perhaps if you could stop and insert the other person into the story, you can write a story that actually accounts for two characters.

Most narcissists talk first and apologize later, by simply pausing, and waiting before responding, a narcissistic person has an opportunity to get it right some of the time.

Dr. Sherrie Campbell

Sherrie Campbell

Clinical Psychologist | Inspirational Speaker | 
Author, But It’s Your Family: Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members and Loving Yourself in the Aftermath

The first thing that you need to do is work on developing empathy and perspective-taking

Narcissism is very hard to change because narcissistic people operate with very little insight, therefore, they are unable to care about or understand the consequences of their actions on other people.

Get into therapy

If someone would like to try and not be narcissistic they need to get into therapy and work actively on becoming a more aware person and a more aware feeler thinker and do her.

Most narcissists have no clue that they are narcissistic and if they do have a clue they don’t care for this reason many of them never change and find a therapy annoying because they believe they already have the skills of empathy and perspective-taking.

Rachel Levenson, Ph.D.

Rachel Levenson

Founder, CLARITY Health | Clinical & Forensic Psychologist | Clinical Professor & Supervisor, Yeshiva University

You can’t talk a narcissist out of being a narcissist

Narcissists typically present with an inflated ego to hide vast insecurities. They act superior with an exaggerated sense of self-importance because they actually feel weak and afraid that their vulnerability might be revealed.

Engage in psychotherapy

People with narcissistic traits would do best to participate in psychotherapy to address their underlying poor self-esteem and to develop self-compassion. With time and attention paid to emotional bruises, a narcissist may – over time – feel less of a need to puff up his or her chest.

Michael Cavallaro

Michael Cavallaro

Founder, Living Concepts, LLC | Therapist | Family Outreach Counselor

Stopping narcissism is not like being a smoker or overeater. It is intertwined with the identity and belief system of the person who has it and therefore is almost never seen by the person who is one. This is why they almost never understand why they are being accused of being narcissistic.

When dealing with a narcissist, you are dealing with a person who is unconscious in regards to what really is driving their behaviors. They will usually see nothing wrong with what they are doing or not care because it is a part of them not just a set of behaviors.

They are unable or unwilling to step out of this way of being due to the great and paralyzing fear that lies within all of their abusive or selfish behaviors.

Related: What Is Narcissistic Abuse?

Sometimes the subconscious fear is equal to the fear of dying if they stop doing what they do. Their unconscious mind is protecting them from re-experiencing the feelings of their traumas by staying so occupied on serving their needs no matter what it does to others. It is all about their needs being met to avoid the pain.

There are 10 things required to recover from narcissism. The individual must…

  • Recognize they are a narcissist or at least have the behaviors of one.
  • Admit to being one or having the qualities of one.
  • Have a sincere desire to change.
  • Get assistance, the average person cannot do it alone.
  • Learn new skills and apply them daily.
  • Change their belief systems.
  • Heal their wounds.
  • Change their misperceptions and misunderstandings of the world, others and themselves.
  • Do the previous steps for themselves first and foremost.
  • Forgive themselves and others for all transgressions.

Louis Laves-Webb LCSW, LPC-S

Louis Laves-Webb

Psychotherapist | Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Narcissism by definition pertains to a severe lack of empathy. More specifically, narcissistic individuals tend to use people as if they were objects rather than forming genuine relationships with them.

A quote I like on this matter goes something like “Love people and use things because the opposite never works.” The issue the narcissist must overcome, then, is reversing this narrative they have backward.

Self-reflection

In my experience as a psychotherapist, reducing narcissistic tendencies is a time-consuming process that involves a lot of painful self-reflection. It is definitely possible, but the individual must go into therapy with a genuine commitment to self-betterment.

Learn to accept the blame for problems rather than pushing them onto other people

One of the most difficult parts during therapy for a narcissist can be learning to accept criticism. Narcissists are notoriously good at deflecting criticism. They take control of any conversation by ignoring any negative feedback and attacking others.

In short, to stop being a narcissist, an individual needs to want to stop being a narcissist

This involves a hint of self-awareness narcissists normally lack. This hint can act as the spark that lights the flame to their self-realization.

Katie Ziskind, LMFT

Katie Ziskind

Owner, Wisdom Within Counseling

If you are a narcissist, it’s important to seek therapy to gain self-awareness

Usually, narcissistic people tend to be really selfish and only think of themselves. Often, these behaviors have been learned from childhood, because it wasn’t safe to show emotion.

Narcissists often learn how to be aggressive or passive-aggressive when it comes to relationships. A narcissist often have major trust issues because of childhood trauma as the root of their narcissism. Also, narcissists will often blame others and twist situations around to make the victim feel guilty.

A narcissist often have endured some level of verbal, sexual, or physical abuse as children and this is why they’ve developed narcissistic tendencies as adults.

For one, start out by being kind with your words, compassionate to yourself, and truly listening to others. Don’t try to be the person with the upper hand. Don’t try to blame others. Start to really be real with your emotions, journal, cry, and connect with yourself. If you notice that you’re blaming someone else, take accountability and look at your part.

Narcissistic people tend to think only about their needs, what they want to accomplish in life, and push everyone else out of the way as a result. By working on yourself in professional counseling and therapy, you can overcome narcissistic tendencies and learn to love more openly. You may find that you make more friends to!

Shirley Baldwin

Shirley Baldwin

Relationship Coach | Transformational Life Coach, Get What You Want 

Narcissism is a personality disorder classified as one who has an elevated sense of self, shows little to no empathy, craves admiration and praise, uses people like pawns in their life, among other self-indulgent behaviors.

For a narcissist to admit that they are truly that, would be half the battle to overcome it

Is it possible? I say, “Yes”. But if a narcissist is seeking help, on their own, are they actually a clinical case? How one relates to others is what defines one as a narcissist.

Usually, the behavior is brought up by someone living with them that can no longer adequately deal or relate to this behavior. It definitely takes others to be in participation with a recovering narcissist. They have a need to feel special.

I feel that if the narcissist feels special because someone is admiring and praising them for good behavior, it would work to propagate that same good behavior. So in a sense, the narcissist can be retrained to shift and relate on a more empathetic level, but may still have some underlying, narcissistic behaviors.

Some experts say that psychotherapy is the only way to treat narcissism, but from personal experience and working with clients that are in a relationship with a narcissist, I believe that learning ways to relate to/with them, could be just as effective in helping them overcome or at least temper their behaviors.

Adina Mahalli (MCT)

Adina-Mahalli

Certified Mental Health Consultant, Maple Holistics

Stop belittling

Narcissists make themselves feel big by making others feel small. In an attempt to stop being a narcissist, actively stop yourself from belittling those around you. Whether that’s by holding back on snarky comments or just by acknowledging that someone is better than you in a particular way.

This also includes not blaming others for your shortcomings. When something falls under your watch, hold back from looking for others to blame as a loophole to keep yourself on top.

Listen

If you find that you talk more than you listen, you’re displaying narcissistic personality traits. To stop being a narcissist you need to actively listen to those around you. This means asking questions and making sure that the conversation doesn’t always somehow end up back on you.

Challenge yourself to go a certain amount of time in a conversation without talking about yourself and your own experiences or achievements.

Ellen Biros, MS, LCSW

Ellen Biros

Psychotherapist | Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The following are several tips for change:

  • Learn to take responsibility for your part in things.
  • Develop empathetic responses to others.
  • Stop talking about yourself so much.
  • Learn to be grateful for what you have.
  • Stop requiring others to be responsible for your happiness.