There is a difference between judgment and discernment. Discerning danger can save your life.
- No, they have not changed, nor are they likely to change.
As a researcher who also writes about psychologically abusive relationships, I frequently get letters from survivors asking me if it’s possible for an abusive, narcissistic partner to change. Theoretically, if someone is willing to change and puts an active and consistent effort into modifying their behavior every day, it may be possible, but for narcissists on the high end of the spectrum, this is highly unlikely to happen.
Throughout the course of this work, I’ve communicated with thousands of survivors who’ve had abusive relationships with malignant narcissists and have yet to hear one testimony attesting to an abusive partner changing long-term. What I do hear many stories of are abusive partners who temporarily shift their behavior to sweet and kind in order to hook their victims back into the abuse cycle. Once their victims are sufficiently invested again, their abusers revert back to their true cruelty and contempt. So if an abuser seems to be on his or her best behavior, beware. It’s likely he or she is merely biding their time before abusing once more.
I also hear horror stories of victims attending couples therapy, which serves as a site of further manipulation and invalidation for the victim. Even the National Domestic Violence Hotline advises against couples therapy for victims in abusive relationships, and it is no wonder why. Within the therapy space, the narcissistic abuser is able to triangulate the victim with the therapist, convince the therapist that the victim is the aggressor, and retraumatize the victim.
The therapist, if he or she is unaware of the abuser’s narcissistic tendencies and is not trauma-informed, will most likely focus on improving the victim’s reactions to the covert abuse rather than addressing the harmful and abusive behavior itself. A therapist who is not well-versed in narcissistic abuse can fail to see that no amount of self-improvement in the victim will ever “fix” the abusive dynamics of the relationship. The only type of therapy a victim should probably be pursuing is individual therapy with a trauma-informed professional who can help them heal from the abuse and detach from their abuser.
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