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Can a Narcissist be Cured? February 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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This is the poster that hung in Agent Fox Mulder's X-Files office.

When I first started researching Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I goggled “flirtation,” as my narcissistic friend “Joe” was a chronic flirt. It was actually embarrassing to be with him when he was in “turn on the charm” mode. Think: Small boy showing off in front of his mother’s friends. Yeah, it was THAT bad.

I stumbled upon A long post about flirtation, validation, and conversion on Hugo Schwyzer’s blog. Hugo, a professor at Pasadena City College, is a prolific blogger (219 posts on blogging alone!)

Over my Winter Break (the holiday formerly known as Christmas Vacation), I was on Facebook wasting some quality time. I noticed that one of my friends had commented on a photo Hugo Schwyzer had posted. I recognized his name and sure enough, I still had his post bookmarked. I sent him a message via Facebook telling him how I enjoyed his writing along with a link to my Close Encounter with a Narcissist.

No reply from Hugo, but several days later I noticed an incoming link from his blog. Not only had Hugo read Close Encounter with a Narcissist, but he had written an entire post in response to it.

What I didn’t know was that Hugo had been repeatedly diagnosed with a Cluster B Personality Disorder (Borderline was always the default diagnosis) starting in college. He has written numerous posts about his self-destructive behavior, suicide attempts, voluntary hospitalizations, and three marriages (followed by three divorces) – all before he hit the big 3-5. (You’ll find these under “Addictions and Mental Illness” and “Narcissism and Borderline Personality.”) Hugo is a prolific writer. He writes with intelligence and insight and has plumbed every detail of his life ad nauseam.  Whether you agree with Hugo or not, it’s always an interesting read.

In his post “Turning down the volume on KHGO”: Reflections on overcoming a personality disorder, Hugo urged his readers “to read all three of my excellent pieces,” but took issue with this statement I made (a mishmash of many other’s quotes): “So someone doesn’t have a personality disorder, they ARE the personality disorder. These personality traits are so deeply ingrained that they defy change.”

Hugo goes to great lengths to detail how far he’s come since he got clean and sober, and found God. If he were an attorney, I might be tempted to say he presents a strong case for the defense. His own.  He believes it’s possible for someone with a personality disorder to change –  if they really want to, and offers himself as proof. Yet even Hugo acknowledges that it’s an ongoing struggle – making him a work in progress.

Here’s the comment I wrote in response to his post.

I found your post interesting and have taken several days to “sit on it.” Yes, I’ve had numerous visitors to my blog planetjan. (Hugo sent me!) Thank you very much.

It’s ironic that your name and picture popped up on Facebook through a mutual friend. I recognized your name. Sure enough, I still had your post on flirtation bookmarked from two years ago, when I was first researching NPD.

I hadn’t read any of your other posts about your hospitalizations and diagnoses, but now I have. I appreciate your honesty and candor as one of my sons has OCD and also spent a stint as a minor at Las Encinas due to drug-related problems. I had to laugh when you described how cute the nurses thought it was that you wore duck slippers, as that sounds so much like my son.

Though you obviously have narcissistic tendencies (but on some days, so do I), ultimately you don’t seem grandiose (in the clinical sense), which is what distinguishes NPD from the other Cluster B disorders. Sam Vaknin, himself a narcissist, said that “self-reflection is the antonym of narcissism.”

Narcissists, as a rule, are not self-destructive, and none I know have ever shown self-destructive tendencies (other than substance abuse). None have sought help from a therapist (unless they were literally dragged there by a significant other) as they were convinced they didn’t have a problem. I tend to agree with Emily’s comment above. My friends in 12-step programs are quick to point out that they are always “recovering,” as opposed to “cured.”

So, from my own (albeit limited) experience, I’d give you a clean bill of health when it comes to NPD. Narcissism, though, is like a ground fog that swirls about ALL of the Cluster B disorders.

Your relentless introspection runs contrary to this diagnosis. BTW, your sponsor sounds like a wise and very patient man. I imagine when you did Step 10 – “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it,” you took it to the nth degree! I say this with all due sincerity.  Jan

I want to believe. No, make that I wanted to believe. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to believe it WAS possible for Joe to change, especially once I’d seen beneath the mask. I felt his pain, yet any attempt to go “there” with Joe was an exercise in futility. Despite the countless seminars he attended so he could learn to “relate” to women and deal with his “boundary issues,” it all came down to this – he was going through the motions. Nothing every changed for Joe. Nothing ever will. I take no joy in saying this.

My concern is for the Narcissist’s victims who tell themselves, “If I just try harder to communicate my feelings, or bend over backwards, or walk on water, I know he/she will finally ‘get it.'”  They want to believe. They want to believe they can help the Narcissist actually feel something. Something real.

People have asked Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited, if having insight into his own narcissism has enabled him to change for the better. Sam’s answer is a resounding NO. Sure, he can change on a superficial level if it so suits him, but not at a deeper level. Not in his heart. But doesn’t Sam’s willingness to share his knowledge about Narcissistic Personality Disorder prove that he possesses that ever elusive quality the rest of us call “empathy?”  Sam pulls no punches. Being a poster-boy for NPD is a major source of Narcissistic Supply (NS). Period.  

I don’t believe for a minute that Hugo has NPD (Borderline maybe, but not NPD). Hugo’s relentless self-examination runs contrary to everything I’ve learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  So, ergo Hugo. But I like to keep an open mind. Read Hugo’s posts and see what you think. The Truth is out there.

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Comments»

1. bindo - February 19, 2009

If one lives long enough..
Say, like over 50 years and more accurately, 60 or 70, the SYMPTOMS lessen due to the hammering effect life has on one prone to living many years, and can create the semblance of a so called (normal) life; whatever that means. But cured, as in what any solipsistic, self-aggrandizing M.D. might proclaim?

Forget it

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2. lilikaofthelake - February 26, 2009

I am truly believing more and more everyday that what Steiner and Waldorf say is true – You are who you are going to be by the end of third grade. I do not think there is so much a cure as a channel for these types of tendencies. I also believe that if the Parent is aware (which in itself is a conundrum being the mother is usually the enabler) then the parent can help to foster equal and neutralizing character (EQ) characteristics that will bring balance to the whole person. Ovid had it right, the cult of personality and the fixation on one’s image leads us in modern times to do barbaric and bizzare things to keep our “beauty”. It is a great Myth to share with children (of all ages).
Thought you might like this -http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/1565.html
Harvard Biz. Schools take.
More thoughts on Myths and stories please. You have a way with it…

lilikaofthelake-Thanks for the link to the Harvard Business School site. It was an informative article, but again, it dealt with narcissism, or narcissistic traits, but not necessarily NPD. What I did find so interesting in this article was the idea that often in the workplace a narcissist solicits a “sidekick.” I could so relate to that as my friend “Joe” often referred to me as his “assistant.” So NOT! My job was to sit and look awestruck by his every move.
And YES, I agree with you and Steiner and Waldorf. By the time children arrive in 3rd grade they, more likely than not, are who they are. I’d love to think that I could be the change they so need, and I’ve often nearly killed myself trying, but unfortunately usually what’s done is done. Those early years are SO important. Jan

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3. Deb - March 20, 2009

HI Jan,

I first read this post a few weeks back. I went and read over at Hugo’s site too. It was a search on narcissism that first landed me at your site. It’s taken me this long to form a response. ;)

I am thankful for Hugo Schwyzer and you for bringing this information out in the light of day.

Most NPD’s never ever know they are !!! So the potential for a cure is probably a mute point for most.

Jan you know the emotional damage from your association with this friend, Joe, can you even begin to imagine the carnage IF the NPD is a mother or father? I have a friend who is the daughter of an undiagnosed NPD mother.

Thanks again for putting the information out there.

xo xo
Deb

Deb- Thanks so much. I’ve learned so much from the comments people have left on my “Close Encounter with a Narcissist” series, especially from those who grew up with parents with NPD. No, i can’t imagine what it would be like to have a parent who constantly undermines your every achievement and that sense of never being “good enough.” It’s just another form of child abuse. The scars may not be physical, but the damage is done. Education is the beginning to the healing process. Deb, I count you as one of the enlightened ones. :) Jan

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4. sadomasochisticnarcissist - March 24, 2011

Wow this interesting and just read the other blogs as well, fascinating. I’ve always been described as being “different,” “weird” and “socially inept.” Since a very young age. I never quite “fit in” at school and although described as being a “sensitive,” child. I never understood, validated or expressed emotion as was expected and often got in to trouble for this at school. As an adolescent this manifested in to emotional repression, which was a coping mechanism that has continued in to adulthood. A lot of the behaviours described resonates within me and it’s almost as if I am reading about myself, though I do have a couple of very non-narcissistic traits that maybe of interest. 1) I am very self destructive, both physically and emotionally. This is where the sadomasochism comes in to play. I will be posting on my blog about this in the very near future .
2) I am very independent and do not need NS. I am content in my own company and not co-dependent in any way but still very much lack empathy and although I crave it, I fear and am uncomfortable with emotional intimacy (I have found sources suggesting this enters the realms of psychopathic tendencies)? . . . I am not capable of sharing my feelings. The last time I tried I clammed up and felt physically sick and ended up making, what was apparently a highly inappropriate “joke,” well I was alaughing, point proven I guess.

SMN –
I find your comments interesting since I work with children (ages 7-10) and have had students over the years who just didn’t fit in socially. I’m always wondering what’s going on in their heads as often they have a hard time verbalizing emotions.

In regards to N’s not being self-destructive, I do believe that most have an uncanny ability to shoot themselves in the foot. In that sense, they ARE self-destructive. Due to their inability to connect in a meaningful way, all of their relationships are doomed. I witnessed “Joe” chase after women who made it clear they had no romantic interest in him, but he persisted until they rejected him. So in that sense, he was self destructive. Because he often felt like The Rules did not apply to him – he showed up to work and meetings late. It was as though he wanted to see what he could get away with. It was not a smooth career move, so in that sense it was self-destructive. Jan

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5. sadomasochisticnarcissist - March 28, 2011

That’s an interesting take on self destruction. I am a bit of a rule breaker by nature and sometimes this is because I just don’t care. I am self destructive emotionally, especially in relationships, the reason I am writing this. I am also self destructive physically and mentally in many ways.

I am interested . . . how did “Joe” respond to rejection? It’s one of my biggest fears and really dents my ego. I struggle to accept that someone does not find me desirable or care about me. Especially if I do feel something for them.

SMN – There was a woman he had met at a seminar who hadn’t returned his calls. I was with him when she finally called back, and Joe was ecstatic. He asked her out to dinner. A month later he told me that at the last minute, she “something had come up,” so she could only meet him for 15 minutes. A week later, he asked her to meet him at a club, and she stood him up. She called several days later when she knew he wouldn’t be able to answer his phone and left a lame excuse. He was livid! This was a woman was the same woman who’d told him that he didn’t know how to communicate, so she’d been trying to tell him from Day One that she just wasn’t that into him. But Joe was all the more drawn to her because she wasn’t interested. He was scheduled to go to a second seminar and called to make sure she would not be a facilitator. From that day on, she did not exist. I was actually surprised he told all this to me. I think that me knowing what I did hastened the D&D.
Jan

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6. Deb - March 28, 2011

Hello SMN,

I hope you don’t mind my chiming in on your comment here.
Jan’s original post was over 2 years ago, but I must have signed up to have comments emailed to me because I received a message notifying me of a comment.

After reading your comments here, I went to your blog and read your posts.
Having your own blog and expressing yourself is a wonderful way to get stuff out.

I was wondering how long you contemplated creating your blog before you actually started it?
Was that a struggle for you?

I’ve been writing my blog for over 5 years now. It was about 2 years into my blog that I had a coming out post. When I say ‘coming out’, I don’t mean that in a sexual way, but in being more forthcoming with my views. Awww heck, I might as well include a link to that post. :)

http://deb_inside.typepad.com/deb_inside/2007/04/welcome_to_my_d.html

SMN, I’m going to add your blog feed to my reader page so I can keep up and read your posts.

I would like to add that I don’t see a person with NPD EVER questioning a thing about themselves. They are perfect such as they are!

Hi Deb!
I also have NEVER seen a person with NPD questioning a thing about themselves. BTW early on I liked the way my friend and fellow blogger Catherine Sherman replied to comments at the end of the actual comment. That way my face is not all over the place and half of the “comments” are not mine. The down side, I only recently realized is that people who sign up to be notified of responses to their comments are not automatically notified
.

Again, I’m with you. People with NPD don’t see that they have a problem.
Jan

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7. KT - April 3, 2011

I think we can all find moments where we exhibit characterists that we would define as Narcissistic, but I think there is a difference between the occational moment of of narcissism and the full blown disorder. I agree, I don’t think Narcissists question themselves ever. Anything negative is always the other person’s fault, it has to be. That is how they continue to move forward, they are always the victim. If they cheated, their spouse either cheated first, was thinking about cheating or did not give them what they needed (and thus forcing them to cheat). It’s amazing the stories they create in order to have the world work the way they want it to. It’s scary to see what lack of empathy does to a person’s ability to relate and care for others.

KT – Several of Deb’s links on the next comment are to great articles. One study found that narcissists ARE actually aware that they’re narcissistic, but chalk up people’s negative reactions to them as proof that other people are not smart enough to recognize how wonderful they are! It’s interesting reading. Jan

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8. Deb - April 5, 2011

Just saw this article and thought I would share it…… First I was only going to email it to you Jan, and then I thought… hmmm I’ll just add it here under a comment.

Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.
Cognitive Scientist and Personality Psychologist; NYU Professor

Posted: 04/ 3/11 11:54 AM ET

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-barry-kaufman/do-narcissists-know-they-_b_840894.html

Deb,
Thanks! This is a great article and links to several other excellent ones as well. I particularly liked the link to “narcissists being masters of first impressions.” It’s way interesting. Jan

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9. sadomasochisticnarcissist - April 5, 2011

Hi Deb,

Thanks for taking an interest in my blog. I have contemplated writing one for years but never had the motivation. I’ve never thought of myself as a narcissist until recntly due to events which led me to write this blog. It was actually the person who is the reason for me embarking on this plan who first made me aware of this and my sister mentioning to me that she felt I had a condition related to autism because of my reaction to emotions and lack of empathy. I found myself just going around in circles and felt I needed to devise a strategy to deal with it and wanted to share my experience, hence the blog. Thank you for the links you’ve provided. I will check them out and get back to you in due course. I find it interesting that so far it is agreed that a true NPD would not question themselves, it gives me some hope at least!

SM,
Notice that I’ve eliminated the “N.” Those with NPD don’t feel the need to change. I believe I originally wrote a comment on your blog mentioning Aspergers. I imagine that is what your sister brought up. I’ve had four extremely bright students who had this disorder. They were all sensitive but clueless when it came to social interactions. Somewhere I actually have a link to a blog written by a woman with Aspergers.

Also those with NPD crave Narcissistic Supply (NS) like a drug addict. The fact that you’re “independent” and content without others seems to rule out the N in SMN. That’s my thinking ATM. Jan

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nogooddeedgoesunpunished - February 25, 2012

Plus NPD don’t much say “thank you”.

Nogooddeed,
They can say it sarcastically, dismissively, insincerely! I replied to your other comment last night. It took me awhile to recover from my Friday frenzy. :) Jan

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10. sadomasochisticnarcissist - April 14, 2011

Hi Jan, I think you’re right I believe that’s probably what she meant, yes. I have known a couple of people with Asperger’s but they were a little different to me. They appeared to be completely oblivious and unobservent to their surroundings. I’m quite the opposite, which enables me to manipulate and play games when I want to. What I don’t have is an understanding of emotions or what I term, a capacity for emotional intelligence. When you say the students were “sensitive,” do you mean by how they reacted to others perceptions of them?

OK so perhaps I don’t have NPD per say, but I still believe I have a lot of narcissistic symptoms.

SM,
Sensitive in that they often felt left out or slighted by other students. Other children often did not “get” them, so they had difficulty working in a group whether it was for classwork or at recess. All were boys, and all were amazing artists with an eye for detail. I don’t recall any of them having a mean bone in their body though they could get frustrated and act out. I don’t believe any of them though would “manipulate and play games” with other people. That might be the aspect of you personality that you might want to focus on. Jan

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11. White Rabbit - January 8, 2012

I’m following the current Internet brouhaha surrounding Hugo Schwyzer, and I stumbled upon this blog post. I wanted to comment on the following excerpt:

“Though you obviously have narcissistic tendencies (but on some days, so do I), ultimately you don’t seem grandiose (in the clinical sense), which is what distinguishes NPD from the other Cluster B disorders. Sam Vaknin, himself a narcissist, said that “self-reflection is the antonym of narcissism.”

A few points:

1) Just to emphasize the point, this man has a history of violence against women, as well as sleeping with his students.

2) Malignant Narcissists/NPD’s are MASTER MANIPULATORS. My ex is one, and he runs a blog where he is constantly “self-reflective.” Here’s the thing – there’s a difference between genuine self-reflection, and narcissistic navel-gazing. I think what Hugo offers is the latter, no matter how good he may be at spinning it for his audience’s consumption.

3) As for not seeming grandiose, this man with a past of abusing women/students now has both a career as a gender studies professor AND an enormous public platform as an “expert” on gender studies and feminist issues. This *screams* grandiosity to me. And he used his very past as an abuser to launch himself into the public spotlight – I find this very disturbing. If he’s genuinely working on himself, good for him, but the fact that he has knowingly turned the situation into a cash cow for himself screams grandiosity and calls his claims of healing into question.

I am sickened that Hugo has played his situation to the hilt for his own gain. Few people know the ugly details about NPD and abusive men. Not knowing about these things, I can understand why people would be inclined to want to believe that he has changed for the better. Knowing what I know – from research and firsthand experience with an NPD father and NPD ex – and reading Hugo’s posts, I’m just not buying that he’s gotten healthier. Every post Hugo writes, to this day, reads as shallow and self-serving to me. His writing is almost identical to my ex’s writing. And my ex has MANY people fooled that he’s a sweet, caring, genuine guy. Also, even Hugo writes about how he’s gotten better at camouflaging the symptoms – what?!?! That’s another way of saying “manipulating people into trusting me,” as far as I’m concerned. I find it telling that even he doesn’t see how transparent those admission are to someone who knows what to look for.

I also *want* to believe, but the experts on NPD have stressed over and over that very, very few of these people ever change for the better. Frankly, I’m guessing these few cases were just really good at pretending to have changed. And numerous MD’s have labeled Hugo NPD – I’m going to guess that they weren’t ALL wrong.

I also *want* to believe because I can’t imagine the existential hell that lies just beneath the surface of personality disorders, and I feel awful for these people. BUT I have seen the immense damage that these people cause, and I simply cannot take a Pollyanna-like view on the subject. I wish Hugo all the best, but I will never trust him, and I resent every day that he is given a platform on women’s issues.

White Rabbit,
Please note that I wrote this post almost three years ago. I actually haven’t read anything Hugo has written since. Overall, I found his writing to be self-serving, so I was never tempted to link to his blog or follow it. I don’t doubt what you say, but I personally have no knowledge of him being diagnosed as NPD by medical professionals. That doesn’t mean he isn’t NPD though. My thoughts at the time were that he did seem way more Borderline. I’d go through his more recent posts, but frankly, I have no great interest in his fixation on….himself. Thanks for providing an update and your take on him for what it’s worth. (For the record, I also find it strange when a man is an authority on Women’s Studies.) Jan

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12. Lilah - September 24, 2013

I understand that you addressed this above, but I had typed this whole comment out before I saw it, so I thought I would share my experience anyway, in case its useful. Obviously I have to be careful that my bitter doesn’t come out too strong.

I don’t believe for a minute that Hugo doesn’t have NPD. Perhaps its the 16 years I have spent with a narcissist, that could also be said to have BPD or anti-social personality disorder (though I think those traits-the lack of empathy-behaving like a mild sociopath-and amazing ability to manipulate-are core pieces of NPD) may give me a different perspective. From discovering I walked into a trap I never knew existed, to learning and relearning and relearning how to draw boundaries (internally and externally) with a person I couldn’t walk away from permanently, one of the sharpest skills I have honed is recognizing the NPD game. You can never win in it. Recognizing will never let you fix it, or come out on top as long as you’re engaging with it in any way, shape, or form. But in my (I still consider limited experience, because I am always learning new things) experience, you can’t know to put up your shields, avoid being sucked in, and draw hard and soft boundaries where necessary if you can’t recognize it.

The face on HS’s behavior is more clearly narcissism than a bill on a duck. Even before I tripped over his blog to see what his actual dx was, from watching just two sets of twitter explosions: one the tail end of his recent feminist meltdown to two his reinvention as a PWD, I went…oooh twitter, stop, just stop. This is a game you can’t win and he wins no matter the drama you interact with him. Stop feeding the vampire. He’s got the same thing that [my NPD person] does.

It looks just alike.

NPD’s absolutely can “admit” they have a problem if it will work to their advantage. I find this advantage primarily to be sucking in people, and convincing them to let down their guards. This admission of a problem is rarely real, though it *may* be real for the moment they are admitting it and then poof! not real again.

For an exceptionally skilled NPD this is a tremendous boon. Not only does it put you off their scent, but it plays into that maternal desire that seems to really attract hungry NPD’s to come fix the booboo. It disarms you and everyone around you, making you an easier target, and isolating you when you say…but….but….but and none of them believe you that it turns out he said x to them and then let you see his real face or vice versa..

Some of the most viscious NPD’s I have seen go to psychotherapists just to suck them in and use them in their twisted manipulations. Of course, I’ve never seen an NPD use NPD (albeit in a massive bundle of MI) as opposed to other things before HS, but its one of the features that tells me that Hugo is a master manipulator.

Once he draws all of his new supporters in and gets them hooked, it is only a matter of time before he either uses his MI (again) to launch himself into another position of authority to cultivate a whole new flock of bunnies to slaughter, or, barring that, chews up and spits these supporters and empathizers out.

Hugo strikes me as someone who is exceptionally skilled at using faux introspection as a red herring so that people won’t see what he really is, so he can keep attracting a base (doesn’t have to be the same base) of people patting him on the back until he chews THEM up an spits THEM out. He needs serious help, forever and ever. But I would bet my dollars to bottoms, from my years of experience, that Hugo absolutely is an NPD.

You are dead on in many of your things in this series of articles, especially idealize, devalue and discard, but some of the most skilled NPD’s keep the game going by making you discard them, even as they are really discarding you. Its a fabulously brilliant (and horrible) game of reel ‘em in and spit ‘em out. Sometimes the same people, and sometimes the same people to lure in new people.

Lilah,
Your comment is so raw and insightful that I took the liberty of fixing the duck’s anatomy. :) It’s the teacher in me. Yes, although I haven’t read Hugo’s blog in AGES, as he comes across as very narcissistic and what better position to have is you are a N than to teach college students?
I totally agree with you in that some Ns can feign introspection and even admit they have a “problem.” The N I had a close encounter with did admit that he had some “issues.” But ultimately, it’s what they do with this knowledge….and for a N, that’s absolutely nothing. Or these issues give them a Get Out of Jail Free Card.
You’re also right in that they treat many so poorly that they force the other person’s hand. The other person breaks up with them. In this way they can absolve themselves of the discard and the other person is left wondering if the outcome might have been different had they stayed. They’re left in a perpetual state of limbo.
Thanks for giving me something to think about.
Always, Jan

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