I’ve always known that I’m a little narcissistic. However, I didn’t bother changing my ways because hey, it’s just part of my charm!
But then one day I realized that I’m hard to live with—that I keep hurting the people I love the most.
Luckily, I was able to change myself before it caused irreversible damage to my relationships.
Struggling with narcissism isn’t easy but it shouldn’t be that hard if you use tricks to combat the beast, or at least tame it.
Here are 13 things I’ve done to change my narcissistic ways:
1) I used my narcissism to my advantage
This trick is quite tacky but hey, it worked for me!
Being a narcissist naturally comes with being selfish. While generally a bad thing, you can use it to your advantage by identifying what you have to lose by continuing to be narcissistic.
What I found was that if I kept on being narcissistic—or, at least, openly narcissistic—friends and family would cut me off. And as much as I like being right, it isn’t worth being alone.
I make sure I’m reminded of this every single day, three times a day. I remind myself that friends and family are important. Otherwise, I will end up alone…and that’s not too admirable, is it?
If you’re like me, print out photos of your family and friends and put them on your wall, your fridge, or your wallet. If you notice yourself becoming too self-focused again, stare at the photos and remind yourself why you can’t continue being narcissistic.
2) I identified the things I wanted to change
You don’t just deal with something as big as narcissism in one go.
You fix it by working on the smaller things that come together to make it up. And that’s exactly what I did.
My first step was to identify what I wanted to change, and I suggest you do the same.
Chances are that you already know what you want—or need—to change, either from being told by others or coming to the realization yourself.
For example, maybe you have noticed that your friends stop talking to you and cut you off every time you try defending yourself without listening to their side. And maybe you had the same problem I had, where my idea of ‘defending’ myself involved shouting and cursing at them.
Get a notebook and write down everything that you think might be an issue. If you’re brave enough, ask a trusted friend to help you.
3) I identified my triggers
After knowing what I wanted to change, my next action was to identify what was causing me to act like that. It was easy enough for me to figure out the causes for some, but others were harder to pin down.
For example, you might think of yourself as an especially sensible person so when someone says something that contradicts or even outright opposes something you said, then you might just find yourself pushed into attacking them… because how dare they imply that you’re wrong!
In my case, I always felt that people were being unfair towards me so when friends insisted I was ever in the wrong, I got defensive and fought back like my self worth was trampled upon.
Again, get your notebook and list down the things and situations that bring out the worst in you.
4) I tried avoiding situations that would set me off
Knowing what I wanted to change and what caused me to act up, my next action was actually to take action. And one of the first things I did was to avoid putting myself into situations that would set me off.
In my case, my friends would insist that I was the one in the wrong when I kept telling them about how other people were disrespecting me or hurting me.
So even though it was hard for me to do, I resisted the urge to tell them about my problems with other people. They can’t tell me that I’m wrong if I don’t put them in a situation to tell me so!
It might seem lazy, but it’s a good first step to take in case you really can’t change your reactions or catch yourself from getting defensive when triggered.
Try meditation and other exercises that can develop self-control.
5) I identified what I have to gain by changing myself
Hiding your narcissism or running away from the situations that make it act up is easy enough. But if you truly want to make some bigger, more personal changes, then it might help for you to tell yourself what you have to gain by changing your reactions.
And once more, this draws on the selfishness that drives narcissism against it.
Try making a list of the things you want to achieve in life and then ask yourself how your narcissism—and the traits that come with it—gets in the way of your goals.
In my case, I wanted to have friends and to climb up my career. Being manipulative got in the way of the first goal, and my temper got in the way of the second.
This motivated me to try to find ways to avoid toying with others’ emotions, as well as to try to control my temper. It might just work for you too, so give it a try.
Print out photos of the life you want—your career, your kids, etc—and post this photo on your wall as a reminder that you must continue working on your personality to get there.
6) I tried to think about how my actions affect others
As a narcissist, it can be hard to care for others.
Maybe we’d be so self-absorbed that we simply fail to register how others feel, or maybe we just can’t bring ourselves to care about their troubles and hurts because it’s not happening to us.
In my case, it was the former. I was so busy thinking about what I was feeling that I brushed off any displays of emotion from others. Why should I care, when it doesn’t concern me at all?
That thinking went around and ruined me, of course, when people decided I was too stressed to have as a friend. So I had to change… which is easier said than done. I simply couldn’t empathize with whatever they were feeling simply by listening to their problems.
What I did was to imagine myself in their position, and that made it easier to relate with them. I tried to imagine how I would feel if, out of nowhere, a friend started ranting about his rotting marriage. I tried my best to learn how to be a mindful listener instead of focusing on myself.
Go sit in a cafe and try to imagine the life of other people. Try to really be in their shoes from the moment they wake up to the moment they sleep. Do this often and you’ll slowly become more empathetic.
7) I thought of what my ideal responses would be
We’re flawed but we can use our mistakes to our advantage.
I had to think of those times where my selfishness cost me and think about what my ideal response should have been. Were my words too harsh, or were they easily taken out of context?
A conversation I keep on thinking about over and over again was my last argument with someone who was one of my best friends. They had been trying to say that I was wrong to call them out in front of other people.
Looking back, they were still in the wrong, but the way I handled it—with shouting and threats —was not right either.
The best response would have been to acknowledge that it was wrong for me to call them out in public, and to stay calm.
The more I try to figure out what my ideal responses should have been, the more I’m aware of what kept me from figuring them out sooner. Do this, and you should also have a good idea for how you should respond in the future.
Recall all the times you got into fights because you’re a little too careless and insensitive with other people’s feelings. Play them in your head and think how the better version of you should have acted.
8) I started holding myself back from responding immediately
While running away from situations that ‘trigger’ your narcissism is good, you just can’t run away forever.
Sometimes it sneaks up on you, and sometimes you just can’t run away without making yourself look bad.
This is why I taught myself to hold back every time I feel tempted to lash out on someone.
Try doing it. When you feel your temper rising, keep your mouth shut and keep your keyboards off the keyboard until you have had at least 30 seconds to think things through.
Breathe and count to ten…or fifty.
Put yourself in the shoes of the future you, thinking back on this moment and wondering what your ideal response should have been.
This is why #7 is very important.
Read up on anger management and try to read up on ways to control your temper.
9) I started to think in the long term
A good piece of advice that someone told me after they pointed out my narcissistic tendencies is that whenever I feel like arguing or shouting at all, I should think about whether it will matter five years from now.
I thought it was ridiculous at first, but it is one of the most useful pieces of advice I got. When I felt like arguing and making a scene, I stopped and thought about it. The answer is, of course, no.
But if I chose to argue, then in five years or even five minutes, I would probably lose a friend and respect from others.
Do this, and you would narrow down the times when you’d get down and argue to those times when it truly matters.
Next time you feel triggered, ask yourself if it will still matter in five years.
10) I began giving other people room to talk
Everyone talks about those big moments when we get ‘triggered’ and go off on people, but us always talking about ourselves or making every little thing about us is also something that wears people down.
What I’ve done about this is to give people room to talk about themselves in conversations. It can be exhausting, keeping my mouth shut and trying to be interested in what someone else has to say for a change, but it’s what’s healthy.
So when talking with others, try to pay close attention to what you’re saying. Get other people talking, and maybe even ask them questions for a change. It takes some practice because we really want to share. But that’s how change is done.
Challenge yourself to listen more during conversations. If you feel like talking, keep it short. If you feel that you’re going to explode if you can’t share, write it in your journal instead.
11) I tried to stop thinking so much about “I” and “me”
In the fallout of a big argument between a friend and I, another friend pointed out that I kept on talking about “I” and “me”. I would talk about how much I was hurt, how little regard was given for MY needs, and how nobody seems to care for ME.
They went on to say that this obsession with “I” and “me” was exactly my problem.
I didn’t understand what they meant then, and ignored their words for a while. But now that I’ve had the time for them to really sink down, I realize just how true they are.
Pay attention every time your thoughts or words seem to be littered with more “I”, “me”, and “mine” than they should.
There’s a very high chance that your thoughts are in full narcissist swing when that happens.
12) I set goals and treated myself when I succeeded
It seems almost pointless, but it helped me a lot to set small goals and to give myself small rewards when I succeeded. It serves to motivate me and remind me of what I was trying to do.
For example, I had decided that if I were to go for a day without yelling at anyone or saying hurtful words, I would buy myself some ice cream, calories be damned.
We all need to feel good while we’re trying to achieve something and since trying to stop our narcissistic tendencies doesn’t have a direct reward (no one might even notice you’ve changed), so go ahead and do it yourself.
Choose a reward that you can give yourself and for that reward to be something you really want.
13) I asked a therapist for help
The thing with narcissism is that not everyone has it the same.
Some people struggle with its milder forms, and others struggle with the more severe ones. And then there are those who are simply selfish and thought they were narcissists even when they are not.
And while the items on this list helped me with my own narcissism well enough, I cannot deny that my efforts wouldn’t have gone as far without professional help.
You will want to look for someone who is qualified to treat narcissism or NPD to make sure that the person you’re talking to knows how to treat our condition. Someone not qualified for it might be unable to address the issue and maybe even make it worse.
And in case you’re someone who merely mistook immaturity and selfishness for narcissism, then a therapist can correct you before you get too far gone and convince yourself enough that you actually do become a true narcissist.
There’s a reason why self-diagnosis is something to be careful of. And while it might be expensive to keep paying for therapy, I would say it’s worth it in the end.
Some people insist that narcissism can’t be cured, and it can only be suppressed at best.
Others insist that it can indeed be cured. But no matter who is right here, it is true that so long as you have the awareness and desire to change for the better, you can!
Don’t think you can conquer narcissism in one go, and there’s no reason you should.
It’s not easy, and it will be a struggle that will leave you wondering if it’s even worth it at times, especially when you meet people who have decided to hate you and refuse to offer you a second chance.
But don’t be discouraged, because you have everything to gain from trying.
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