Chuck knew he was a jerk. He cheated on his wife several times, put his work before his family, rarely went to his kid’s activities, drank heavily on the rare occasions that he was home, and verbally berated anyone who challenged him. And yet, he was a highly successful businessman, intelligent about a wide range of topics, had numerous friends, and was charming (when he wanted to be). Nonetheless, despite getting his way most of the time, Chuck was miserable.
He toyed with counselors in the past, going only when needed to preserve his marriage, but not putting any real effort into changing. Instead, he would strategically turn the counselors against his wife over many sessions, leaving her a bigger mess than when they began. He was proud of his ability to manipulate situations that normally would be to his detriment into his benefit. This precise skill was used in business as well to make him far more successful than his natural abilities.
But here he was at the mid-point of his life, wondering what was it all for? He made money to spend it on cars, boats, and houses but these things just needed more money to exist. He was a rags-to-riches story but never seemed to fill the hole in his heart that told him, “You will never amount to anything.” He had sex to feel intimacy and connection but couldn’t feel satisfied. He had a family to secure a sense of belonging but instead found shame.
One counselor in years past had the courage to call him a narcissist. He forbade his family from returning to that therapist but now sought them out for his own work. Chuck didn’t want to be another typical mid-life crisis story. His life was already a series of mini mid-life crises. His superiority complex caused him to want to be different, he wanted to be more than what he had become. But how?
- Openness to hearing. Chuck wasn’t sure what needed to change or if he would do what was required but he was willing to listen. For the first time, he took what someone else said into consideration. Without an openness to listening, there is no positive outcome of a mid-life crisis, especially for a narcissist. The only one who can get a narcissist to hear, however, is the narcissist. No amount of begging or nagging will change a person unless they want the change.
- Examination of self. Chuck’s life was spent running from the things of his past that haunted him. His mother was extremely abusive physically and even crossed the line of sexually abuse on several occasions. This was a deep source of shame that Chuck carried and never spoke about to anyone. His numerous sexual partners were an attempt to heal, in a very unhealthy manner, from the abuse he experienced.
- Willingness to heal. Exposing his shame was difficult but Chuck recovered quickly once the trauma was exposed. Just because trauma is revealed, does not mean that a person is willing to heal from it. Most prefer to keep the trauma buried where it has been rather than walk through the path of healing. The path of least resistance is the easiest. Unresolved trauma is often used a way to remain a victim thereby getting more sympathy from others.
- Discovery of true self. After the trauma has been healed, a person is able to see their true self. This cannot be revealed through the veil of shame resulting from the trauma. Discovery of a person’s true self requires vulnerability and transparency. After Chuck healed from his trauma, he was able to see a more sensitive side, one that did care more about his family rather than his social status. He also returned to some hobbies he abandoned as a child such as playing the guitar and painting.
- Restitution for wrongs. Part of Chuck’s process was to recognize, acknowledge, admit, and apologize for the mistakes he made. His list was long, and it took a considerable amount of time and energy to apologize for his misdeeds. This humbling experience generates a lot of anger inside Chuck. Anger towards himself for messing up so much, anger towards others who were doing the same thing but not apologizing, and anger towards others who tolerated his jerky behavior. Processing his anger was no small task but when he was done, he felt free.
- Commitment to growth. Getting free from his past abuse and the mistakes he made was significant, but things don’t stop there. Chuck needed to make a commitment to continue to grow, learn and change. This was new to him. In the past, he was satisfied with his identity and felt no need to improve but now, he saw numerous areas of his life that he wanted to water. This commitment involved finding an accountability person that would be honest with him about other areas of improvement. This was a totally new concept to Chuck who in the past would have seen such an idea as a sign of weakness.
- Inspiration for others. Chuck used to think that his success was an inspiration to others. Now he viewed his material success in vain and decided that his inspiration should be in how different the second half of his life looked. He wanted to inspire others to change and show that an old dog can learn new tricks. As such, he recommitted himself to his marriage and kids. He also decided to change his business model to allow more flexibility in his schedule and more time for the things he enjoyed. This change was noticeable to nearly everyone around him.
Not all narcissistic change needs to end toward the negative. Sometimes, albeit rarely, a narcissist can change for the positive. And when they do, it is on a grand scale, true to their personality.