The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Many people wonder how narcissists can seem to be OK one minute and crazy, violent, hysterical or totally cold the next. The thing is, this is a misunderstanding of how the personality works. People sometimes say things like, "I just want them to act normally!" But they are acting normally. This is their normal. They've never been any other way, and if you choose to deal with pathologically narcissistic people on any level, you have to accept that this is the way they are. The "good" aspects of their personality cannot and do not exist without the rest of it. It's a package deal.
It's always best not to deal with narcissistic people when they have been identified, but for many reasons, people can and often do choose to continue all types of relationships with narcissists: family, friends, romantic... Managing the relationship and the amount of stress it causes is crucial in these situations. So much of the stress caused by dealing with pathologically narcissistic people is rooted in the idea that one day, the "bad" side of their personality will be mitigated and even disappear, or that the "good" side can be reached and somehow brought out all the time. But this is not a realistic expectation. These aspects all exist together. They are not independent of each other; they are parts of the same whole. You can't have one without the others. If someone is going to have any kind of relationship with a narcissist, they need to understand and accept that this is how it is. Otherwise, the stress will be intolerable.
You Can't Change Them
It's important to realize that, even if you really want them to change these things and even if (at times) they really want to change too, the odds are very long that they will be able to do so. Pathologically narcissistic people are often dealing with arrested emotional development, among other problems. It may be that they are unable to change these things, and even if they are able to do so, it can be very hard and very painful. Many people are just not up to something like that, whether they are narcissistic or not. A pathologically narcissistic person with limited emotional resources or understanding, and zero coping mechanisms beyond the maladaptive ones they've been using their whole lives may simply be unable to even try. And even if they could at least try, they likely don't want to. They know only their ways to get their needs met and the idea of giving these up is like trying to learn to breathe through your ears.
The goal of the pathologically narcissistic person is protection of the self, not healing. Because as humans we must hurt in order to heal, this goes against their prime directive. The fact that such obsessive protection would no longer be necessary if they could in fact heal is information without meaning. A life where such aggressive protection of the self is not necessary is probably unimaginable for narcissists, and if it were, it would likely be seen as similar to having to swim through shark-infested waters to freedom with meat tied around your neck and 25 lb. weights attached to your feet. In other words, too dangerous to attempt. Many just can't do it.
Even if they can succeed at changing some of their behaviors, the mindset and motivations behind these behaviors is not different. Often, they simply change one manipulative or abusive behavior for another. For example, a person who was physically violent may stop being physically abusive but start betraying the relationship in other ways. A person who created financial catastrophes may stop over-spending but create emotional crises and catastrophes instead. The part of their personality that drives this behavior is not going to go away, and that's why: it's part of their personality. It exists alongside the "good" parts of their personality and is inextricably entwined with them. It can't be separated, so if you're going to deal with this person, it's important to understand that these things are not separate. They are the same. The "good" person you love and the "bad" person you hate or fear are the same person.
You Can't Separate the Jekyll From the Hyde
Both of these "sides" and every other one they show are equally genuine, whatever that actually means. They really are that amazing sometimes and they really are that terrible sometimes. They also aren't either of these things. They are both and they are neither. It seems impossible, and in a balanced, integrated person, it usually is. But the pathologically narcissistic person has a fractured or "split" personality. It's similar to the phenomenon of multiple personalities, although in a narcissist these pieces are not fully-formed personalities at all, but rather parts of a larger whole. These different parts are not integrated or cohesive; they exist apart from each other rather than in balance and in some narcissists, they are totally denied. It's a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation, except the narcissist is usually not unaware of the existence of this "bad side" because it's not separate. They know it's there. They are in denial of it. This of course causes it to get stronger and stronger until the entire focus of their existence becomes about denying it. Healing would require the acknowledgment of these things; facing things they've spent their entire lives running from. It's just unlikely that is ever going to happen and even if it did, it still may not end up helping anything. Narcissists that are forced to face these things with no coping mechanisms or other protections can end up suicidal.
If you choose to deal with narcissistic people on any level, it is very important to understand that you have to accept the bad with the good. These things are inseparable, and you cannot have one without the other because they are both part of the same person. This is their normal and whether it's because they can't or they won't, it's not likely to change. It's necessary to adjust expectations in order to manage the relationship and the amount of stress it causes you. It's not possible to control the behavior of other people and you cannot love the pathology out of somebody, so if you want a narcissistic person in your life, you're going to have to take the good with the bad because they can't be separated. People often feel as if they are dealing with two different people (or more) when dealing with a pathologically narcissistic person, but they are not. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are not different people. The reality is that Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde and that's just how it is.
Kwena Ray-Danielz on November 23, 2019:
This is very bad. My wife and ex wife are both nassacists and my whole life is cursed with this kind of people. Never thought I would ever have tolerance i have shown up till so far. Maybe it's because of my lovely kids who were never spared the wrath of their mad mother.