Healing the Oldest Wound: Can Psychopaths Change?


Conventional wisdom holds that psychopaths / sociopaths / narcissists / pick your favorite label can not change.  I have certainly never seen any evidence that change is possible in my dealings with psychopaths.  But I’m only one person, a survivor, and not an expert.  I read a very interesting article by someone who I assume from the reading self-identifies as a narcissist (please forgive me if I’ve misunderstood).  It’s a great article, and I added my own comment to the post (comment slightly edited for some typos and a couple of omissions I intended to include).  I’m pasting my comment below.  Please read the article and my comment.  I’d appreciate any thoughts offered.

For one reference, see Can Psychopaths Change? by Katherine Ramsland at the Crime Library.

For Survivors

Please do not assume your psychopath will change.  That is the mistake we all make and it is dangerous.  From my lived experience, the more we try to “love them out of their bad behavior and bad choices,” they only get worse no matter how sincere out love is.

My comment, and the link to the original author’s article:

From what I’ve read, your description matches much of what self-avowed sociopaths / narcissists / psychopaths / pick your favorite label say about themselves. At some early juncture, there becomes a “decision point” where they decided to be what the rest of us would consider “bad,” with traits of lacking empathy and having no conscience, and doing what they had to do to preserve the false sense of self. This must have occurred for you when you were sent away and your mother took your brother with her.

As someone who was possibly raised by a psychopath, I experienced a similar crisis point when, after my dad died, my mother watched and allowed me to be molested by a boyfriend, and I was probably about the same age range you were. I made the opposite choice and prayed, “Please God, let me be a good person.” I am not perfect, but I AM a decent person with empathy and conscience. The sacrifice for me was that I had to become somewhat invisible to survive, and to develop no boundaries, because I thought that being “invisible” would prevent me from hurting others and possibly protect me from further harm. I endured a lot of pain for that choice. At one and the same time, I had a very strong personality and sense of self, and yet in some ways, I was very malleable and had no sense of self at all.

It’s interesting to note that while I was involved with my *definitely* psychopathic wife (MY opinion), she DID behave better when I set ground rules and seemed to ask me to do that, yet at the same time, she maintained total control over me, and would not ALLOW me to set ground rules. The harder I tried, the more I got word salad, rage, the silent treatment, and even violence. As an empathic person, I tried my best to convince her that I loved her EXACTLY as she was, and that didn’t work whatsoever. Nothing I did was ever “good enough,” and no sacrifice (and I made many HUGE sacrifices) proved to her that I was there for her and loved her, regardless. It was a Shakespearean tragedy with no solution.

I don’t recall any narcissist / psychopath / sociopath / pick your favorite label writing anything so insightful or attempting to heal or being introspective and honest. I would add to your list of steps for healing — if someone offers you genuine love, accept it, honor it, and don’t assume that they don’t truly mean it. If you don’t feel empathy, you (or at least others on the psychopathic spectrum) know how to mimic it with your charm. Used in the right way, with good intentions and without the intent to deceive and exploit, or just not caring about the harm you cause others, you can accomplish great things because empathy is so needed in this world. And by doing that, and by keeping that promise to yourself, perhaps you can come to understand that you are a valued and valuable person, and heal and change. Conventional wisdom holds that psychopaths cannot change. I would really like to see some evidence that change IS possible for some!! Good luck!!!

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From Narcissism to Nirvana

This post is an extremely emotional one for me.  I spoke with my mother today.

I spoke to her about my truth and my darkness. We spent two hours, drifting in and out of tears, talking through the nature of my disorder and its impact on my life.

A few reflections on my early childhood are needed in order to explain the point of origin and the root-cause of my ‘break’ (the birth of the FALSE SELF).  This is what I believe occurred anyway…

View original post 1,456 more words


About DogDharma

Dog Dharma is written by a human who loves dogs and who believes dogs have attained enlightenment. The human behind Dog Dharma came from humble origins, has faced many trials, enjoyed many adventures, and taken a path less traveled. He claims no special privilege or expertise, and remains humble. Dog Dharma‘s author has learned a few things along the way, and has much yet to learn. He has been told by many people that he has a talent for writing, and aspires to write a book, but is a little too lazy and disorganized, so his blog will suffice for now. He opens a window into his life in the hope that some of his words may be of comfort, some may be a beacon or warning, and perhaps he will connect with like-minded souls. Everything shared comes from a place of openness and honesty, but with no claim that he possesses the Truth. People and places mentioned should be taken as pseudonyms. In many cases, details may be an amalgamation of actual events disguised to protect the “innocent.” Nothing written is to be taken as actual fact, but as the author of Dharma Dog‘s limited understanding. From the mouths of the Beatles: In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make
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8 Responses to Healing the Oldest Wound: Can Psychopaths Change?

  1. healingnarc says:

    I am the author of the original article. To answer your question, I have performed my own diagnostic within the article, but I also have a diagnoses from my therapist as well. He liked mine though – using the words ‘fucking brilliant’ (not a grandiose exaggeration). He just prefers we not use labels. The behaviors are what matters – changing those behaviors and giving me the opportunity to adapt and grow.


  2. healingnarc says:

    After a few moments of processing, I have a couple of additional comments. It’s really tough for me to keep seeing all of these types of articles and studies and what not that all indicate that the best I can hope for is to learn how to fake empathy.

    My goal is to touch what Thich Nhat Hanh calls Inter-being. I honestly believe that by intellectualizing this concept, meditating on it, and living with it in my heart, I can learn to touch it! If I can move beyond intellectualizing inter-being, I believe that empathy can and will begin to coalesce within me – for real.

    I see no other path to this goal though… ONLY the touching of Inter-being.


    • DogDharma says:

      healingnarc, I’m glad you commented. First off, I don’t distinguish between narcissists vs psychopaths vs sociopaths, etc, in my own blogging because I’m writing as a survivor expecting that what I write will mostly be read by survivors. From that standpoint, the subtleties of the “label” doesn’t matter because the patterns of behavior and the damage done are so similar. Even if the person doing the abusing is a “garden variety” louse who has some remorse or regret, the task of the survivor to learn, “It is not acceptable for anyone to treat me this way.” But this is hard to do until one first realizes one is being deceived, and deceived on purpose through various types of mind-games. Really too much to encapsulate in one reply. (I don’t like labels of any kind either anyway.)

      I’m only making the above point because I would imagine, for someone who has self-identified as a narcissist and who is trying to heal, the distinction between the “labels” would be of some importance on the healing journey. (I know you said your therapist doesn’t like labels, and again, I agree. They are fodder for “intellectualizing,” and not for true change. It’s just that in seeking out the etiology and the “why’s” of how one came to be the way one is, some degree of intellectualizing is unavoidable.)

      The other “intellectual” point I want to make is that, in my opinion, psychopathy (etc) is not an “either / or” phenomenon. It’s a continuum with gradations. And even that is probably simplifying matters too much. If a person scores 30 on Hare’s checklist, that person is certainly a psychopath. If a person scores 20 or above, that person has enough psychopath traits to be considered a psychopath — at least or especially from a survivor’s perspective. But what if a person scores 17, 18, or 19?

      The reason I’m making this second point is because I would think that the further a person falls toward the dark side of the continuum, the less likely it would be for the person to make real changes.

      Your post stunned me because I have read more than a few books, blogs, etc, by self-avowed sociopaths (whatever label). Without exception, all of them either justify, or worse, glorify, their behavior. I have seen no indication that they want to change, or even see a need to change. In fact, their sole purpose seems to be to exploit and promote their self-diagnosis to make money off of what has become a fashionable topic and to justify what they are.

      I was stunned by your post, and I re-blogged it, because I did sense sincerity in your desire to change, and I didn’t see a lot of self-aggrandizement and justifications of bad behaviors and bad choices. I regretted re-blogging your article, and posted about that earlier tonight. The reason why I regretted re-blogging your article is explained in that post — thinking that psychopaths (etc) can change is dangerous terrain for survivors and people still embroiled in psychopathic relationships. As survivors, we are given a constant diet of “I have changed” or “I will change,” which is just more purposeful deception. Can’t tell you how many times I went through that with my wife — and every single time I took the bait, she only became MORE cruel.

      All of the above is more or less a preamble. I really wanted to address your comment about “faking empathy.” I wasn’t intending to suggest that you “fake empathy,” which would likely morph into more of the “charm” and “love-bombing” survivors are used to seeing. I perhaps expressed my thinking inelegantly, but I was trying to say something along the lines of, “Change your behavior, and your inner-self will follow suit.” If you feel the urge to heap praise on someone, censor your behavior to be certain that the praise is genuine with no expectation of being perceived as “charming” or “lovable” as reward. Only give authentic praise, with no expectation of reward. Don’t lie about who you are or what you will do to gain affection. Censor what you promise so that you only promise what you can truly deliver. When you do that, I think you will find your integrity, your inner peace, and the change you want to become. I hope this makes a little more sense and is not off target. I think we’re both really saying the same thing in different ways.

      If you are reading Thich Nhat Hahn and learning about inter-being, you are DEFINITELY on the right track. Buddhism, in general, is fertile ground for learning compassion. If it weren’t, my blog wouldn’t be called DogDharma. 🙂 If you haven’t encountered it already, you might look into the Tibetan Buddhist meditative practice of tonglen. Perhaps a little less helpful on the heart-level, but a girding for the intellectual level, seek out a gentle biography of Milarepa. Much of hard-core Tibetan Buddhism is too esoteric and confusing for Western ears, but the story of Milarepa is the story of someone who overcame psychopathy.

      Kudos on your efforts. You have given me a lot to think about, and I wish you well on your journey. Words are limiting and frustrating. I can say the word “moon,” and I can point at the moon with my finger, but neither are THE moon. I hope you get my drift. Your journey is my journey and my journey is your journey, and we are all a thread in the fabric of the Whole. To the extent that we can feel Love and be Love, we can all progress toward the greater good. Metta, gassho, namaste.


  3. healingnarc says:

    All very well said – and I agree! Thank you for your words of support!


  4. healingnarc says:

    I have found my answer – and that answer is love. As corny as that may sound, it is now my truth. Thank you for being part of this gift of truth.


    • DogDharma says:

      Thank YOU. I haven’t had a chance to read your last posts, but I’ve thought about what I’ve read thus far, and you’ve given me some much-needed reminders in my healing journey as well. One of them is to go back to my roots of mindfulness as a way of dealing with pain, rather than less healthy Band-Aids. The other thing is that when we are absorbed in our own pain we forget the truth of Love that lies beneath it. Mindfulness is the key to reconnecting with our deeper, more True and Loving Selves, and that heals the pain. Wishing you well on journey and thanking you for being a part of mine.


      • healingnarc says:

        Thank you so much for that. Beautifully stated. Since my awakening I’ve written just one post that posses a challenge and offers the answers that I’ve found. It is the cure… it is love… and it cures more than just mental illness 😉


  5. healingnarc says:

    There is a list of 3 books and one CD that are now in a post I put up. These have been instrumental to me and I wanted to share them here.



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