Ask Dr. Conte: How Can I Get a Narcissist to Admit They Have A Problem?

Can you help unaware narcissists who are in denial that they have any psychological or emotional issues?


Great question. You know, I have a tag line: There are two kinds of people in the world – people with issues and dead people. When I say this line, most people at least chuckle, and my experience has been that everyone agrees with it. However, I have noticed through the years that although people who are especially self-centered will agree with this statement, they seem to have a very difficult time identifying exactly what their issues are. It’s almost as if self-centered people will say “no one’s perfect” because it’s the socially acceptable thing to say, but when it comes to actually owning responsibility for their issues, well, that tends to be another story.

Having people own their problems is often seen as the first step toward change, and I would agree with that in many ways. But here’s something that’s not talked about as much: the second step. The second step toward changing is actually doing something about what you admit is a problem, and the truth is, some people will admit they have a problem their entire lives but never do anything about it. This is especially true of people who are struggling with clinical narcissism.

The real challenge for you is to ask yourself: “Why do I need this person to admit his/her issues?” In other words, what is it that you really want? My guess is that what you most likely actually want is for this person to change. So I think your real question is: How do I get this person to stop being so self-centered?

If the person you are asking about really has clinical narcissism (and is not just being selfish right now), then it’s not a very high likelihood that this person will change (clinical narcissism is a personality disorder, and a personality disorder is a long-standing behavioral pattern), especially if he or she does not want to change. I do genuinely believe that anyone can change, but there’s a difference between the possibility of change and the likelihood of change. So now the challenge is in your court.

What I would advise you to do is this: Align your expectations with reality.

If you know this person is selfish and refuses to accept responsibility for his/her life, then expect that. If you constantly expect this person to be self-centered, then you will be much less likely to be let down when he/she is. Also, by aligning your expectations with the reality of what this person is (rather than with what you want this person to be), you will be able to make a much more informed decision as to how close you will choose to remain to this person.