Can narcissists change? UW–Madison’s Enright proposes new approach in BYUradio segment


UW–Madison’s Robert Enright was a guest on BYUradio’s “The Lisa Show,” where he discussed an approach to helping individuals with narcissism.

Robert Enright
Enright

Enright holds the Aristotelian Professorship in Forgiveness Science with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology and is a licensed psychologist. He is also the cofounder of the International Forgiveness Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to sharing knowledge about forgiveness and community renewal through forgiveness.

In the BYUradio segment, titled “How Narcissists Can Change,” Enright discussed an approach for people with narcissistic tendencies to modify their behavior by practicing what Enright views as the direct opposite of narcissism — humility.

Enright’s work and research has focused on applying principles of philosophy to the mental health profession. He said he views the classical Greek philosopher Aristotle as a mentor, who once said: “The road to happiness is to grow in the moral virtues.”

How can practicing humility help those with narcissistic personality disorder, or those who have who have not been diagnosed but who may have narcissistic tendencies? Enright explained that Aristotle as a philosopher tells us that when you you practice a moral virtue it is bounded by two vices: “and humility is bounded by arrogance, which is a form of narcissism, or timidity, where you let others walk all over you,” he said.

To overcome narcissistic patterns (which he suggests almost everyone falls into at times), Enright proposes we start “consciously and deliberately” practicing humility in our homes. He explained this as “the reality, the balance, of seeing yourself truthfully as you are, with both your strengths and your weaknesses.” He said if we can practice humility in the small things — for example, “if you are impatient because you are hungry for dinner, and your spouse isn’t quite ready yet” — it will help individuals grow in their ability to show empathy.

“Practice the reality of empathy toward that person, and you’re not the only one in the world. And that patience is going to be good for you, and that is the humble approach,” he said.

Enright also recommended what he calls the “three R’s” — remorse, repentance, and recompense — as a framework for those who have stumbled in a relationship to work towards rebuilding trust.

To learn more, listen to the full segment at BYUradio.org.