It’s safe to say that Ayahuasca is becoming more and more popular with people to the point it’s becoming a mini-trend or fad. More and more people are hearing about the experiences of others going to “Ayahuasca retreats”, and thinking of doing it themselves.
Ayahuasca is reported to help with a lot of things, but what about narcissism and narcissists specifically? Can people with narcissism be helped or cured by doing Ayahuasca? Can it help break down their narcissism and make them a better person?
As with the concept of narcissists ever being able to change in general, it depends on how far along the scale of “narcissism” the person is. People with narcissistic or egotistical traits can be helped by Ayahuasca reducing their attachment to ego and external validation, but people with full blown narcissism (NPD) cannot be cured by simply going to an Ayahuasca retreat for a weekend.
Again, there’s a lot of nuance to this issue, since plant medicine can in theory help anyone see what is wrong with them, but it’s not that simple. It’s case of whether the person a) can fully accept the truth about themselves that doing Ayahuasca might reveal; and b) whether they will take the necessary steps to change once they return to normal life.
It’s these two factors that will be the stumbling block with full blown narcissists, whose entire identity is built on denying the reality about themselves, to the point that even powerful hallucinogenic medicines like Ayahuasca can’t help permanently cure their disorder.
Let’s run along the spectrum of narcissism to cover the cases when narcissistic people can, and can not, be helped by plant medicine.
Ayahuasca Can Help People With Narcissistic Traits or Excessive Ego
Let’s start off with a less extreme example – someone who isn’t a full blown NPD narcissist (more on this below), but just has some unpleasant narcissistic or egotistical. traits
Perhaps they have a big ego, are somewhat vain and entitled and focused on external validation, but they aren’t what you’d call a full blown narcissist. Perhaps they’re young and still maturing, but there’s still a real human being in there who can self reflect and grow to some extent.
Another example might just be someone heavily dominated and controlled by their ego – the unpleasant workaholic boss who imposes their obsession on everyone else and struggles to see that not everyone lives to work. Or any other strongly materialistic, egotistical person who might not always be pleasant to be around.
These types of people can benefit from plant medicine because one of it’s key reported effects is to make people more aware of the inauthenticity of the ego.
Ex bodybuilder Dorian Yates gives an excellent insight into what his own experiences with Ayahuasca and DMT taught him regarding ego:
“(during my experience) I was spoken to by, if you want, “God” but it wasn’t God, it was me as well, it was like the higher me talking to me, and telling me ‘the biggest problem we have on this planet, on this plane, is the ego’.
The ego gets in the way of everything and it’s not really you. It’s just a construct we’ve formed in this reality”
This is something that Ayahuasca and other hallucinogenic plant medicine can help with – helping people see the “falseness” of the ego, and how relying on it to an excessive extent isn’t a way to happiness. There is also nuance to this issue, as ego is also what drives people to achieve things in the world, but it also tends to be ego-dominated people who trample over and mistreat others on the way to their goals.
In this way, someone who you might casually refer to as being “narcissistic” or “egotistical”, but who is still a human being with some kind of ability to self reflect and change, could definitely benefit from Ayahuasca, in lightening their attachment to ego and external validation.
This is a very different type of person however to someone with full blown narcissism – there’s less hope for these people, as we’ll cover now.
Ayahuasca Cannot Cure Full Blown Narcissism (NPD)
Now let’s move onto the more extreme case of when a person has a clustering of narcissistic traits that is so prominent and pervasive in their personality that they can be classed as having a full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). They usually have to tick off at least 5 of the 9 DSM traits of NPD to be classed as a full blown narcissist (arrogance, haughtyness, need for admiration, entitlement, grandiosity, and so on).
These people can’t be helped or cured by simply going to a retreat for a weekend and drinking Ayahuasca. Their personality disorder is too firmly rooted in their psyche, their behavior patterns too deeply ingrained, and the defense mechanisms too strong, for any kind of lasting change to come from a brief dabble in plant medicine.
Perhaps the best treatment I’ve seen specifically on this topic of narcissism, ego and Ayahuasca is given by Nic Gabriel when discussing plant medicine and his narcissistic former colleague and co-founder of London Real, Brian Rose. Rose is a typical example of an outer directed, workaholic narcissist, but frequently promotes plant medicine. Gabriel exposes the hypocrisy of this by revealing what Rose is really like behind the scenes, and exploring in detail the issue of what Ayahuasca can and cannot do for different people.
Nic Gabriel on Narcissism and Plant Medicine (28:30 timestamp)
Here’s an excellent quote taken from the video that sums up this issue of Ayahuasca not being an easy fix for toxic, ego-maniac narcissistic personality styles:
“I used to think that plant medicine was a cure-all. I couldn’t understand how I’d meet certain people who drank ayahuasca and they were, for want of a better way of putting it, still sh*tty people.
I was like ‘why hasn’t the medicine fixed this person? Surely it showed them the darkness within them, it showed them what was wrong, where they were being inauthentic’
And what I realized was (ayahuasca and other plant medicine) is ultimately just a tool. And that you can use this tool but if you don’t do the work, not only will it not help you, it can actually turn in on itself and become something negative.
But that is not a function of the medicine itself. It’s not an issue with the medicine. It’s an issue with the person using it. I’ve seen people who have literally fallen to the dark side of their own ego through ayahuasca because they didn’t check themselves. They figuratively ‘drank the Kool Aid’ and literally drank the ayahuasca.
Keep in mind that if you are considering doing ayahuasca and you look at someone like Brian Rose and think ‘well, he’s still stuck in his ego and he’s still a total narcissist. Why didn’t it help him?’
It’s not the medicine. It’s the fact that that ego was so strong and so dark and that person was so unwilling to face the truth that it turned in on itself”
Here Gabriel is making an excellent point that the results that come from Ayahuasca depend on the person using it. There are a number of important questions to ask in this regard. Does the person have a real ability to grow and change? Can the person accept all realities about themselves that are revealed to them through the Ayahuasca (including the bad things)? Does the person have a real ability to introspect and self reflect? Does the person have the humility to work on improving the flaws the Ayahuasca might have revealed to them once they return to normal life?
With full blown narcissists, the answer to all these questions is a resounding no, so the benefits that can be gained from Ayahuasca are actually quite limited. It’s a personality disorder rooted in the DENIAL of reality, not it’s acceptance. Therefore while the Ayahuasca might break through this denial briefly during a ceremony, it is highly unlikely to create lasting change in a narcissist, whose defense mechanisms will come right back up again once they return to a normal state.
What Ayahuasca Does & Does Not Do
To summarise and emphasize the points made about Ayahuasca and narcissism again, here’s an overview of what Ayahuasca can realistically do for someone who tries it, but also cannot do, and what is down to the person using it..
Here’s what Ayahuasca CAN do:
- It can show you the reality of things about you you may have denied/repressed/not been aware of. It can show you your flaws, weaknesses, and ways you’ve not been acting authentically.
- It can sometimes also help with other mental health issues like depression and addiction, lessening their power over the person (see here for a good guide on this).
- It can show you your traumas which haven’t been resolved, and perhaps help you to see them in a more compassionate light towards yourself (see here for a paper on Ayahuasca and trauma).
- It can help a lot of users see the illusion of the ego, and how it does not define who a person is. It can help people detach from their ego somewhat.
- One common insight Ayahuasca users report is a very real understanding that everything and everyone is connected; that to hurt another is to hurt oneself and the whole. This helps people to understand the importance of treating others more kindly and gently.
- Another common insight Ayahuasca can provide is allowing people to see the emptiness and pointlessness of seeking external validation from others, which can help people to become more inner focused and inner directed rather than outer directed.
- Ayahuasca and other plant medicines can also show people that there is much more to reality than just the physical “5 senses” world we normally experiences in day to day life. It opens people up to other dimensions and versions of reality.
- More generally, Ayahuasca can act as a “brain wipe” for some users, where it gives them a cathartic kind of mental and emotional reset, and they see much more clearly the direction they need to head in in their lives going forward (but they still have to do the work themselves).
However, all these possible benefits come with the important caveat that there has to be something in the person that allows them to not just see and accept these insights (accept them long term as well, not just in the moment), but actually act on them going forward once they return to normal life. This introspective and humble ability is lacking in full blown narcissists, so the insights won’t be truly internalized or acted on – the thick wall of denial and projection that is characteristic of NPD will just come up again once they leave the retreat setting.
But just as importantly, here’s what Ayahuasca CAN’T do:
- It can’t actually do the work of healing; it just shows you the traumas, brings them into your awareness. The work of actually healing those traumas is still down to the person once they return to normal life.
- It can’t actually change your behavior automatically. Again, it’s down to the person to choose to change their behavior on the basis of what the Ayahuasca revealed to them.
- Moreover, it can’t help if the person has a personality structure which means there is no drive to (truly, authentically, and with humility) grow, change, evolve, or work on oneself such as with full blown narcissists (some narcissists hide behind self development philosophies and even plant medicine itself as detailed in the video above, but it’s all a hypocritical act and not authentic with narcissists as always).
Therefore, in the context of a narcissist, an Ayahuasca experience could at best only SHOW the narcissist their obnoxious and toxic behavior, how they hurt others, and all their own childhood traumas which led to their behaviors. But it wouldn’t fix any of this, nor magically turn them into a good person overnight.
That would be down to the narcissist, but as soon as the medicine wears off, the toxic layers of denial would come right back up, and the narcissism would return just as it was before if their personality disorder is full blown.
In some cases, Ayahuasca might even inflame and intensify a narcissist’s disorder, in a sense making them even more happy and contented in their pathology than they were before. This is also explored in the video above. They might see themselves more clearly, but be very happy with what they see – it might make them worse!
Therefore the general take-away point here is that Ayahuasca is not a cure all for anyone; it’s just a tool that allows the users to see themselves more clearly in certain aspects. And it’s definitely not a fix for full blown narcissism, since these people will either not be bothered by what the medicine allows them to see, or not act on what they see anyway once they return to daily life.
Disclaimer – Ayahuasca is definitely NOT for everyone. Taking it can lead to hallucinations and other side effects that can actually re-traumatize certain people. Whilst it can ultimately be therapeutic for many people, it’s often not enjoyable during ceremonies for some people because of all the things it brings up in the person. If you are considering doing Ayahuasca, thoroughly research the topic, consult with trusted friends, family, therapist, professionals and retreat leaders, and also consult other people’s experiences from retreats. See also here and here for possible health side effects of Ayahuasca. You take Ayahuasca at your own responsibility and risk.
So What Is Required To Fix Narcissism?
If using Ayahuasca is not a fix for narcissism, then readers might wonder what is. Is there any hope for fix full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Is there any way we can “reach” or fix or help narcissism?
In technical terms the prognosis for NPD is not good, especially once narcissists are in middle age and their disorder is firmly rooted into their personality structure.
Here is the most generous interpretation of how a full blown narcissist could possibly cure their disorder:
- Undergoing many years (not weeks or months) of intensive psychotherapy, with a skilled therapist well trained in personality disorders.
- Going through an intensive 12 step recovery program for addiction (a thorough and prolonged effort, not just turning up to a few group meetings), usually in conjunction with the therapy mentioned in the above step.
- Facing criminal charges and/or incarceration which exposes them and breaks down their narcissistic image for all the public to see.
- Any other environment where they are exposed or “found out” and cannot escape to new people.
- Any other huge life upheaval which forces them to confront their personality defects over a prolonged period of time (years), not just in a fleeting and superficial way.
But some would argue that even these scenarios wouldn’t be possible to cure narcissism. Going to see a therapist once a week, even for a long time, some would argue, isn’t intensive or immersive enough to cure this disorder.
Here is a more realistic interpretation from personality disorder expert Richard Grannon:
“If (the narcissist) was given to me, and they signed away their human rights, and I could imprison them for a few years, then yes, I could possibly get them out of the illusion (of NPD). But it would be illegal, and it would hurt them.
I’d have to re-traumatize them. I’d have to infantilize them, trauma bond them to me, break them to the point where they were a child again, and have them accept me as a parent. And then take them back through childhood.
In my opinion, the experience has to be very very intense and immersive. (NPD is rooted in) C-PTSD, which is rooted in immersively traumatic experiences. It’s never going to work through group therapy, talk therapy, they go and do ayahuasca one weekend. Come on (it won’t work).
Hand them over, and sign away their human rights, then maybe…..And at the end of all that, they may have just modified their behavior so they can escape…..I’m not hopeful (that they can be cured)”
In other words, if you’re holding on to hope that a narcissist can change, and are thinking of Ayahuasca as a possible option, it’s probably time to give up hope. It’s not going to fix them.