You can’t hide your true colors as you approach the autumn of your life. ~Author Unknown
(ANNA VALERIOUS) Growing old requires grace and courage. Aging is a series of insults that you have to take in stride else you become a distasteful burden to yourself and those around you.
Grace and courage are not attributed to the narcissist at any age – the lack of these virtues becomes all the more apparent as they grow old.
You don’t have to live terribly long to observe that age highlights and underlines what you’ve been all your life. I have met delightful elderly people who are so lovely on the inside it makes their wrinkled faces a pleasure to look upon. I have met the others…those whose wrinkled characters are unfavorably enhanced by their craggy countenances. They become odious inside and out to the observer.
The final act on the stage of life seems to be a pulling back on the curtain of the soul. For some, age seems to have taken them by surprise. The series of choices that brought them to old age were not choices that they ever anticipated during this part of their life. They are bereft of any qualities that would make them capable of being content at the time of lessening that we call aging. The decrepitude of their character is fully exposed by the decrepitude of their bodies.
Narcissists do not age well. Whether they depended on their beauty or their intellect, they now find themselves unable to summon the charm or sophistication which enabled them to lure in their sources of supply. They are pathetic and lonely. Neither their bodies nor their minds are impressive in any sense. Withered and shrunken, their minds and bodies are now betraying them. They are daily confronted with the huge gap between what they fantasize themselves to be and what the mirror on the wall and the mirror on your face reflects back to them. The “grandiosity gap”, the distance between the narcissist’s grandiose vision of himself and reality, is now a yawning and unbridgeable chasm. Constantly angry and dysphoric the narcissist is a curmudgeon that most have abandoned.
It isn’t your imagination that your narcissist parent is worsened with age. This is the normal and usual progression. What you are witnessing is a three-year-old trapped in an old man’s or old woman’s body. The temper tantrum that could pass for cute in a toddler is shockingly and monstrously detestable when performed by the aged. Old age has stripped away the cover that enabled her audience to un-know that an adult was acting like a pre-schooler. No beauty to distract us. No soaring heights of intellect to dazzle and confuse us into compliance. The emperor has no clothes. The sight of the “naked” narcissist almost makes you want to gouge your eyes out. Hideous.
The narcissist has been in a life-long battle to defy death. They pretended for years that death could be avoided by refusing to acknowledge its inevitability. I have been struck by the abject fear the narcissist shows when they are forced to contemplate their own mortality. Why is the narcissist so afraid of death? I think the answer is that they fear obliteration and Judgment Day. I think the extremely deprived conscience of the narcissist is never quite able to dismiss the idea that there may be a Day of Reckoning to meet in the hereafter. They would avoid that Day, not by actually making restitution for wrongs done, but by refusing to die. Some of the most tenacious clingers-on to life are narcissists.
Some elderly narcissists are so evil and nasty that families find that outside agencies will refuse to deal with them thus leaving the family with no options but to care for the wrinkled beast themselves. If you are dealing with an aged narcissist, you have my deepest sympathies. The enraged and elderly narcissist will find no respite until they are in their coffin. Neither will you.
To Age with Grace: The Narcissist as an Old Person
(Sam Vaknin) The first thing that occurs to me when thinking of aging is a gradual change in one’s physical structure that is apparent to others, and to oneself of course. Now, what precisely do we mean by aging, or getting old or older, in terms of the mind or psyche?
“Old” is commonly thought of as an adjective which bundles together objective physical and mental changes (for the worse); growing dysfunctions in a variety of areas of life; and cultural and social norms and prejudices that together constitute a pernicious stereotype. The reality, however, is more complex. Aging has its positive sides: perspective and experience tend to reduce anxiety and increase efficacy; a life-long worth of networking provides enhanced access to a variety of societal and economic benefits; an extended family generate emotional (and, at times, economic) succor; as leisure time increases, one can cater to one’s hobbies and fulfill one’s dreams; and so on. These largely positive “externalities” are often ignored and the undeniably negative dimensions of aging are sensationally emphasized.
What major kinds of fear(s) are associated with aging in its psychological sense that you just explained? (also tell a bit about the root cause of those fears)
It is, of course, the fear of Death that wears a thousand guises. “Aging” is the name we give to the cumulation of irrefutable proofs that we are mortal. So, when we fear physical decrepitude, mental deterioration, illness, loss of capacities, social ostracism, and other less than savory facets of growing old, what we actually dread is our very end. The promise of an afterlife doesn’t really fool anyone, including the most devout believers. No one wants to die and no one wants to be reminded constantly of the transience of his existence. Old-age is also a time of soul-searching and tallying: dreams unfulfilled; wishes denied; fantasies which have remained exactly that; wrong turns and erroneous decisions; remorse, regret, and heartbreak. The knowledge that there is no second chance imbues one’s last years with tragedy.
Please tell our readers a little about what narcissism is, its key personality features, and why some people develop such personalities? (Also tell who/which profession’s people etc is more prone to developing narcissism)
Pathological narcissism is a pattern of thinking and behaving in adolescence and adulthood, which involves infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of others. It manifests in the chronic and compulsive pursuit of personal gratification and attention ( narcissistic supply ), social dominance and ruthless personal ambition. The narcissist constantly brags; is insensitive to others; lacks empathy; is hypervigilant (spots slights and insults in every utterance and behavior); is excessively dependent on others to meet his/her responsibilities in daily life. Possessed of a grandiose and inflated fantasy of himself (the False Self ), the narcissist feels entitled to special treatment regardless of his actual accomplishments, or lack thereof.
Pathological narcissism is at the core of the narcissistic personality disorder. As distinct from healthy narcissism which we all possess, pathological narcissism is maladaptive, rigid, persisting, and causes significant distress, and functional impairment.
Pathological narcissism is a reaction to prolonged abuse and trauma in early childhood or early adolescence. The source of the abuse or trauma is immaterial – the perpetrators could be parents, teachers, other adults, or peers. Pampering, smothering, spoiling, and “engulfing” the child are also forms of abuse. There may be a genetic component in the make-up of the narcissist which predispose him to his pathology.
Can aging narcissists hope for returning to a normal life with some kind of therapy, counseling, or just social support? (tell briefly about what works for making narcissists get to normal thinking and behavior)
How can a narcissist return to a “normal” when – by the very definition of his disorder – he has never had a normal life and is utterly incapable of one? Narcissists are mentally-ill. Pathological narcissism cannot be “healed”, or “cured”. Only certain attendant mental health problems – such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder – can be ameliorated or controlled with medication. Additionally, particularly abrasive, grating, or antisocial behaviours can be modified using talk therapy (cognitive-behavioral being the most successful).
What are the major signs obvious to the family or loved ones of an aging narcissist that help them identify his/her emotional crisis so as to seek therapeutic help?
Narcissists rarely seek therapeutic help and they definitely do not listen to advice of any kind. The narcissist constantly consumes (really, preys upon) adoration, admiration, approval, applause, attention and other forms of Narcissistic Supply. When lacking or deficient, a Narcissistic Deficiency Dysphoria sets in. The narcissist then appears to be depressed, his movements slow down, his sleep patterns are disordered (he either sleeps too much or becomes insomniac), his eating patterns change (he gorges on food or is avoids it altogether).
He is constantly dysphoric (sad) and anhedonic (finds no pleasure in anything, including his former pursuits, hobbies, and interests). He is subjected to violent mood swings (mainly rage attacks) and all his (visible and painful) efforts at self-control fail. He may compulsively and ritually resort to an alternative addiction – alcohol, drugs, reckless driving, shopaholism.
How do you think an aging narcissist need to be treated at home and in the workplace to ensure his emotional wellbeing?
Avoid all contact with the narcissist in your life. All other advice is spurious and erroneous. Narcissists cannot be “fixed” and, if you do not keep absolute distance, will ruin your life thoroughly. To believe that one can affect the narcissist’s wellbeing is malignant optimism, a manifestation of the rescue fantasies that are so common among co-dependents.
Finally, Sam, what are some of the healthy things or activities that an average narcissist should engage in for living positively?
Narcissists cannot live positively. They are other-destructive, self-destructive, and self-defeating. They are a menace to themselves, to their nearest, and to society at large. They are like drug addicts in that they compulsively and ruthlessly pursue narcissistic supply (attention and adulation). But, unlike substance abuse, narcissism is an all-pervasive and malignant problem that invades and infects all the dimensions of the narcissist’s existence. Narcissists are recidivistic, incorrigible, intractable, and hopeless cases.