Do Narcissists Get Worse With Age?

If you are currently in a committed relationship with a narcissist, you may think your life is an enduring hell- or at least purgatory. You might wonder if you stick it out, will he get better with age, will he mellow out?  Unfortunately, there is not a longitudinal research study with a definitive answer. One study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (F.Stinson et al, 2008) suggested that pathological narcissists might mellow out, as the characteristics of NPD were more prevalent among younger adults compared to older ones.

However, if a person reads the overly-abundant blogs available on the internet, they appear to be overwhelmingly of the opinion that narcissistic traits worsen as the narcissist ages. There are a few, less common but still published, accounts of narcissists who have indeed tempered their outbursts and learned to control their verbal abuse and constant demands. It is possible that mild narcissistic traits may decrease over time but pathological narcissism doesn’t.

Generally, narcissists don’t get more flexible, empathic or agreeable with age. These are personality traits of NPD and they are highly unlikely to change. Aging is rough on the ego- it increases dependency and vulnerability, usually reduces status (unless you are Donald Trump or Hugh Hefner), triggers regrets, and increases feelings of envy. Thus, it would make sense that a disorder involving the ego, such as NPD, would become exacerbated as the individual ages.  Over the course of time, “child prodigies lose their magic, lovers exhaust their potency, philanderers waste their allure, and geniuses miss their touch”. Time brings the narcissist closer and closer to being average as the gulf widens between his grandiose expectations and his actual accomplishments.

 Why don’t they get better?

In order to “get better” the narcissist would have to confess that his behavior and treatment of others was wrong or inappropriate. The narcissist would also need to admit that they need to change into a more compassionate human being. This will not happen for several reasons:

1) The narcissist is never wrong. “Wrong” or “inappropriate” are words that don’t exist in the narcissist’s vocabulary of self-perception. The narcissist firmly holds the belief that they are right, even if others disagree with them.
2) Compassion and empathy are considered weaknesses. Narcissists regard compassion and empathy as weaknesses because they allow people to be exploited (especially by narcissists). They know intuitively that they can manipulate and control compassionate people.
3) There is no value to the narcissist in being a better person. The narcissist may mimic compassion or empathy if there is something in it for him- something that will lead to obtaining Narcissistic Supply such as attention or others’ esteem. Like the other theatrical acts in his life, this will simply be an actor strutting on the stage for his audience. As the attention fades away, so goes the feigned compassion and empathy.

The Aging Narcissistic Parent

Reading the blogs from children of narcissistic parents, it is clear that pathological parents get meaner with age. They hold their children hostage through brainwashing about obligation, guilt and fear. They continue to manipulate and punish. An online example tells of an elderly, malignant mother who after years of wretched care-taking, further punished her children by leaving all her money to charity, claiming that she would never want to “cripple her children with something as burdensome as an inheritance”. Instead of aging gracefully, the narcissist’s anger increases with time. They are prone to more narcissistic rages against their adult children. They have no difficulty inexplicably cutting off communication. Their lack of empathy for their family becomes evident as their children grow older. When the spouse and children of their current relationship no longer provide reliable Narcissistic Supply, they simply move on to another source to get their fix. Often they will abruptly abandon the old family and jump into starting a new one. Children can be a crucial source of Narcissistic Supply; they adore unconditionally, worship their parents and are submissive (when young). On the other hand, children can take away attention from the narcissist. They can take too much of what the narcissist wants for himself: time, energy, resources, and attention. It is not uncommon for narcissists to view their own children as a threat, a nuisance, an unnecessary evil.

All in all, the narcissist makes for a terrible friend, poor lover and appalling parent…no matter what their age. He or she is likely to divorce many times (if they marry at all) and to end up in a series of monogamous relationships. Narcissists don’t mature with age; they continue to seek revenge for perceived insults, narcissistic injuries, and threats to their superiority. Redeeming a parent-child relationship later in life is highly unlikely; having a genuine, rewarding relationship with an aging narcissistic parent impossible.

Can aging narcissists return to a normal life?

Sam Vaknin, author of “Malignant Self Love” was asked if aging narcissists could return to a normal life if they were given therapy, counseling, or social support. He answered as follows:

“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 behaviors can be modified using talk therapy (cognitive-behavioral being the most successful).

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).”

Dr. Vaknin goes on to cite specific behaviors and feelings that an aging narcissist might display: chronic sadness (dysphoria), no longer finds pleasure in anything (including his former pursuits, hobbies, and interests), violent mood swings (mostly narcissistic rages) attacks) and a compulsive addiction to alcohol, drugs, reckless driving, or shopaholism.

The overall conclusion is that narcissists do get worse with age. Some would say that narcissists just continue ‘being narcissists’ with the exception that they exhibit more depressive symptoms as they age. Others would argue that they have gotten away with their actions for so long that they up the ante by increasing their narcissistic abuse and demands. They have lost their looks, their grandiose fantasies were not supported, their old charm no longer works, they most likely have had several failed marriages and countless failed relationships, their children avoid them… no wonder they are depressed. Some might say that is poetic justice.

References

http://www.psychiatrist.com/abstracts/abstracts.asp?abstract=200807/070801.htm

http://narcissistschild.blogspot.com/2012/03/growing-olderand-worse-too.html

http://www.psychforums.com/narcissistic-personality/topic18126.html

http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/the-aging-narcissist

http://n-continuum.blogspot.com/2012/07/pathological-narcissism-worsens-with.html

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About Alexander Burgemeester

13 Responses to “Do Narcissists Get Worse With Age?”

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  1. czbz says:

    Thank you for the link, Alexander Burgemeester. It’s much appreciated!

    Perhaps another reason narcissists deteriorate with age is because they’ve had several decades to make massive mistakes, from which they never recover. So many narcissistic people seem to get worse by age fifty. They leave their families, ruin their occupations, take giant risks (lowered impulses as they age) and fail in front of an audience of people they cannot face again. So they leave. Drink. Commit suicide. And we minimize their behavior as a “midlife crisis” when in fact, it’s the full-blown manifestation of pathological narcissism (the NPD). And that is why Kohut called someone with a NPD, “The Tragic Man.”

    Any thoughts about the so-called midlife crisis versus the NPD? I haven’t read much about this topic but believe there’s a huge misunderstanding by society. Far better in my view, to consider this behavior as abnormal rather than “validate” it something people do in the 21st century because we’re living longer.

    Thanks,
    CZ

    • Beth says:

      That is exactly what happened to a close friend of mine. Her serial cheating NPD husband got so much worse in 50s. Ended up leaving a 30 year marriage, ruining his career, losing the respect of his children. Besides having new gf my friend found out he is addicted to porn, prostitutes ie.

      • LW says:

        Yes there is a pattern with NPD men and needing to prove themselves with women. It never ends.

      • smb says:

        Beth, That is exactly what my NPD did. He left after 35 years, our family as well as our successful construction business. The hurt and damage he has done to our children and family is unforgivable and unrepairable. He left me broke and the business in a mess. I was taking care of his mother (who had demencia) while he was working out of town and seeing a woman half my age. She is younger than our children! He started drinking heavy again after 15 years. Yes, he is still with her as far as I know. Infact, he just recently married her. She herself is a BPD, a drinker and a gambler. My son told me he heard they were fighting violently. No one here at home has heard a word from him in 10 months. All of his self destruction started after the death of his mother.

    • Jane Doe says:

      This is happening to me now, exactly as described above! Im lost and dont know how to handle it and scared!! I am in Therapy for two months nows and it was only through therapy that I realized for the first time in over 15+ yrs of marriage what I was dealing with! What an eye opener!! I have children in college mutual businesses and its a disaster!! Thanks to these websites and articles I am getting educated but wish I could find education on how to handle a person with these problems and knowing how to prepare for the destruction they could possibly bring to myself and my children and future!

      • LW says:

        It’s great you’re in therapy. My aunt is now about 70 and she just could not get help or walk away from her abusive NPD husband. She’s got to live her remaining years asking herself “what if I’d done something about it…? would I have been happier?” It’s sad – we all try not to mention what we are thinking : that she could have had a much happier life by nipping the problem in the bud early on. Don’t waste another day – make a change in your life, because your NPD friend/partner/spouse will never change. The stats just don’t support the possibility that they will.

    • LW says:

      Someone I know (knew) showed more intense outbursts, exhibitionism, and control tendencies when he hit middle age. The old approach of trying to manipulate people into being friends just stopped working when people got wise to it, and couldn’t handle the veiled threats, guilt trips, and shouting matches anymore. People slowly but surely crept away and now he’s feeling it and taking it hard. The man has put so many years into placing unreasonable demands on his peers that they’re just worn out. The decline has begun. He’s even looking worse; tired, older. The downhill spiral happened pretty fast. It’s sad but I still want to be nowhere near the guy.

  2. aimee kat says:

    This was exactly what I needed to read today! The pain of having a Narcissistic Mother is horrid! She has gotten worse with age.My NMother rages when asked about anything or even slightly confronted. Many of her past evil deeds are coming to light. My NMother has split the whole family apart…pitting child against child. Going on elaborate smear campaigns, while everyone else is busy living their lives. My N.mother cannot stand when her own adult children spend any time together.She has worked harder than ever to hurt her own family.My Narcissistic mother has resorted to abusing mentally and physically her own grandchildren now.She can dish pain all day and if anyone dare question what the hell she’s doing shell ignore you,but there is always a way she tries to get at you…abuse by proxy! My n.mother enjoys the pain she inflicts and acts more innocent than ever. The gaslighting seems to be brushed off easier as just older person…..but truth is she is meaner. Narcissistic people scare me.I just woke up a few years ago-and I am thankful for websites like this-and my own psych doctor! I am trying to stay no contact and hundreds of miles away! Freedom for sanity!

  3. calm says:

    As a child it was confusing that it was consistently difficult to get along with my mother. Constant fights, yelling, scolding, and nothing I could do would consistently make that relationship smooth. Home from college one weekend, my mother was on the phone with her dad (whom she never got along with) and I could overhear the conversation escallating into full blown rage. When the conversation was over my mother experienced amnesia for half an hour. It wasn’t until this time, in my early 20′s, that I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t me who had a problem; but her. It seems perfectly normal for a family member to not get along with someone, but when it is all of your siblings, 1 of 2 parents, 1 of 2 children, all nieces, all in-laws, many friends who have come and gone, one needs to come to the conclusion and to realize that it isn’t you, but someone else.

    This doesn’t make the situation easier. My school of thought is that it is important to not alienate oneself from family, and to support children, parents and relatives through the good and bad times. Continuing to be a party with a relative (mother in this cae) whit NPD is a life frought with not knowing when the next blow up occurs, walking on egg shells, and trying to do the right thing. However, a relationship with NPD is not a winnable situation. It wasn’t until recently that she displayed rage in front of my father. After all, my parents are in their 70′s, and in all this time, my father never saw this rage first hand whe it came to a confrontation with her and me. All her rage eppisodes have always been in private with me so no one else ever saw first hand this behavior. My father was shaken by this behavior.

    In my history, I’ve tried many approaches, and none of them work well or consistently. My experience has shown that NPD has gotten worse with age. It may be a habbit, in which older people with ingrained habbits perpetuate, or they don’t have the ability to control/regulate their behavior as well as they once did.

    The persons with NPD will make someone else upset, shamed, guilty, or some other emotion. In that light, it is the person with NPD that is sick, and I’m not equipped to say if that sickness is psychological or social, but there are some personality deficiencies which inhibit their ability to be fully functional in life, family and occupation; they are handicapped.

  4. gone2wales says:

    Thanks for the information. It helps make sense of it all. I’m curious about how and why NPD starts. My Dad has it, he’s 74 and I’m 44. What could make someone feel no responsibility their actions? Justification? Survival? They seem to have no conscience. I really would like to understand. If we don’t understand , how can we help our children avoid developing it?

  5. Windy says:

    The NPD sufferer I loved committed suicide in the wee hours this morning. I am so sad. He was a very good person, and I can truly say this was an affliction with which he suffered, not a choice he made. I think we need to look more deeply into the causes of NPD. Why do so many NPD sufferer’s have dysfunctional diets, bordering on eating disorders? Why do they sleep so erratically and poorly? My love also suffered with ADHD, and possibly bi-polar disease. He knew all this, he knew he couldn’t change any of it, and he only wanted love. It was so difficult to carry on a lasting connection with him because he alienated everyone – spouse of 33 years, children, siblings, nieces, nephews and me. I didn’t want to be alienated. I hung on with both hands until my nails bled, because I saw what a good person was hiding under all that crap. I thought I could get him to therapy and medication and it would be all better. Now naive! I deserve a firing squad for what I put him through. It wasn’t one-way pain going on. I gave as good as I got, thinking the mirror image of his behavior would stop him. Like he was a dog I was training, or something. People tell me I couldn’t have changed this outcome if I had done everything perfectly, but I’m not so sure. We are all human beings, we all deserve love. NPD is an illness. A very destructive illness, to be sure, and we need to keep in mind that it is destroying them more than it is destroying us.

    • Cindy says:

      That is a sad story. Sorry for your loss. I guess there are two sides to every story but most people don’t take your view point. The N personality takes so much without giving that it’s hard to have a relationship with them, add in all the games and manipulations that it becomes very hard to deal with them on any level aside from just letting them do their trippy thing. Your point is well taken though, and thank you for sharing.

  6. LW says:

    I have just broken off contact with a “friend” of about 15 years who has usually operated this way: he keeps himself surrounded by people with weak personalities who are going to validate every idea he has and simply listen and not respond too much. The only real response to give him is agreement at the very least; praise works too. Laugh at all his jokes, justify his outlandish behavior. That’s the “script”. Trouble is, I’ve outgrown the charade and I’ve increasingly been more vocal in the friendship: sharing my own thoughts and feelings, giving opinions on current issues, even talking about my family. The last time we met I mentioned that I’ve been putting in extra time with my kids (which he hasn’t been able to – or refused to do when his were younger) and of course this sent him into a rage. After he took my innocent comment as an insult, I thought it would come to blows. He shouted a few choice words and I just got up and left. It was that easy. I knew eventually something like that would happen, but I didn’t expect it to happen the other night. Either way, I del lighter than air knowing I don’t have to look over my shoulder knowing that “you-know-who” is going to be breathing down my neck, accusing me of not giving enough attention. To all you folks out there who are in relationships with NPD people who are causing more hurt than help: GET OUT. Just leave. Don’t look back. You’ll thank yourself for it. You are dealing with a formerly abused child who is still a child, but in a grown up body. Have a good life, free from the unnecessary hurt from dangerous people.

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