The Narcissist in Old Age

“Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” 

~Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”

“Everything is possible for you, because you have the only two things worth having…beauty and youth”                                      ~ Oscar Wilde,”The Picture of Dorian Gray”

The narcissist ages without compassion or grace; he is shallow and does not accept aging well. His withered body and his overworked mind betray him at the same time. He stares in disbelief and rage at cruel mirrors. Subjected to childhood abuse, the narcissist ages prematurely and finds himself in a time warp; he is in a constant struggle with midlife crisis. When he was a child prodigy, a sex symbol, an actor or idol, a stud, or an outstanding intellectual-the narcissist was at the center of attention. He has become disillusioned in old age as his old charms have worn thin.

Growing old requires grace and courage.  Aging is a series of physical and mental insults that you have to take in stride or you become an unpleasant burden to yourself and those around you.  Grace and courage are not traits the narcissist possesses at any age, so the lack of these virtues becomes all the more apparent as he or she grows old. Old age points out and highlights what you’ve been all your life; narcissists are seen as odious inside and out.

Having been exposed for what he is-a deceitful, treacherous, spiteful egotist-the narcissist’s old tricks now fail him. People are on their guard and less gullible than before. The narcissist, with his rigid personality, can’t change. He reverts to old forms and old habits, surrendering to former temptations. He is made a mockery by his obstinate denial of the reality of aging, by his stubborn refusal to grow up, an eternal child in the sagging body of an old man.

Narcissists do not age well.  Whether they depended on their beauty or their intellect, they can no longer summon the charm or sophistication which previously enabled them to lure in their sources of supply. Withered and shrunken, their minds and bodies now betray them.  They are confronted daily with the huge gap between what they fantasize themselves to be and what the mirror reflects back to them.  This “grandiosity gap” i.e. the distance between reality and the narcissist’s grandiose vision of himself is now a gaping chasm. The narcissist is a curmudgeon, invariably angry and depressive, that most people have abandoned.

The narcissist is singularly maladapted to life’s trials and tribulations. Time tends to make child prodigies lose their magic, lovers exhaust their potency, and philanderers wear out their appeal.  The longer the narcissist lives, the more average he becomes. The wider the gap between his pretensions and his actual accomplishments, the more he is the object of derision and contempt by others who have learned to see through his facade.

Few narcissists bother to study a trade, get a degree, maintain a business, keep their jobs, raise functioning families or nurture their friendships. They are perennially ill-prepared. Those who do succeed in their vocation, end up bitterly alone having squandered the love of spouse, offspring and friends.  The more gregarious and family oriented often fail at work, leap from one job to another, and relocate erratically, forever wandering.  The contrast between the prime of his youth and his dilapidated present constitutes a permanent narcissistic injury. The narcissist retreats deeper into himself to find comfort and consolation, withdrawing deeper into his grandiose fantasies. They are bereft of any qualities that would make them content at this time of their lives.  The decrepitude of their character is reflected in the decrepitude of their bodies.

A rare minority of narcissists are able to accept their fate with good humor. These few are surprisingly healed of their megalomania by old age. They lose their narcissistic traits and respond to the world with the composure that they lacked when they were younger. Such changed narcissists develop more realistic expectations and hopes that are commensurate with their talents, accomplishments and education. Ironically, it is always too late. They are avoided and ignored, as they have been rendered transparent by their past behavior. They are passed over for promotions, never invited to professional or social gatherings, and cold shouldered by the media. They are being constantly and consistently punished for who they were. It is poetic justice that they are now being treated narcissistically by their previous victims.

For aging narcissists, it is too late. They initiated the demise of business partners, spouses, and former friends– who are now enemies. The narcissist has burned many human bridges. He has betrayed, abused, demeaned, and humiliated countless human beings. Some narcissists have even destroyed their own children as a result of repetitive abandonments, degrading criticisms and malicious agendas.


The narcissist cannot be distinguished from his image. He (or she) has created and protected a perfected facade over an entire lifetime.  Being attractive, mentally superior, socially adept, well connected and physically vigorous are essential to his identity.   Aging is an appalling prospect for the narcissist. He or she will go to great lengths to remain young looking with plastic surgery and a variety of other aesthetic enhancements. A common path to preserving his own youthful image is marriage to a partner who is many years younger and highly attractive.

Beneath his image of perfection, the aging narcissist feels helpless. This is expressed through frequent bouts of narcissistic rage. If you have lived with a narcissist for decades and plan to stay with him or her, don’t count on any psychological mellowing. If anything, the aging narcissist increases his tantrums, raising both their frequency and volume. As he loses his physical vigor and mental powers, narcissistic rages become more outstanding; tirades come faster in succession and develop more explosively. Narcissistic rage no longer has a beginning, middle or end. It is a continuous storm that appears to ebb for a while only to return with fury. The aging narcissist is not going to lighten up on his rage; it is as much a part of him as his grandiose sense of self, his arrogance and his delusions of superiority.