Narcissistic personality disorder is a complicated and chaotic mental health condition. If your family member has this disorder, you’ve probably witnessed a great deal of toxic behavior over the years. Many people wonder what they should expect from a narcissistic family member who’s starting to age. Narcissistic personality disorder is typically lifelong, but the social and environmental changes that happen with aging can affect a narcissist’s behavior.
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic personality disorder is a type of personality disorder characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and an obsession with praise and admiration. Narcissism may result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In some cases, a narcissist’s behavior results as a coping mechanism for neglect or trauma during childhood. Although they may appear to be extremely confident, most people with narcissistic personality are deeply unhappy on the inside.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder:
- An inflated sense of self-importance
- A need for constant admiration from others
- A sense of entitlement
- Preoccupation with power, fame, or beauty
- A lack of empathy for others
- A tendency to belittle, bully, or demean others
- Extreme rage when faced with criticism
Therapy can help with any personality disorder. Unfortunately, though, people rarely seek treatment for narcissism. An individual with narcissistic personality disorder would likely deny that they had any issues that require counseling. Many families find that they have to set strong boundaries to manage their relative’s narcissism instead of expecting a change in behavior.
The Fate of Narcissism in Old Age
A personality disorder is typically a lifelong mental health condition. Historically, people have believed that narcissism and other personality disorders soften with age. However, newer evidence seems to suggest that a personality disorder lasts through the entire lifespan. Older adults go through a number of major life transitions, so their personality disorder may appear to present differently. Unless they’re actively receiving treatment, though, the disorder probably still plays a big role in their behavior.
Having any type of personality disorder increases the risk of cognitive decline. Cognitive decline can also mimic narcissism and other personality disorders, though. A narcissistic senior may display erratic behavior or make inappropriate comments. To someone who doesn’t know the individual, this could look like cognitive decline. However, those who are familiar with their behavior may attribute it to their narcissism.
Some families report that their narcissistic relative’s behavior has worsened with age. As we get older, we all require more care and support from those around us. An elderly narcissist struggles greatly with the idea of looking weak or relying on others. In response to the natural aging process, they may become more hostile, more self-centered, and more inflexible. This puts an enormous strain on their caregivers.
Dealing with a narcissistic family member can be incredibly difficult. Many elderly adults with narcissistic personality disorder are isolated from their family to some extent. After years of experiencing the toxic behavior, their children may not want to be involved in their care. An elderly narcissist may not have the same support that a typical senior has.
In some cases, though, traits of narcissism may be beneficial to aging seniors. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology reports that sub-clinical levels of narcissism may improve mental health outcomes in older adults. Some degree of narcissism may be especially helpful for preventing loneliness, which is one of the most common issues seniors face. While narcissistic personality disorder seems to create challenges for older adults, lesser levels of narcissism appear to act as a defense against loneliness. Seniors with sub-clinical levels of narcissism likely seek out more opportunities for social interaction, leading to better mental and emotional health.
Caring for an Elderly Narcissist
Narcissism in the elderly can put a serious strain on families. Caring for any aging adult is challenging, but caring for someone with a history of manipulative or abusive behavior is even more stressful. If you’re involved in the care of a senior with narcissism, you may wonder how you can fulfill the caregiver role while maintaining healthy boundaries.
One of the best ways to protect yourself when caring for someone with narcissism is to avoid reacting to confrontation. Narcissists may try to bait others into a fight. They often know exactly what to say to provoke a family member. Try using the “gray rock” technique, which involves disengaging and showing no reaction when the narcissist tries to bait you.
Aging narcissists sometimes resist medical care or don’t listen to medical advice because they don’t trust their healthcare providers. If your family member tries to resist necessary care, try to reframe the situation in a way that agrees with their interests. For example, you could tell your relative that they should comply with the doctor’s treatment recommendation so that they don’t have to sit through additional “pointless” trips to the doctor in the future.
Self-care is essential when managing care for an aging narcissist. Interacting with your family member can be emotionally taxing. Make sure you take time for yourself and continue to engage in the hobbies that bring you joy. Seek support from friends, other family members, or community resources.
Counseling can be a helpful resource for both the narcissistic senior and their caretaker. If your relationship with an aging narcissist is taking a toll on your mental health, you need to reach out for support. Caretakers often put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. Protecting your mental health is vital, though. Therapy can help you process your emotions and learn to set boundaries with your family member.
Senior counseling may also help a narcissistic older adult manage their behaviors. Most people with narcissism are resistant to therapy or other treatment. However, you could try encouraging your family member to check in with a counselor.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy for older adults with personality disorders and other mental health concerns. If you or a loved one needs support, contact us today.