Why does it seem that narcissists get worse with age?
Aging is hard. Losing our vitality and facing our mortality can be scary and painful. But we discover upsides, like reaping the fruits of our personal and professional labors, recognizing our core values and releasing shallow pursuits, and enjoying long-term connections with family and friends. But for the narcissistic personality, gratitude is difficult and aging tends to heighten feelings of vulnerability, fear, and rage.
Instead of maturing, mellowing, and gaining wisdom, narcissists, unless helped with treatment (which is unusual), remain emotionally stunted children whose deficient empathy and self-centered neediness intensify with aging. They view growing old as a series of ravaging defeats that they struggle against with denial and resentment or submit to with depressed resignation.
Having relied heavily on externalities such as their looks, wealth, fame, connections, or professional achievements to fortify their fragile self-esteem, older narcissists find themselves increasingly stripped of their defenses and diminished in their ability to charm, impress, bully, manipulate, and otherwise control others. Since narcissists nearly always refuse to take responsibility for their actions or circumstances, they grow bitter and feel victimized by life, blaming others for their disappointments.
Going to Extremes
Narcissists tend to age into extreme versions of their worst selves. And when dementia comes into the picture, it often exacerbates matters. As narcissists get worse with age, they become more
- mean, and
Because of narcissists’ lack of compassion and their antagonism, as they age their relationships and friendships often falter or fail, leaving them lonely and isolated:
- Spouses may have left or withdrawn to avoid their criticism and combativeness.
- Adult children may have pulled away or cut contact altogether because of their toxic influence.
- Their grandchildren may be estranged from them because their adult children have asserted boundaries to protect their families.
- Friends may have pulled away because of their unmasked arrogance, selfishness, and envy.
- Neighbors and other community members may have rejected them because of their callous behavior and rude assertions of superiority and entitlement.
- Extended family may have excluded them because of their divisiveness.
As their personal power fades and their social sphere narrows, narcissists are more likely to look for scapegoats anywhere they can. Their increasingly desperate grandiose delusions often bring out bigotry and assertions of superiority over marginalized people, including other old people. Aging narcissists often express ageism, sexism, racism, and queerphobia to bolster themselves against their feelings of lost power over others.