There are a number of personality disorders that show changes in the symptoms over time, but what about narcissism? Of course, during childhood, everyone is narcissistic to a certain degree, and that’s something that most people grow out of, but what about pathological narcissism? What kind of changes happen in people diagnosed with NPD as they get older?
Narcissists experience changes in their personality as they get older, but whether or not they have a reduction in their narcissistic symptoms appears to be dependent upon their lifestyle and certain life choices. Recent research has shown this to be true, particularly after age 41.
Understanding the research related to this topic and how lifestyle choices may influence narcissistic characteristics is vital for making the best choices to help yourself or someone you love overcome this devastating mental condition.
Are All Children Narcissistic?
Most children are, in fact, narcissistic to some degree. They depend on adults to provide them with what they need, and they are naturally focused on their needs. But as they interact in the world and are socialized into their particular culture, they learn to reciprocate and express gratitude for what they receive and the people in their life.
This is normal childhood narcissism, and healthy children outgrow their narcissistic tendencies. Some children, however, are not healthy. Because of the failure of their parents to see them as independent entities, some children don’t properly develop a sense of self.
These children will, therefore, create a false sense of self and bury their true self deep inside to protect it from perceived dangers. This is how narcissism develops.
How Can You Tell If a Child is Pathologically Narcissistic?
For the children who are unable to develop a sense of self, they are unable to learn to express gratitude for anything they receive. They also tend to have a strong sense of entitlement, and they will have difficulty with regulating their emotions.
These are some of the signs that a child might have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). This is not just normal narcissism, it is a mental disorder. These children will not outgrow their narcissism as they become adults like healthy children do.
What Happens When a Narcissist has to Function in the Real World?
When pathologically narcissistic children grow up and have to try and function in the ‘real world,’ they often struggle. They believe themselves to be entitled and they are dependent upon external validation to support the grandiose ideas they have come to believe about themselves.
As a result of the difficulty they have with interpersonal relationships, narcissists learn various manipulative techniques to try and control the people around them. Though they would never admit it, they do need these people to give them their narcissistic supply.
Their narcissistic supply is the adoration and admiration they need to validate their self-esteem. The false self they constructed as a result of their childhood trauma is unable to function in the same way an actual sense of self — or ego — would be able to function. That’s why they need other people.
Since they need other people, they learn to be charming to lure people into a relationship with them. They have trouble sustaining that relationship, however, for a long time given that they really are not capable of empathizing with their loved ones. If you can’t understand how someone else is feeling, you can’t really provide them genuine friendship or love.
That’s a big reason why relationships with narcissists usually fall apart after the initial “honeymoon period” is over.
Will Adult Narcissists Mellow with Age?
There hasn’t been a great deal of what is called longitudinal research into this question. That’s research that follows diagnosed narcissists for a long period of time. there is, however, a recent study that looked at how narcissism changes over time.
This research investigated changes in narcissism by measuring three facets — leadership, vanity, and entitlement — over 23 years in the lives of more than 200 narcissists. The authors defined these three facets as:
- Leadership – this was seen as the most adaptive of the three facets and is defined as the desire to be a leader coupled with the persistence to reach that goal.
- Vanity – taking excessive pride in your appearance.
- Entitlement – this was seen as the most toxic of the three facets and is defined as devaluing others, having a general tendency to be disagreeable, and feeling less satisfied with your relationships.
The authors discovered some very interesting trends. First, they found that there was a general decrease in all facets of narcissism, but those individuals who were in leadership positions showed smaller decreases in the leadership facet.
Additionally, individuals who had more unstable relationships or who were physically more healthy than other participants showed smaller decreases in the vanity facet. They also found that young adults with higher scores for narcissism related to leadership were more likely to achieve a supervisory position by the time they were middle-aged.
Young people with higher scores for the vanity facet tended to have fewer children and were more likely to experience divorce by the time they reached middle age. Together, these findings support the idea that people become less narcissistic between young adulthood and middle age, but the magnitude of the decline in narcissism is correlated with certain career and family choices they make during this stage of their life.
Can Narcissists Ever Get Worse with Age?
There are situations where certain narcissistic traits get worse with age. This is particularly true given that looks and abilities decline as we get older, and for the narcissist, that is devastating. This is particularly true with narcissistic women for whom beauty is a prized commodity.
It’s also true, however, for any narcissist who experiences the kinds of health problems that are common with aging. Narcissists can’t accept any responsibility for these declines in health nor can they ‘age gracefully.’
The aging narcissist is commonly filled with bitterness, and as a result, they become more demanding. They often will use their advancing age as a means to justify their self-centeredness and neediness.
It does appear that narcissistic traits decline from young adulthood to middle age, but they may make a comeback with advanced age. Aging brings challenges for everyone, but if you’re someone who has spent your life obsessing over how you appear to those around you, it’s particularly difficult to accept the declines in your appearance and abilities as you get older. As the old adage goes, “aging is not for the faint of heart.”
You’ve learned about how narcissism changes over the course of an individual’s lifetime, but now you’re going to need to know more from this post about the mental strength narcissists possess. Once you understand how their minds work, you can better develop strategies for preventing their abusive behavior.
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