Many people will mellow with age as they begin the process of reflecting back on their lives and thinking about their accomplishments and any regrets they may have. The problem with narcissists, however, is that they lack the ability for self-reflection.
They have built a false self-image that they infused with grandiose ideas of superiority and perfection. To reflect on their life’s accomplishments and see anything that is less than perfection would risk their entire carefully constructed and extremely fragile identity.
The fact that they feel weaker and are often less mentally agile than they were when they were young enrages them and threatens their false sense of self. Moreover, as wrinkles appear and their body is less capable, they must confront the inevitability of the aging process.
They become obsessed with trying to stop it and can’t accept that they – someone who is perfect and superior – can’t somehow overcome the effects of growing older.
All of that acts as a constant trigger for their rage and sense of victimhood, as I have observed with my narcissistic mother. That’s what’s ultimately at the root of their worsening narcissistic symptoms.
It’s important, however, to dive into the details to best understand why narcissists usually get worse with age since that’s the only way to devise a strategy for dealing with the older narcissist.
How Do Narcissists Get Worse as They Grow Older?
Narcissists get worse with age in very predictable ways, as the video below explains. They have become quite adept at manipulation through the years, and they become even more manipulative as they get older.
They need to be more manipulative since other methods of winning people over – with their looks, charm, and money, for example – might be failing them. They have been practicing their tactics of manipulation for a very long time, and therefore, they are very good at using them to get their needs met.
Still, their age makes them less ‘visible’ to the people around them, so they become extreme versions of themselves. Their fear of being abandoned by the people they need as sources of narcissistic supply worsen, and that engenders more desperation.
“In a society that dreads old age and death, aging holds a special terror for those who fear dependence and whose’ self-esteem requires the admiration usually reserved for youth, beauty, celebrity, or charm.”
– Christopher Lasch, Historian, Moralist, Social Critic, Professor, and Author
Rather than changing their ways to become more sympathetic to the people around them, the narcissist instead becomes more aggressive in how they seek out the ego-inflating adoration they need to survive. If it weren’t so abusive, it would really be sad to watch.
Do Narcissists Ever Mellow with Age?
While researchers at the University of Vienna found that narcissistic traits are reduced with age, they actually also determined that people who suffer from full-blown narcissistic personality disorder get worse with age.
It is normal and healthy for everyone to have some narcissistic traits. It’s what motivates you to take care of yourself and ensure that your needs are met. But there’s a huge difference between having some narcissistic traits and being a narcissist.
As most people age, their narcissistic traits lessen, although specific career and relationship choices moderate that reduction. Individuals in supervisory roles that gave them some level of power over others saw less reduction in their narcissistic traits.
On the other hand, people who had entered into serious relationships and had children saw bigger declines in narcissistic tendencies, particularly vanity. The research suggests that life experience and overcoming difficulties as you grow older lessens your narcissistic tendencies.
However, that’s not true of pathological narcissists, as the authors note. Pathological narcissists get worse with age, and there are many reasons why.
Why Does the Narcissist Get Worse with Age?
To really understand the reasons why narcissists get worse with age, you have to know a little about why people develop pathological narcissism. The basic mechanism behind the formation of narcissism is some kind of childhood trauma.
That trauma may be in the form of abuse, as you might be thinking, but it can also be something less obvious. In fact, spoiling a child can do the same kind of damage to their developing sense of self as devaluation can do.
Basically, the narcissist experienced something in their childhood that caused them to view their true self as hopelessly flawed. When that happened – whether because they were told they were worthless or because they came to that conclusion themselves when they were never allowed to do anything for themselves – that child was filled with shame and self-loathing.
“The mother gazes at the baby in her arms, and the baby gazes at his mother’s face and finds himself therein…provided that the mother is really looking at the unique, small, helpless being and not projecting her own expectations, fears, and plans for the child. In that case, the child would find not himself in his mother’s face but rather the mother’s own projections. This child would remain without a mirror, and for the rest of his life would be seeking this mirror in vain.”
― Donald Woods Winnicott, Pediatrician and Psychoanalyst
That’s what caused them to bury their flawed true self deep inside to hide what they believed was an ugly truth. But that’s their identity mechanism and something they need to interact with the world.
Since they buried it, they had to create a false sense of self, one that they could be proud of, and they use that to interact with the world around them. That false self, however, is unable to support the grandiose ideas they’ve infused into it.
That’s why they need other people to prop up their self-esteem. Those grandiose ideas are all about how perfect and superior they are, but when they age, they fear they will be exposed as flawed.
11 Reasons Why Narcissists Get Worse with Age
Because they are so dependent on other people for validation, and because they have created a false self-image full of grandiose ideas about how perfect they are, narcissists need to feel relevant. As they age, that increasingly becomes a problem, which increases their narcissistic tendencies. Here are 11 reasons why the aging process causes their narcissistic tendencies to increase.
1. Narcissists Lose Their Looks as They Age
Many narcissists use their looks as a manipulative tool to get their needs met. They use them to charm and attract people into their life. They often rely on them to get the things they need.
As they age, however, as is natural, looks fade. Wrinkles appear, their metabolism slows, resulting in weight gain, and their hair turns gray. A number of other changes also eat away at the narcissist’s false self-image.
Perhaps the best example of a narcissist becoming obsessed with looks comes from the Snow White fairy tale. In the original story, the evil queen was actually Snow White’s mother, and she hated her daughter because she was jealous of her youth and beauty.
As a result of the changes in their looks with aging, narcissists often:
- Become obsessed with anti-aging products
- Buy into extreme fad diets
- Become addicted to cosmetic surgery procedures
- Fall prey to scams
- Desperately fish for compliments
- Increasingly berate those they see as competition
2. Narcissists Lose Their Physical Abilities as They Age
Another reason pathological narcissists get worse with age is that they are losing their physical prowess. They are no longer able to do the same things they could when they were young.
Their metabolism slows, and they gain weight, which further impacts their ability to do things they could do in their youth. They are more prone to injuries, which also can cause more limitations for them.
This is hard for anyone to deal with, but it’s particularly difficult for a narcissist who has proclaimed themselves to be superior and perfect. They wanted to believe they would somehow not be subject to the same changes as everyone else.
Their inability to keep up physically further infuriates them, and they push themselves to the point of obsession to stay in the game. As they fail to do so, they are more subject to depression and anxiety.
It’s a vicious cycle that their pathological narcissism creates. It feeds their self-loathing and internal shame, which exacerbates their narcissistic symptoms.
3. The Aging Narcissist Faces Retirement and Loss of Purpose
Young narcissists try to project an image to the people around them that emphasizes their importance. They work to show everyone how much they are needed, and that’s why they often do well in their career.
As they get closer to retirement, however, they begin to sense the impending loss of purpose that will bring to their life. Of course, that frustrates them, and it also causes them to make rash decisions to try to demonstrate their own importance. It can even be a factor in late-life narcissism, as you can learn in the following video.
As a result, they may undermine their colleagues at work even more than they already do to show their bosses just how much they are needed. They will also engage in blame-shifting even more for the errors they make, particularly as they are increasingly making those rash decisions that can easily lead to mistakes.
When they do finally retire, they may lose all sense of purpose, and as a result, they become exponentially more irritable and difficult to deal with for their family members. Their rage is frequently triggered, and they lash out irrationally at everyone around them.
4. The Aging Narcissist No Longer Commands Attention
One of the biggest reasons why the narcissist gets worse with age is that they are no longer able to command the attention they used to when they were younger. No matter whether the narcissist in question is a covert narcissist or an overt narcissist, they want to be the center of attention.
No longer being able to be in the spotlight is a common lament for older people, but for the narcissist, it’s absolutely devastating. If they can’t be in the spotlight, it’s harder for them to get the narcissistic supply of adoration they so desperately need.
“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important … They justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
— T.S. Eliot, Poet, Playwright, Literary Critic, and Editor
Their inability to command attention makes them more manipulative and spiteful in their behavior. They also tend to turn to more extreme behavior to try to put themselves in the spotlight.
As they become increasingly frustrated with that effort, they often turn to creating drama that will force others to pay attention to them. This may come in the form of psychosomatic illnesses, suicide attempts, or other extreme behaviors.
5. Aging Narcissists Can’t Relate to People Their Own Age
Aging narcissists don’t conceive of themselves as old, and as a result, they often can’t relate to people their own age. Since they are always striving to manipulate other people, they often look for younger individuals as victims because they are easier to control.
Older people are more aware of such manipulation tactics, and they tend to avoid or even reject the aging narcissist for that reason. But the narcissist also feels they are better than other people their own age, and for that reason, they don’t want to be associated with them.
They want to be seen as young, and they want to be accepted by younger people as part of their group. Because they don’t seek out people their own age to form relationships, they have fewer friends their own age and fewer friends in general.
That leads to more isolation and depression as they age, and it also adds to the list of things that provoke their narcissistic rage.
6. Narcissists Tire of the Battle as They Age
As the years pass, everyone gets a little tired of the challenges that life presents. For the narcissist, however, this is yet one more indicator that they are not the superior, perfect person they have claimed to be.
Their inability to handle the challenges life gives them threatens to expose their hidden secret, their flawed true self. Narcissists live in a constant state of fear that they will be exposed as flawed, and that’s why they are constantly manipulating the people and circumstances around them.
As they get older, despite their best efforts, they can’t keep up the pace of manipulation like they could when they were younger. They tire of the game, but they need to keep up the game to avoid a narcissistic collapse.
That would mean the exposure of all their flaws, and they simply can’t allow that to happen. This irritates them more, and they lash out at people in irrational and ever more angry ways.
7. Aging Narcissists are Triggered by Their Own Mortality
Just like anyone else, as the narcissist ages, they must confront the reality of their own mortality. But for the narcissist, that reality is yet one more piece of evidence that they are not superior to other people.
In fact, it shows that they are just like other people, and that infuriates them even more. They can see their body deteriorating, they watch as their faces age, and they know that they won’t last forever.
But that’s not the image they have been projecting. They have spent a lifetime telling people they are superior. They’ve claimed they’re perfect, and they have suggested they are not subject to the same rules as everyone else.
They can’t avoid this particular reality, however, and that causes them depression, anxiety, and fear. For the narcissist, it’s all about image, and losing that image because of the aging process is something they can’t control.
8. Increased Vulnerability Makes the Narcissist More Paranoid
As the narcissist ages, they become more vulnerable, as does everyone. As a healthy individual, you might deal with this vulnerability by relying on lifelong friends and family members to support you.
Because you loved them and treated them well, they are more than willing to support you when you are most vulnerable. They treasure you. But that’s not the case with the narcissist.
They have spent a lifetime abusing their loved ones and insisting that they are superior to them. When they see themselves becoming vulnerable, they panic. They react with more rage and increased manipulation.
They believe they can’t afford to show their vulnerability. It is always something they have avoided due to the fact that it suggests they are not perfect. They also believe that other people will exploit their vulnerability, just as they would.
“In paranoia, your fears become amplified, and everyone you meet becomes drawn into that web. You become the center of a threatening universe.”
– Clare Foster, Writer and Researcher for Mind, a mental health charity
They become fearful and paranoid, and they further isolate themselves to prevent being exposed and exploited. Everyone is out to get them, and everyone is trying to hurt them. They become the quintessential victim.
9. Aging Narcissists Can’t Keep Up with Changing Times
Narcissists pride themselves on being more intelligent and more capable than other people. Everyone struggles with new technology and societal changes, but as we age, that gets even more difficult.
For the narcissist, that is more evidence of their ineptitude. They hate that things are no longer as easy for them to do because they don’t understand. They hate that they can’t predict things anymore because societal norms have changed.
It makes them feel stupid and weak, and that exacerbates their self-loathing and internal shame. It’s a no-win situation for the narcissist since the times will continue to change, and they will continue to feel more and more as though they can’t keep up.
This increases their anger and anxiety. It makes them feel even more worthless and inferior. It makes them more rageful, and it causes them to become even more manipulative.
10. Dependency on Others Triggers the Older Narcissist
As the narcissist’s health begins to fail, they become more and more dependent on others, whether they be family members or healthcare workers. That is a slap in the face to someone who has always prided themselves on being superior to other people.
It makes them feel increasingly weak and worthless. It threatens to expose their flawed true self, and as such, it is something they fear. It can get so bad that it causes a narcissistic collapse.
A narcissistic collapse is a mental breakdown that leaves the narcissist even more vulnerable and dependent on others for care. This is perhaps when the narcissist is most likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and it’s also when they are most likely to act on those thoughts.
They find it difficult to conceive of being that dependent on other people for their care. They feel this way, in part, because they would have taken advantage of anyone relying on them for constant care.
They fear that payback is coming for the way they have treated other people throughout their life. Paradoxically, that only increases their sense of entitlement, and they push the people upon whom they are forced to rely to do even more for them.
11. The Expectations are More Unrealistic for the Aging Narcissist
Narcissists always have unrealistic expectations for everyone in their life. But they also create unrealistic expectations for themselves. They have created an image of superiority, and they push themselves to live up to that image.
They push themselves no matter how badly their health is failing, how much they may want to rest and relax, or how limited their physical and mental abilities are. They will put themselves at risk to show that they ‘still got it.’
These are the old, narcissistic men who will challenge a young man to an arm wrestling match or the old, narcissistic women who will compete with her own daughter for a man’s attention. They feel as though they have to live up to their own expectations to prove their own worth.
In their mind, they believe they will show everyone just how perfect and superior they are, and they will defy the realities of their age. They often hurt themselves, either physically or psychologically, as a result of these unrealistic expectations.
With every failure, they increase their efforts to prove their worth to the world around them. They can’t accept that they are no longer able to do the things they could in their youth. This kind of behavior prevents them from aging gracefully in any sense of the word. They have created a hard reality for themselves, and many narcissists simply don’t make it beyond a certain age as a result.
As pathological narcissists age, they become more manipulative and abusive. They will prey on their victims’ fears and vulnerabilities to exploit them and control them. They will create emotional wounds and then use those to attempt to control you. They are vicious and unrepentant in their behavior because they see it as your duty to tend to their needs. It’s a terribly abusive situation that no one should have to endure. Understanding their behavior is the beginning, but there is more you can do.
I have created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers to help you identify, defuse, and heal your emotional triggers and the wounds that created them. This handy guide takes you step-by-step through a process that I know works because I’ve used it myself. It will help you free yourself from narcissistic abuse forever. To get a free copy, just click on the link here, and I’ll send it directly to your inbox so you can get started today!
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel