Narcissism is a complicated personality disorder that involves the construction of a false self to replace what the narcissist truly believes to be a worthless true self. In defiance of the shame and self-loathing they truly feel, the narcissist infuses the false self with grandiose ideas of superiority that require an almost constant supply of external validation. Because of that reliance on external sources of adoration, aging is a complicated process for the narcissist.
Aging narcissists often employ various tactics to ward off the effects of age, but as reality catches up to them, they become increasingly desperate. When that happens, any of the following 9 things may happen:
- Narcissistic Collapse
To really understand why these 9 things often happen to the aging narcissist, it’s important to understand the way narcissism affects an individual. Their reliance on external validation along with an inability to accept criticism makes for the perfect storm as the narcissist grows older. Let’s examine why that is as well as how each of these things may manifest in older narcissists.
Why Do Narcissists Fear Aging?
Narcissism develops as a result of the failure of a young child to fully develop a sense of self. The child comes to view their true self as irrevocably flawed and they bury it deep inside. In its place, they construct a false self-image and infuse it with grandiose ideas of their own superiority.
The false self, however, is unable to offer any internal support to the narcissist, and as a result, they must rely on an almost constant supply of external validation. They need other people to espouse their adoration and affirm their superiority.
It’s not at all uncommon for narcissists, particularly female narcissists, to rely on and tout their physical appearance. It becomes part of their superiority as does any other physical talents they may possess. Of course, with age, your physical appearance changes and your body is less able to perform at the same level as when you’re young. This is an extraordinarily frightening concept for the aging narcissist.
Moreover, narcissists also tend to place great value on external ‘things’ they possess as another display of their superiority. Like your body, those external things tend to change over time as new models replace the old. This is yet another reminder to the aging narcissist that even the most superior among us will change with age.
To the narcissist, who fears the loss of their admirers, the potential for losing their abilities, their physical appearance, and their possessions is a terrifying prospect because all of those are what forms the basis for their claims of superiority. They believe their loved ones will see the terrible truth about them if they don’t still have what they had in their youth. That’s why these 9 things can often happen to the aging narcissist.
As the narcissist begins the aging process, the first thing many narcissists will experience is denial. They will continue to act as if age is not a reality for them at all. They will tout their ongoing superiority.
They will often wear the clothes they did in their youth to show everyone their physical appearance remains unchanged and that they still ‘got it.’ This strategy involves what Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Susan Krauss Whitbourne calls identity assimilation.
With identity assimilation, the narcissist simply doesn’t allow any of society’s negative views on aging to penetrate their identity. That can actually work for them by allowing them to maintain high levels of self-esteem despite those age-related changes that can affect their appearance and physical abilities.
Aging narcissists using this strategy are always looking for the latest and greatest in age-defying products, and they may also employ cosmetic surgery to help them maintain a youthful appearance.
This refers to denial taken to the next level. The defiant narcissist may insist they are just the same as they were in their youth despite obvious changes in physical ability or mental aptitude. This can lead to some dangerous behaviors.
For example, the narcissist may insist their eyesight is perfect just as it was in their youth, but you can see that they really don’t have the same ability to see. That could affect their driving and other abilities as well.
The loss of the ability to so easily charm and impress others can result in more aggressive tactics that the narcissist uses to prove that their youthful vigor has not left them. This can also put them at risk for being manipulated by those who would seek to take advantage of them.
An aging narcissist might, for example, believe they can attract young men or women just like they were able to do in their younger days. That could leave them vulnerable to exploitation.
Aging is not for the faint of heart, as the saying goes. It’s a difficult process that forces us to realize the limits of our physical body. Many people will come to value the wisdom they’ve gained over the years in place of the physical prowess they possessed in their youth.
For the narcissist, however, it is problematic to make that shift because they’ve invested so much in their grandiose ideas of superiority. Additionally, they are emotionally stunted and unable to empathize with others around them. For them, aging represents little more than a series of defeats in the struggle to stay youthful.
This can create resentment and bitterness in place of the mellowing and maturing that healthy individuals experience as they age. The narcissist feels victimized by the process and they grow bitter as they continue to blame everyone around them for their problems.
Often, narcissists will age into a more extreme version of their worst characteristics. They become more desperate and deluded, particularly as the aging process hands them a series of defeats.
In the elderly narcissist, dementia can add a whole new layer to the extreme qualities of the narcissist. They may become increasingly paranoid and deluded which then leads to severe isolation and extreme defensiveness.
Aging is simply a nightmare scenario for the externally validated narcissist, and for those who can’t find a healthier option, extremism may be the outlet they choose for their complex emotions. These individuals may also become increasingly emotionally and physically abusive as well.
As the aging narcissist turns to extreme attitudes and behaviors in defiance of the aging process or in denial of it, they often become more antagonistic and drive people away. Their friendships may falter and even their loved ones may stop coming around.
They may also face divorce and alienation from any children they have. Adult children may even opt for going no contact as they seek to heal their childhood wounds. Once their children pull away, the grandchildren become estranged as well.
All of this leaves the narcissist more isolated to stew in their state of victimhood and look for scapegoats they blame for all their woes. This can lead to even bigger problems with extreme viewpoints.
As an aging narcissist is left more isolated and they feel the sting of a narrowing social sphere, they look for others to blame. They will often turn their attention to their own perceived superiority over marginalized groups of people to help bolster their faltering self-esteem.
Sexism, racism, homophobia, and other such extreme views are easily adopted by an aging narcissist seeking to find a group with whom they can integrate. They’re looking to feel empowered, and there’s no shortage of bigoted groups that are looking to bolster their ranks.
For the aging narcissist, such extremist hate groups may give them just the narcissistic supply they’re looking for. It will help justify their thoughts of being victimized, give them a scapegoat to blame for their woes, and feed into their grandiose delusions of superiority.
Much of what the aging narcissist experiences as they face the realities of growing older makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. They fear losing their looks and charm, for example, which leaves them vulnerable to grifters who would seek to exploit them for financial gain.
They are also vulnerable to schemes that promise to restore their youthful appearance or put them back on top in their professional realm. They are looking to turn back the clock, and anyone who can promise that or who can assure them they’ve still got it can take advantage of their fears.
Research by experts in personality disorders at the University of Colorado, the Yeshiva University, and the University of South Florida has also shown that some narcissists are actually able to adjust fairly well to aging. They can somehow reconcile the loss of their physical appearance and even recede into the background of their lives.
In these cases, they tend to redefine standards for being accepted and focus more on less superficial forms of recognizing others. They might, for example, boast about the great children they have raised or the accomplished younger associate they mentored. They are able to bask in the reflected glory of their offspring or mentees rather than needing the focus to be on themselves.
This is probably the healthiest adaptation for the aging narcissist given that the other possibilities either increase their vulnerability or emphasize their worst traits.
9. Narcissistic Collapse
A narcissistic collapse is the worst possible outcome for the aging narcissist. This is basically a massive mental breakdown that occurs when and if the narcissist loses their key source of narcissistic supply. For example, the death of their spouse could bring on such a breakdown.
When this happens, it basically results in the collapse of the false self they so carefully constructed in their childhood. That exposes their charade and all their lies, and it releases the monster buried beneath. This typically causes the narcissist to lash out viciously at others around them, and it also usually results in their absolute isolation.
It’s a sad end to a tragic life, and unfortunately, it occurs frequently in aging narcissists. Typically, it happens after all their other strategies have failed them and they face a life without any kind of support for their self-esteem.
Aging is difficult for anyone, but it’s particularly problematic for the narcissist who is externally validated and often relies on physical appearance and prowess to get their narcissistic supply. As their body fails them and they become less relevant in a world that favors youth, their struggle to maintain their self-esteem becomes more desperate.
The aging narcissist will often deny, defy, and blame all while becoming more extreme in their views and more isolated from family, friends, and colleagues. It’s a recipe for disaster, and though they might instead redefine their standards and live out their golden years in relative peace, it’s not uncommon for the stress of losing their narcissistic supply to result in a narcissistic collapse.
There are many different ways that narcissists react to aging, and with a better understanding of the possibilities, it’s critical to understand a little more about the specifics of how age affects different narcissists. That’s why you’ll need to read this post about whether a narcissistic mother gets worse with age. It will give you more insights into aging and the narcissist.
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