Aging is hard. For so many of us, losing our vitality and facing our mortality is a scary, painful grind. But we discover upsides, like knowing stuff, slowing down to listen, seeing our kids and grandkids thrive and helping them when they falter, enjoying long-term connections with family and friends, recognizing our core values and releasing shallow pursuits, reaping the fruits of our professional and personal labors.

The wise among us take time to reflect, savor, and continue finding ways to grow and give back, like deeply ringed trees breathing out life-giving oxygen.

Aging Narcissists: Big Sissies

Bette Davis aptly said, “growing old is not for sissies.” Pathetically, there is no bigger sissy than a narcissist. And as their sources of self-worth and identity dwindle, they become more brittle and weak, likely to wither at first frost rather than root in for winter and bloom again.

Bitterness

Instead of maturing, mellowing, and gaining wisdom, people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), unless helped with treatment (which is very rare), 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, rage, resentment, and/or depressed resignation.

Having relied heavily on externalities such as their looks, wealth, possessions, connections, fame, or professional achievement to fortify their fragile self-esteem, older narcissists find themselves increasingly stripped of their defenses and diminished in their ability to charm, influence, impress, 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 only exacerbates matters. Aging narcissists typically become more

  1. desperate,
  2. deluded,
  3. isolated,
  4. paranoid,
  5. defensive,
  6. bitter,
  7. angry,
  8. rigid,
  9. mean, and
  10. abusive.

Isolation

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  • Spouses may have left or withdrawn to avoid their criticism and combativeness.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 kids.
  • 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.

Bigotry

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, homophobia, and racism to bolster themselves against their tormented feelings of lost power over others.

Julie L. Hall writes about narcissism for HuffPost and PsychCentral. She is the author of two forthcoming books: a memoir (read excerpts) and a book on the narcissistic family.

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