The Aging Narcissist
Age can be a funny thing when it comes to narcissism. There are some narcissistic people who seem to "age out" of many of their behaviors as they get older. You might see a change from the more hysterical or violent behaviors they displayed when they were younger. They are still narcissistic and their motivations or mindsets don't usually change, but sometimes the behaviors do. This is probably why some seem to "evolve" from overt to covert and things like that. It could be simply that the behavior has changed over time.
This may be because they are maturing, even if at a much, much slower pace than someone who is not narcissistic, and it may be because the people around them are less willing to tolerate these behaviors as time goes by. It is one thing to deal with a tantrum from somebody who is 25. It is another to deal with one from somebody who is 55. People are generally much more forgiving of these things when someone is young. As the person ages but their behavior stays the same, we often find that the people around them take a much harder view of it. And of course, the people who have been listening to these tantrums for 20 years are finally getting tired of it.
We also find that people are much more accepting of the narcissist's tales of woe when they are younger. If someone is 25 or even 30, it's possible that they've just been dealt a crummy hand for a little while and that's why they don't have themselves together. It's reasonable to look at their life and say, "Yes, I can see you went through a divorce or you lost your job or you had a bad childhood, etc. and that's why you're in the position that you're in." However, as the narcissistic person gets older, it becomes harder and harder to justify these things. When someone is over 40, it's not really reasonable to believe their problems now are because of things that happened 20 years ago - or longer. Whether this is true or not, the perception of those around them is going to be much less forgiving.
It's absolutely never too late to start over or change your life,, but pathologically narcissistic people do not really want to change anything. As they get older, it becomes easier and easier to see this. They are simply trotting out the same stories, excuses and conspiracies they've been using for the last however many decades to explain their lack of success in relationships, with jobs or in general. The scenery never changes and no matter how much help they are given by any number of people, the situation never gets better. People begin to realize that this is a person who not only does not actually want to change anything, but also a person who will not even do small things to make the situation better, and they start to question all of the narcissist's excuses and stories. They start to wonder who the problem really is here.
Narcissists that are able to change their narrative will often do so in these situations. The villain will often change and the behavior may change in some ways as well, but if you pay attention, you will see that the basic story never does. There is always a bad guy, or always a bad situation. There is always a reason that the narcissist cannot be the amazing person with the amazing life that they know they really are inside. Someone always ruins it for them. Someone always sabotages their plans. Something always messes things up. Alternately, they are always overcoming insurmountable odds and perilous oppression to be the impressive victor, or they are always the hero of the story somehow. They were either always the best or always the worst, somehow, some way.
The longer people know the pathologically narcissistic person, the clearer this becomes. People eventually realize that this person always has an excuse. They always have someone to blame. They always have an angle. It starts to become impossible to believe and eventually, no one does anymore. This is why narcissists often change groups of friends or partners regularly. As they get older, this can become harder to do. It can become harder to meet people and harder to manipulate or impress them as the narcissist gets older.
The average age of the people who will readily believe their stories of conspiracy and blame or their tales designed to impress has often gotten younger but the narcissist has gotten older. In some cases, it may no longer be appropriate or possible for them to be around people so much younger than they are, but people their own age may not be as receptive to their hard luck stories or heroic, self-aggrandizing narratives as those who are younger. They may not be as sympathetic or as easily-impressed as younger people might be.
And then there are the narcissistic people who are not able to evolve or change anything at all - no matter how small. They cannot change the narrative, they cannot evolve their behavior. They continue to behave the same way, no matter how old they get. Whether they are 15 or 25 or 55, the behavior remains the same. This happens because the more narcissistic someone is, the more rigid and inflexible their narcissism is. If it is inflexible enough, they may be actually unable to adapt their behavior to a new or changing situation, even if the behavior is completely detrimental to them or even ruining their life. For example, a narcissist who has nowhere left to go but cannot seem to stop behaving in a way that results in them ultimately being removed from the place they were living, despite being warned repeatedly and despite having nowhere else to go because of this same behavior.
After decades of this, some narcissists will learn coping mechanisms to deal with these situations, but others will not. Instead of learning different or more successful manipulation tactics, they simply keep trying the same ones over and over, even if they no longer work. For example, a narcissist that was able to manipulate or attract people with their looks may still attempt to use this method, even though it is no longer successful. Or one that was able to create sympathy in others because they were in frail health may still attempt to use this, even though they are no longer ill. A narcissist that had a claim to fame once upon a time may still attempt to impress people with this claim, even though it doesn't matter or isn't important anymore.
Aging can create a crisis in the lives of narcissistic people because they may find they are not able to use the same manipulations on people, or that these manipulations no longer work the way they once did. They may begin to panic because they don't know other ways to get what they need. As we discussed, some may learn new manipulations eventually but many do not. They are simply stuck in a cycle of the same behavior but without getting the same results. This can cause them increasing amounts of anxiety and stress, so instead of their behavior getting better, it can actually get worse as they get older and their strategies for getting what they need start to fail. If they are no longer strong or beautiful or impressive or able to garner sympathy, they feel powerless to get what they need and unable to come up with a new strategy.
One of the most stressful situations involving aging narcissists is when it is an elderly parent or caregiver. People may feel trapped into these situations and unable to refuse because there is nobody else to do it. Others may be guilted or pressured into doing it by the parent or other family members. This can be made worse by the fact that people who do not understand the situation may be very judgmental about someone's decision to cut off contact with family, particularly parents.
If you find yourself in this situation, remember that you are under no obligation to do anything for anybody that has treated you badly, is not respectful of you or your time, or who treats you badly. Period. If you choose to help them, that is your decision and don't forget that. You're not trapped and you don't have to do it. If they have no one else to take care of them, that's their responsibility. You may choose to take care of them because of this, and if you are choosing to do it out of the goodness of your heart, that's your decision and no one else's. One of the things that can make this more bearable is to remember that the way they behave is not personal. They were this way before you ever came along and it has nothing to do with you. This is a person who knows no other way to behave and who has the mindset of a child. They have no power except what other people give them. The only power they really even have is over the other person's emotions and that's if it is given it to them. They can't hurt you at all once you realize the truth of these things.
That's why learning to use the Grey Rock Method and the art of not reacting is so important. It puts you in charge of yourself, which is the one thing in the situation that you can control. You can't control other people but you can choose who you let in your life and how you let them affect you. And once again, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. If you choose to do it, know what you are choosing. This person is going to be the same person they've always been. If they've never been grateful, appreciative or considerate, they are not going to suddenly be that way now. If they've always been abusive and horrible, that's likely not going to change. Adjust your expectations to be realistic and learn not to take it personally. That is the only real way to manage the situation. And once again, it's your choice.