Today’s topic is going to be on how to deal with an aging narcissistic parent. Dealing with an aging narcissistic parent is a common topic. With a lot of my clients,
the stories over the years have prompted me to address this issue in depth because it’s such an extensive topic. I’ll be addressing this issue on several podcasts. Let me start by saying it’s hard to leave a narcissist. You can’t live with them. It’s so hard to love them. You find yourself feeling as if you wanna scream and pull out your hair.
When you’re around them, I’m sure you always feel as if you’re walking on eggshells when you’re around them. I have worked in senior behavioral health over the years and there are many that have mental health issues that continue as they age. And researchers say that narcissistic tendencies become less as they age.
After supporting many family caregivers for over 20 years, I can tell you that many caregivers and adult children have not had the experience of things getting less many, experienced them getting worse. Many deal with self important family members daily. So I’m gonna share a story about one or two of my family caregivers.
And this, the first one, breaks my heart. I’m gonna share the story of Star, it’s not a real name. And her narcissistic mother, Edith Star, was a mom of two adult children, and when her father died, she became her mother’s care. Star’s. Mom, let’s call her. Edith came from a very well off family and as a young woman, Edith got married.
She demanded her new husband live and stay in her parents’ home. Edith hated that her husband would go out to work. He probably run, wanted to run out to work many days after. He said I do. But over time, after Edith went to great lengths to sabotage every job he had, Edith’s husband stayed. So when Star’s dad died, Star was left to take care of her mother and it was the most difficult and challenging thing Star would do.
In the end, her inability to leave her narcissistic mom contributed to her death. And I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Star provided care for her mom for over five long years. Star was a single mother of two sons. As I said before, they were both in college. Star needed to work for a living. She needed to pay the bills.
She also felt obligated to provide care for her mom. And Edith embodied every single trait of a narcissist. A malignant narcissist is that she wanted what she wanted, when she wanted it, and nothing was going to get in her way. Edith went to great lengths to get her way. Star moved her mom into her home.
Her mom was incontinent of bowel and bladder at times, not consistently. And Edith refused to put a diaper on. She would sit on the couch and if she did not make it to the bathroom, she would find a way to blame it on Star. Edith hated being alone, and Star had to go out to work. She had bills to pay and as, no, this should not be surprised to many of you with a narcissistic parent.
Her mom refused to contribute to the household. Edith believed that her money was hers. And she believed that. So was Stars . Oh God, Poor star. She tried so many times to go to work. Her mom was ruthless. She was not going to allow Star to work outside the home. Instead, she went to great lengths to get her way.
Edith used to call the police and report that she was abandoned. When that didn’t work, she would call a taxi and go to Star’s place of work and. All these terrible scenes, so the star would lose her job. There is so much more to share on this story. But while you’re a narcissistic parent may not be as bad as stars.
What it, what you are dealing with is still very real and. Be aware, narcissism comes in many forms and in Star’s case, she dealt with the most uncompromising parent, a very selfish doc person. She exploited her daughter. Anyone caring for an aging narcissistic parent has a very difficult burden to.
Your parent may never have been given an official diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder NPD. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. It does not mean they are not the narcissist you believe them to be. Let me explain.
Even if they did have an official diagnosis of N P D or narcissistic personality disorder, I want to make you aware that the traits of this disorder are so deeply ingrained in the person’s personality that it, it is notoriously difficult to treat. And I can tell you that learning about this disorder can help you, the family caregiver, to better deal and handle with the aging narcissist.
First, let’s discuss what is narcissism. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders As a group having a specific set of impairments in their identity. They lack self direction, have impaired ability, and interpersonal relationships. They actually have pathological personality traits.
These personality traits are marked by hostile or antagonistic traits. They lack empathy for others. They have feelings of grandiosity and our attention seekers. They are deceitful, manipulative, and callous individuals. And it’s important to note here that there are several types of narcissism and several levels of narcissism
Star’s mom, Edith, was one of the most extreme cases I have seen. So let me explain the different types of narcissist. You can determine what type your aging, narcissistic parent resembles the most. The grandiose narcissist is like a peacock. They flaunt their imagined superiority in your face. They are very deceitful.
They can be charming and even appear to care about you. That is until you get in their way that all bets are off. They see you as the enemy.
One of the narcissists that comes to mind famous narcissists that comes to mind is, Ted Bundy, he was very handsome, very charming and very deceitful as we all found out.
I personally have had interactions with this type of narcissist in my life. And be aware, there are many people in positions of power that we interact with in our day-to-day lives. Some of the bosses in our lives, CEOs, definitely politicians. Oh Lord, yes. Are people that have used narcissism to their advantage.
I right now I’m gonna share a story about Mary Jean. She was an adult child of a narcissistic mother. Mary Jean’s. Mom was the peacock type of narcissist, so when she became ill, she became the attention seeking drama queen. We all want to avoid. Poor Mary Jean. Jean could never do anything right. She always hated her mother and avoided her at all cost.
Mary Jean was of a single mother with her own adult children. The rest of her siblings did not want anything to do with their mother. She had drained them dry, and Mary Jean being the eldest and the only female in the family was expected to take care of her mom. And here lies the problem because Mary Jean was so torn, she knew her mom needed help.
She knew her mom would make unrealistic demands on her life. She knew she was already resentful of the way her mom treated her. Yet Mary Jean had a part of her that felt obligated to take care of her. The peacock narcissist has a way of having that impact on people. They’ll charm the pants off you.
They’ll manipulate you to get their way. They control you with criticism and limited praise. Sometimes it’s no praise at all or even acknowledgement that what you did was that you did anything because of her feeling, because of her mixed feelings about her mom. Mary Jean agreed to be the primary caregiver for her mom.
And I’ll share more about Mary Jean later, but let’s talk about the next type of narcissist. This is the covert narcissist. They come across as individuals that are sensitive, self-deprecating, and introverted. This type of narcissist has a knack for manipulating those around them to get them to do what they want. This is the most difficult type of narcissist. To identify because there’s no black and white way to spot a narcissist. It’s a mental disorder that goes undetected in many. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that we all have a degree of narcissism in us.
Self-preservation is a basic human trait in humans and in animals. So it’s important to know that individuals with NPD often have other mental health issues. Depression or other personality disorders. So let’s address the elephant in in the room. Are you caring for a narcissistic parent? Let’s first address your parent’s sense of self importance.
Do their needs come before everyone else’s? Even the trivial ones, Mary Jean’s mom had to have a coffee from a certain coffee shop. In her old neighborhood, she expected Mary Jean to drive miles out of her way to get that cup of coffee. She was relentless in having that morning cup of Joe, and even when the weather was bad or when Mary Jean was not feeling well or had an appointment, she wanted that cup of coffee.
Here’s another trait to consider. Are they hypersensitive to criticism? I once worked with a doctor that brought his dog to work with him every day. I’m a huge dog lover, and Lucy and I bonded. She would look for me when she came into the building and she would find me in my office working and often spend the day there with me.
The doctor was upset that the dog liked me and spent so much time with me, and I teased and told him one day, Oh, the dog liked me better because I took her on walks. We interacted with residents and and I talked to her during the day. She was great with the patients and she enjoyed her day at work.
Sadly, it was not long after I said that, but Lucy was no longer allowed to go to work. He took it a personal affront that Lucy was enjoying herself with someone other than himself. So here’s a question I wanna ask. Do you have feelings of fear, obligation, or guilt when you are interacting or even providing care to your narcissistic parent?
Does your parent provoke or encourage these emotions to use them in to their advantage? Another way to put this is, are they using emotional blackmail on you to get what they want? If you answered yes to any of these questions, while it may necessarily not mean your parent is a narcissist, and they could have undiagnosed personality disorders, so it’s my goal to help you learn to navigate those abrasive parts of their personality.
The first thing to consider in your is your family member’s personality. Is it the same as has it has been over the course of their life, or are you seeing new characteristics that are emerging? If they have always been noticeably manipulative, self-absorbed, and attention seeking for as long as you have known them, chances are they are and have always been a narcissist.
Now, to the surprise of many family care caregivers, there are seniors that do suddenly develop narcissistic tendencies. This may occur following a major life event such as the loss of a spouse or the onset of a major health issue. They may also be suffering from depression, grief, and anxiety. Grief and anxiety can manifest in strange ways.
So if you are a family caregiver or an adult child of a narcissist, it’s important to rule out those changes in mood and behaviors. In some cases, these symptoms can be easily treated or they may point to an underlying medical problem like the onset of dementia. And this leads me to my next question, what causes a person to become a narcissist?
So many family caregivers have come to me over the years feeling is that they are being constantly bombarded with demands of their time and attention. Their family member offers little to no thanks or even acknowledgement of their caregiving efforts. For true narcissists like Edith, Star’s mom, her behaviors have been a way of life.
Edith was the result of her biology, her genetics and her environment. She was made to feel very special and important to her parents. They indulged her every whim. Even when she married, they supported her and her spouse not to work outside of the home. All humans are genetically programmed to be concerned for their individual health and wellbeing.
That’s important to remember. We’re all programmed to be concerned for our own individual health and wellbeing, even when it sometimes comes at the expense of others. While it is thought, NPD is hereditary. There is a strong belief that environmental factors, such as abuse, neglecting, or over-parenting causes narcissistic tendencies to develop.
In Edith’s case, you can see how she would could have developed those narcissistic tendencies. Now let’s talk about how to deal with a narcissistic parent.
The caregiving dynamic is very complex, and even for what we perceive as the most normal loving and tight knit family, there are challenges. When an aging parent has narcissistic tendencies, it’s not only frustrating, it can be extremely painful for the primary caregiver. Star and Mary Jean found the interactions between their aging, narcissistic parents, overwhelming and difficult to deal with and navigate.
As with all family caregivers, the lifelong patterns between an aging parent and their adult children return Old family dynamics kick in. This happens across the board with all family caregivers providing care for their parents. Everyone reverts back to those old roles in those family dynamics. So if you were the bossy sister, that’s me.
Or you were the the organized one in the family member or the athlete and the family member that was always treated special. Those old tapes come back to us very easily and those, and our roles in the family and the emotions can be pretty intense. Both Star and Mary Jean were in a cycle of emotional blackmail and verbal altercations. They both lived with constant ongoing drama in their lives. It was mentally and emotionally exhausting for them.
Both caregivers knew that if they were not careful, they would pay horrific consequences for their actions or words. The best option when dealing with a narcissist is to avoid being baited into outright confrontation at all costs.
Before directly challenging your aging narcissistic parent, you should determine what you want to achieve by confronting the problem. If the issue is a minor one, it might be the best for the family caregiver just to give in and allow their parent to enjoy their perceived victory.
Lord knows we’ve all done that a million times. Just trying to keep peace in the family. I will tell you that this always comes at a great cost to you personally. It negatively affects the health and wellbeing of the family caregiver. For Star, it took five years for her to get the courage up to address her issues in a non-confrontational and productive way.
So when interacting with your aging parent, I strongly recommend that you choose your battles wisely. One way to do this is identifying what you want from that narcissist. Then you can accomplish that by aligning with what is in their best interests. For example, your parent refuses to take their medication, and this happens a lot.
They believe that prescribing, that the prescribing physician is a quack. Turn that around on them by reminding them that they’re more like to have to see that guard doctor again if they don’t take these pills, and they will have to endure that doctor’s uneducated, rambles, because Lord knows the narcissist in your family knows everything about.
Everything always , they are the experts. Even worse suggest that they will become sicker and subjected to other uneducated medical professionals or will have to sit for hours in the ER because their condition has worsened. On the other hand if they take the medication, You can tell them they’ll be able to avoid further unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office or ER.
Hey, it takes work for a family caregiver to change the way they think. Narcissists are master manipulative leaders. They are notoriously difficult to care. The good news is there are strategies that can help you with what you want to accomplish, so you don’t feel as if you’re selling your soul to the devil.
Over the years, I have found many caregivers that are uncomfortable using this techniques. It’s just they’re unsure. They, there’s a book I’ll, I’m gonna recommend the Dance of Anger. Check it out because you’re in a dance right now and you all are familiar with the steps and you need to actually change the step pattern.
To, and that’s not easy to do, but it’s possible. I can assure you that with practice and a firm commitment to change, you can do this. The first step is to detach and set boundaries. All right? Your heart rates are already going up. Oh my God. Set boundaries. , please don’t wait to include these strategies into your caregiving.
I will tell you, Star waited too long. She worked so hard and had so many obstacles placed at her path by her mother, and I will tell you she finally did. She was successful in getting in her mom into an assisted living, but unbeknownst to us, Star had medical issues she ignored for a very long time. This is common with so many family caregivers.
But just as she was starting to get her life back, she went into the hospital for tests and she never came out.
It broke our hearts.
Before I leave you, I want you to know that chronic stress kills 63% of all family caregivers die before the person they are caring for does. So I hope you will continue follow me to part two, to learn strategies that may save your life or at least improve the quality of your life.
I’m Diane Carbo with Caregiver Relief. Remember, you are the most important part of any caregiving and equation. Without you, it all falls apart. Practice self care every day because you are worth it.