What you need to know for dealing with a narcissistic elderly mother or father when planning care
Narcissism in the family is incredibly difficult to deal with. The narcissistic person is always right, nothing you do is good enough for them, and it’s always your fault. This can mean that as a child of a parent who is narcissistic, you have had to endure a lot. However, as our parents become older, fragile and more vulnerable, we can’t help but want to be there for them and help. So how do you go about planning care for an elderly narcissistic parent?
What is narcissism?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental disorder and the person may exhibit superiority, and endless demands for attention, especially praise and recognition. The narcissistic parent may demonstrate a lack of empathy and be accustomed to manipulating others around them with little or no regard for their feelings or emotions. When it comes to caring for someone with this personality disorder, or planning and arranging their care, it can be an overwhelming thought.
Although personality disorders such as narcissism can become milder as the person ages, it can still be present enough to be an issue, especially in a parent that you are trying to help. It may bring back all sorts of memories and triggers that make it much harder for you to deal with. It could be that your elderly parent has developed narcissism in their old age, this can be due to a variety of reasons, including trauma, or depression. It could also be that they are exhibiting some narcissistic traits because of dementia.
Understanding narcissism, how it works, where it comes from and how it manifests is an important tool for you to survive. So, if you haven’t already, ensure that you know everything there is to know about it. It can help a great deal to see a therapist on a regular basis as support for you, as well as assistance in understanding how to navigate around an elderly narcissistic parent, especially if you are going to care for your parent yourself.
Caring for your narcissistic parent yourself
This can be a tough decision and much more draining than caring for the non-narcissistic parent. You will need to carefully consider your options here, thinking about your own mental health. If you have already made the decision to care for your parent yourself, ensure that you take regular breaks, set boundaries and get as much external support as you can to retain your self-esteem, sense of self, and perspective.
If you are within the narcissistic environment for too long without outside breaks, you will find it much harder to retain your own mental health. Have a good support network and you may also wish to engage regularly with a therapist.
Dealing with Gaslighting
If you were raised by a narcissist, this is behaviour you may already be familiar with, and if not then you need to be aware of it. A narcissist will often try to make you feel as though you are losing your mind, or that you are delusional and this behaviour has become known as ‘gaslighting’. This behaviour could develop with the onset of dementia if they have not previously exhibited gaslighting behaviour.
It might be that they tell you that you remember a situation incorrectly, or trying to tell you that your perceptions are not correct, or always insisting they are the victim and you are doing something wrong. They will make you doubt yourself and are attempts at manipulation. This can make it incredibly difficult to discuss that they need care, or you may feel forced into caring for them.
Dealing with ‘nothing is good enough and everything is your fault’
Narcissism can include irritability, they take a dig at you, along with a scolding. This can be incredibly difficult to navigate for adult children of narcissistic parents, especially while you are trying to care for your parent. It can be easy for you to slip into feeling like a scolded child again.
For example, you place a meal in front of your parent that you took care in preparing and your parent simply gets cross, saying ‘I don’t want you to use that plate, I TOLD you this.’ It’s important to keep yourself in the now, reminding yourself that you are an adult and in control of your own life. Keep calm and realise this is simply a manipulation tactic to help the narcissist feel superior or a projection of their own feelings of inadequacy. You can offer to change the plate in this example, or say that you will remember this for next time.
Arranging care for your narcissistic parent
Narcissists will very rarely seek care for themselves and will probably resent any form of ageing. If you decide that caring for your narcissistic parent is going to be, or already is too much, there is no shame in handing over the care of your parent to a care provider and even distancing yourself. Sometimes we have to preserve our own sanity and health from toxic relationships.
Having a talk about your parent needing care is not something that is going to go well with the narcissist, so it can be good to get help from a therapist in preparation for this. The discussion is likely to end up with you feeling guilty. You will need to be strong and explain what is going to happen, ensuring that you retain your boundaries and stick to your plan. If you have a support network or other members of the family to help with this, get them involved.
Getting external help will save you from a lot of heartache. An employed care worker will be able to treat your parent with dignity and care, but also be able to handle their personality. Your parent may be a difficult person to help, but a good carer will be able to help them despite this. It is much easier for a person without your emotional attachments to be able to deal with the narcissistic parent.
Narcissism and dementia - how can you tell?
It can be difficult to see dementia in a person who is narcissistic, especially in the early stages of cognitive decline. You may struggle to distinguish between actual memory problems and gaslighting behaviour, and they may use gaslighting to deal with it. In early stages of dementia, the narcissist will blame others for their forgetfulness, however this could also be a normal occurrence in ageing. So, how can you tell if a narcissistic parent is developing dementia?
As their cognitive abilities decline with dementia, it will become very much apparent, you will need to be observant in their behaviours to spot changes, as they will continue to blame others, but will be more likely to withdraw from others to save their ego, rather than thrive on the attention.
Once severe cognitive decline is in progress with the narcissist, this is a stage where they may be at risk of suicide; a narcissist is more likely to follow through, rather than use it as a tool for attention. When they are no longer able to look after themselves, narcissists shut down and may occasionally behave like a non-narcissist person. Family members may cling to this with hope but the progression of the dementia is too advanced. Anger outbursts will be common as well as paranoid delusions. The narcissist is so convincing even at this stage that they are able to draw in others into their delusional state.
If your parent has been otherwise non-narcissistic and seems to have suddenly developed some these traits, this may also be indicative of dementia.
You are not alone
There are plenty of support groups for this particular situation too, you are definitely not alone in this. The very reason this article has been written is because it is more common than you probably think. Have a look on Facebook and on the internet, you will find groups and forums where you can connect with others to get some additional help, advice and support.