Defending Yourself Against the Aging Narcissist
By: Beth McHugh 2007
We’ve discussed in previous articles the many pitfalls of dealing with the aging narcissist, especially when the person concerned is a parent. There is an internal struggle familiar to adult children of narcissists: On one hand is the need to treat their frail and aging parent in a humane way. and, on the other, a profound desire to maintain a sense of self and prevent further psychological harm to oneself.
Here are some tips for dealing with this delicate dance between acting humanely and self-preservation:
- Know your weaknesses.
As discussed in previous articles, these may not be weaknesses at all, but rather psychological entry points through which your parent may enter your psyche and manipulate you by asking you to do seemingly “reasonable” things which you know are unreasonable, both by their timing and frequency of demand.
The same buttons that your parent used when you were a child to get what they wanted will be used on you as an adult. You need to be aware of what they are, how you fall for these “tricks of the narcissistic trade” and act accordingly. As an adult, you can no longer legitimately go on blaming your parent for their behaviors. You must change the way you deal with your parent. You must become the mature one, as they never will.
- Be aware of strategies that have worked for you in the past
and which ones have not.
Look at the times when you came away from an encounter with your parent and you felt in control. What did you do to achieve this? Also look at those times when you came away with a profound sense of rage, guilt or both. What happened on those occasions? One of the classic mistakes in dealing with narcissists is to get angry with them. This is when they come into their element by adopting a familiar air of superiority. In watching you lose it, they can sit back and convince themselves that you are out of control, when the reality is clearly that they are out of control. It is profoundly comforting to a narcissist for them to see you in a rage. And they’ll never let you forget it as it is so important for them to hold onto these pieces of evidence that they are superior to you. This is how they continue to sustain their narcissistic bubble.
- Examine carefully all the achievements you have made in
your life in spite of your background.
Your achievements, your victories, your assets: you have attained all of them without the usual parental encouragement and assistance. In fact, you may well have been berated for your achievements or even hijacked temporarily by your parent in your journey to success. Hold onto these achievements as belonging to you and you alone. These successes separate you from your narcissistic parent. For as much as your parent doesn’t see you as a separate entity, so you often may falter over your own sense of independence. As you have likely spent a lifetime trying to get love from your parent or else consumed with rage at the absence of love, it is hard to see yourself for the valuable person you really are. Make an effort to see that you are not who your parent says you are, you are what you believe yourself to be.
- If you are in a caretaking role with your aging parent,
try to be very clear about how to approach nurturing your parent versus
how you may nurture another family member or friend who doesn’t
suffer from NPD. Your parent will expect but not value all that you
do for them. Your aging friend, by contrast, may not expect but will
value all that you do for them. Your expectations must be changed
to suit the situation. Expect nothing in terms of thanks. Be very
clear about what you will do and will not do for your parent. Be prepared
for arguments and child-like tantrums. Do try your best to stick to
your rules. Possibly the best way to achieve this is to pre-empt the
situation and write a list of what you will do and will tolerate.
- Prepare a simple statement of one sentence that you repeat
over and over to your parent when they make unrealistic demands
or even realistic ones that you cannot meet on any given day because
of prior commitments. Accept that you will be abused. The best way
to accept abuse is to accept that your parent, is sick, which in fact
they are. Changing your mindset to accept sick behavior as compared
to bad behavior can be the key to overcoming the rage and anger that
you feel at the hands of this parent.