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Narcissism, characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, is a fascinating psychological phenomenon that has intrigued researchers, therapists, and individuals alike.

But here’s the burning question: Do narcissists get worse with age? As we delve into this topic, let’s begin with a brief overview of narcissism and its key traits.

Do Narcissists get worse with age? One study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (F.Stinson et al, 2008) suggested that pathological narcissists might mellow out, as the characteristics of NPD were more prevalent among younger adults compared to older ones.

Table of contents

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an inflated self-image, an intense desire for attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Narcissists often believe they are special and entitled to special treatment. They have a grandiose sense of self-importance and constantly seek validation and admiration from others.

Key Traits of Narcissism

To better understand narcissism, it’s important to recognize some of the key traits commonly associated with this personality trait:

  1. Grandiosity: Narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and believe they are superior to others.
  2. Attention-seeking: They constantly crave attention, admiration, and praise from others.
  3. Lack of empathy: Narcissists struggle to understand or connect with the emotions and experiences of others.
  4. Exploitative tendencies: They may exploit others to achieve their own goals, often without remorse.
  5. Sense of entitlement: Narcissists believe they deserve special treatment and are entitled to privileges.
  6. Fragile self-esteem: Despite their seemingly confident exterior, narcissists have fragile self-esteem that is easily wounded.

Now that we have a basic understanding of narcissism, let’s dive into the question at hand: Do narcissists get worse with age?

Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Overview of NPD and Its Diagnostic Criteria

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a complex and challenging mental health condition that significantly impacts individuals and those around them. To be diagnosed with NPD, certain criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) must be met. While we won’t go into the specific criteria here, it’s crucial to understand that NPD involves a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, an insatiable need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.

Common Characteristics and Behaviors of Narcissists

Narcissists, whether they have NPD or not, often exhibit a range of common characteristics and behaviors that can be detrimental to their relationships and personal well-being. Some of these characteristics include:

  1. Grandiose Self-Image: Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance and believe they are superior to others. They constantly seek validation and admiration to feed their fragile self-esteem.
  2. Attention-Seeking Behavior: Whether through extravagant displays, boastful conversations, or social media posts, narcissists crave constant attention and admiration. They need others to affirm their perceived specialness.
  3. Lack of Empathy: Empathy is often lacking in narcissists. They struggle to understand or connect with the emotions and experiences of others, prioritizing their own needs and desires.
  4. Exploitative Tendencies: Narcissists may exploit others to fulfill their own desires and ambitions. They often lack remorse or guilt for their manipulative behaviors and disregard for the well-being of others.
  5. Sense of Entitlement: Narcissists believe they are entitled to special treatment and privileges. They expect others to cater to their needs and may become resentful or angry when this expectation is not met.

Impact of NPD on Relationships and Personal Well-being

Narcissistic Personality Disorder takes a toll on both the individual with NPD and those in their lives. Here’s a closer look at how it affects relationships and personal well-being:

  1. Intense Relationship Struggles: NPD often leads to tumultuous and challenging relationships. The excessive need for admiration, coupled with a lack of empathy, can strain even the closest bonds.
  2. Manipulative and Controlling Behavior: Narcissists tend to manipulate others to serve their own needs, often engaging in emotional manipulation, gaslighting, and other toxic behaviors. This erodes trust and damages the emotional well-being of their partners, friends, and family members.
  3. Emotional and Psychological Impact: Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be emotionally draining and psychologically distressing. Constant criticism, devaluation, and the inability to have one’s own needs met can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
  4. Isolation from Support Networks: Narcissists may isolate their partners or loved ones, creating a sense of dependency and control. This can make it difficult for individuals to seek help or support from friends and family.
  5. Challenges for Self-Growth: Narcissists often struggle with personal growth and introspection. Their grandiose self-image and resistance to feedback or criticism hinder their ability to reflect on their behavior and make positive changes.

Understanding the impact of NPD on relationships and personal well-being is crucial in recognizing the significance of this disorder. In the next section, we’ll explore whether narcissists truly worsen with age and the factors that may contribute to any progression or decline in narcissistic behaviors.

Does Narcissism Change with Age?

Research Findings on the Stability of Narcissistic Traits Over Time

The question of whether narcissists get worse with age is a subject that has intrigued researchers and clinicians. While there is no definitive answer, research suggests that narcissistic traits tend to remain relatively stable throughout a person’s life. Here’s what the studies reveal:

  1. Long-Term Stability: Several longitudinal studies have shown that narcissistic traits, such as grandiosity and entitlement, tend to persist over time. Individuals who exhibit narcissistic tendencies in their youth often continue to display those traits into adulthood and later stages of life.
  2. Modest Decline in Some Traits: Although overall narcissism remains relatively stable, there may be a slight decline in certain aspects with age. For example, research suggests that narcissistic individuals may become less assertive or exhibitionistic as they grow older. However, the core traits and patterns of thinking associated with narcissism often remain intact.

Potential Factors Influencing the Progression or Decline of Narcissism

While narcissism generally shows stability over time, there are certain factors that may influence its progression or decline as individuals age. It’s important to consider these factors when exploring the question of whether narcissists worsen with age:

  1. Life Circumstances: Significant life events, such as loss, failure, or a decline in physical attractiveness, can impact the self-esteem of narcissists. These events may either trigger a worsening of narcissistic behaviors as a defense mechanism or lead to self-reflection and potential personal growth.
  2. Social and Environmental Influences: The social and cultural environment in which individuals with narcissistic traits reside can play a role in shaping their behavior. For instance, if they are surrounded by a supportive network that encourages personal growth and self-awareness, narcissistic tendencies may be mitigated to some extent.
  3. Psychological and Emotional Factors: Narcissism is often rooted in deep-seated psychological factors, such as childhood experiences and attachment styles. Addressing unresolved emotional issues through therapy or self-reflection can potentially lead to a decline in narcissistic behaviors.

Discussion of the Notion That Narcissism Can Worsen with Age

While research indicates that narcissistic traits tend to remain relatively stable, there is a common belief that narcissism can worsen with age. This notion may stem from observations of certain behaviors commonly associated with aging narcissists, such as increased defensiveness, decreased adaptability, and heightened resistance to change.

Expert Says

Sharonda “Nya B” Brown, MA, NCC, LPC

Licensed Mental Health Clinician and National Board Certified Counselor


It’s essential to approach this notion with caution and avoid generalizations. While some individuals may exhibit worsening narcissistic behaviors as they age, others might experience personal growth, increased self-awareness, or a shift in priorities. Each person’s journey is unique, and factors such as individual differences, life circumstances, and willingness to engage in self-reflection can significantly impact the trajectory of narcissism with age.

Remember, the key is not to focus solely on whether narcissists worsen with age but rather to understand the complex interplay of various factors that can influence the progression or decline of narcissistic traits. In the next section, we will delve deeper into the factors that contribute to the potential worsening of narcissism, as well as explore the possibilities for personal growth and change in aging narcissists.

Factors That May Contribute to the Worsening of Narcissism

Do Narcissists Get Worse With Age Exploring the Progression of Narcissism Over Time

As individuals age, they encounter various life events and changes that can potentially contribute to the worsening of narcissistic behaviors. Here are some examples:

  1. Loss of Power or Influence: Aging narcissists may struggle with the loss of power or influence they once had, such as retirement from a high-status job. This can lead to feelings of insecurity and an intensified need to assert dominance, resulting in heightened narcissistic behaviors.
  2. Physical Changes and Aging: The natural process of aging, including physical changes like wrinkles, grey hair, or a decline in physical attractiveness, can trigger narcissistic injury. In response, some narcissists may become more preoccupied with maintaining their appearance or seeking external validation.

Social and Environmental Influences

The social and environmental context in which narcissists exist can significantly influence the progression or exacerbation of their narcissistic behaviors. Consider the following factors:

  1. Enabling Environments: If narcissists are surrounded by individuals who reinforce their grandiose self-image or cater to their needs, it can perpetuate and worsen their narcissism. Such environments may shield them from the consequences of their behavior, hindering personal growth.
  2. Online Platforms and Social Media: The rise of social media has provided narcissists with new avenues for seeking attention and validation. Platforms that emphasize self-promotion and the accumulation of followers can amplify narcissistic tendencies, leading to more extreme behaviors over time.

Psychological and Emotional Factors

Various psychological and emotional factors can contribute to the worsening of narcissism in individuals as they age. These factors include:

  1. Threats to Self-Esteem: Aging can pose threats to a narcissist’s fragile self-esteem, especially if they perceive themselves as losing their physical attractiveness or societal relevance. In response, they may intensify their narcissistic behaviors to protect their ego.
  2. Emotional Regulation Difficulties: Narcissists often struggle with regulating their emotions and may rely on defense mechanisms such as projection or blame-shifting. As they age, difficulties in emotional regulation can contribute to the exacerbation of narcissistic behaviors.

Coping Mechanisms and Defense Mechanisms in Narcissists

Do Narcissists Get Worse With Age

Narcissists employ various coping mechanisms and defense mechanisms to maintain their grandiose self-image and protect themselves from feelings of vulnerability. Some examples include:

  1. Projection: Narcissists may project their own insecurities or negative qualities onto others, deflecting responsibility and maintaining their self-perception of superiority.
  2. Blame-Shifting: When faced with criticism or failure, narcissists often shift blame onto others, refusing to acknowledge their own shortcomings. This defense mechanism allows them to preserve their self-image.
  3. Idealization and Devaluation: In relationships, narcissists may alternate between idealizing their partners and devaluing them. This cycle of idealization and devaluation can intensify with age, leading to more destructive and manipulative behaviors.

Understanding the various factors that can contribute to the worsening of narcissism is crucial. However, it’s important to remember that not all narcissists follow the same trajectory, and some individuals may experience personal growth and positive change as they age. In the next section, we will explore the impact of aging on narcissistic relationships and whether narcissists can change or improve over time.

Expert Says

Dr. Jordan Schaul

Scientist with Degrees in Biology and Psychology | Founder, Scapegoat Strength


The Impact of Aging on Narcissistic Relationships

Navigating relationships with narcissists can be challenging at any stage of life. However, as narcissists age, certain dynamics and challenges may emerge that significantly impact the dynamics of their relationships. Let’s explore the impact of aging on narcissistic relationships, the dynamics of narcissistic abuse and manipulation, and the effects on the narcissist‘s partner or family members.

Challenges in Maintaining Relationships as Narcissists Age

Aging can exacerbate existing challenges in maintaining relationships with narcissists. Here are some common challenges that arise:

  1. Diminishing Sources of Narcissistic Supply: Narcissists rely on external validation and admiration, known as narcissistic supply, to maintain their inflated self-image. As they age, their sources of narcissistic supply may dwindle, leading to increased frustration, irritability, and potentially more manipulative behaviors to regain the attention they crave.
  2. Resistance to Change and Adaptability: Narcissists often struggle with change and adapting to new circumstances. As they age, their resistance to change can intensify, making it difficult to address relationship issues or engage in personal growth. This resistance can lead to increased conflict and stagnation within the relationship.

Dynamics of Narcissistic Abuse and Manipulation

Narcissistic abuse and manipulation are prevalent in relationships with narcissists, and these dynamics can intensify with age. Here are some key aspects to be aware of:

  1. Gaslighting and Manipulation Tactics: Narcissists are skilled manipulators who use tactics such as gaslighting, projection, and blame-shifting to control and dominate their partners. As they age, these manipulative behaviors may become more refined and deeply ingrained in their approach to maintain power and control.
  2. Escalation of Emotional and Psychological Abuse: Aging narcissists may escalate emotional and psychological abuse as they feel threatened by a loss of control or influence. This can manifest as increased belittling, insults, and emotional volatility, causing significant harm to their partners’ emotional well-being.

Effects on the Narcissist’s Partner or Family Members

Being in a relationship with a narcissist, especially as they age, can have detrimental effects on the partner or family members involved. Some common effects include:

  1. Emotional Exhaustion and Low Self-Esteem: Constant manipulation, gaslighting, and emotional abuse take a toll on the partner’s emotional well-being. They may experience emotional exhaustion, a diminished sense of self-worth, and increased self-doubt.
  2. Isolation and Loss of Support: Narcissists often isolate their partners from friends and family members, leaving them without a support system. This isolation can make it difficult for the partner to seek help or break free from the abusive relationship.
  3. Codependency and Enabling Behaviors: Partners and family members of narcissists may develop codependent tendencies, enabling the narcissist’s behaviors and sacrificing their own needs to maintain peace within the relationship. This can lead to a cycle of toxic dependency that becomes harder to break as time goes on.

It’s important to recognize the impact of aging on narcissistic relationships and the potential harm caused by narcissistic abuse and manipulation. In the next section, we will explore whether narcissists can change or improve with age, offering insights and strategies for dealing with aging narcissists.

Can Narcissists Change or Improve with Age?

As you navigate relationships with aging narcissists, you may wonder if there is any hope for change or improvement. Let’s examine the possibilities of personal growth and self-reflection, therapeutic interventions, and the limitations and challenges in treating narcissistic personality disorder.

Examination of the Possibility of Personal Growth and Self-Reflection

While narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) presents challenges for personal growth, some individuals with narcissistic traits may experience changes and improvements as they age. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Life Experiences and Humbling Moments: Aging can bring new experiences and humbling moments that prompt self-reflection. Significant life events, personal setbacks, or losses can lead narcissists to question their behaviors and consider the impact they have on others.
  2. Shift in Priorities: As individuals age, their priorities often change. Narcissists may shift their focus from external validation and grandiosity towards developing more meaningful connections and finding fulfillment in other aspects of life.

Therapeutic Interventions and Treatments for Narcissistic Individuals

Addressing narcissistic traits typically requires professional intervention and therapeutic approaches. Although narcissistic personality disorder itself is challenging to treat, certain therapeutic interventions can be beneficial:

  1. Psychodynamic Therapy: This therapeutic approach explores the underlying causes of narcissism, such as early life experiences and attachment issues. Psychodynamic therapy aims to increase self-awareness, promote insight, and facilitate personal growth.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on challenging and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can help narcissistic individuals identify and change maladaptive thinking, develop empathy, and improve their interpersonal skills.
  3. Group Therapy or Support Groups: Participating in group therapy or support groups can provide narcissistic individuals with opportunities for feedback, accountability, and the development of healthier relationship dynamics. Interacting with others who have similar experiences can foster empathy and self-reflection.

Limitations and Challenges in Treating Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Treating narcissistic personality disorder poses significant challenges, and it’s important to be realistic about the limitations:

  1. Resistance to Therapy: Narcissists often struggle with acknowledging their own flaws or seeking help. They may resist therapy or deny the need for change, hindering progress in treatment.
  2. Lack of Motivation for Change: Narcissists may not perceive their behaviors as problematic or see a reason to change. They may resist efforts to alter their patterns of thinking and behavior.
  3. Comorbidity with Other Disorders: Narcissistic personality disorder frequently coexists with other mental health conditions, such as depression or substance abuse. Treating these comorbidities can complicate the therapeutic process.

Remember that change is a deeply personal and individual journey. While some narcissists may show improvement or change, it is not guaranteed for everyone. It’s important to prioritize your own well-being and set healthy boundaries in relationships with narcissistic individuals.

In the next section, we will discuss strategies for dealing with aging narcissists, offering practical advice and support for navigating these complex dynamics.

Strategies for Dealing with Aging Narcissists

Dealing with aging narcissists can be challenging, but there are strategies you can employ to protect your well-being and navigate these complex relationships. Here are some practical tips for managing interactions with aging narcissists:

Setting Boundaries and Protecting Your Own Well-being

  1. Establish Clear Boundaries: Clearly define and communicate your boundaries to the narcissist. Be assertive in expressing what you will and will not tolerate in the relationship.
  2. Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care and engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. This will help maintain your emotional well-being and resilience in dealing with the narcissist’s behaviors.
  3. Recognize Manipulation Tactics: Educate yourself about common manipulation tactics used by narcissists, such as gaslighting or guilt-tripping. Being aware of these tactics empowers you to resist manipulation and protect your mental health.

Seeking Support from Friends, Family, or Professionals

  1. Reach Out to Supportive Individuals: Seek support from trusted friends, family members, or support groups who can provide validation, empathy, and guidance. Having a strong support network can offer valuable perspective and emotional reinforcement.
  2. Consider Therapy for Yourself: Individual therapy can be instrumental in helping you navigate the challenges of a relationship with a narcissist. A therapist can provide objective guidance, help you develop coping strategies, and assist in setting healthy boundaries.

Understanding and Managing Interactions with Narcissists

  1. Maintain Realistic Expectations: Recognize that you cannot change the narcissist’s behavior or personality. Adjust your expectations accordingly and focus on managing your own responses and well-being.
  2. Avoid Engaging in Power Struggles: Narcissists thrive on power struggles and conflicts. Choose your battles wisely and consider disengaging from arguments that will only escalate tensions.
  3. Practice Gray Rock Method: The Gray Rock Method involves becoming emotionally unresponsive and uninteresting to the narcissist. By not providing the attention and emotional reactions they seek, you can reduce their interest in engaging with you.

Remember, dealing with an aging narcissist can be emotionally draining, and it’s crucial to prioritize your well-being. Set boundaries, seek support, and focus on self-care. While you cannot change the narcissist, you can empower yourself to navigate the relationship more effectively.

In conclusion, while narcissists may not necessarily worsen with age, their behaviors can be challenging to manage. By understanding the dynamics at play, seeking support, and employing effective strategies, you can protect your well-being and maintain healthy boundaries in relationships with aging narcissists.


In this article, we have explored the intriguing question of whether narcissists get worse with age. Let’s recap the key points discussed, summarize the impact of aging on narcissistic behaviors, and provide some final thoughts on navigating relationships with aging narcissists.

Recap of Key Points Discussed in the Article

  • Narcissism is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy towards others.
  • Research suggests that narcissistic traits tend to remain relatively stable throughout a person’s life, with modest declines in certain aspects as individuals age.
  • Aging can bring challenges for narcissists, such as diminishing sources of narcissistic supply and resistance to change.
  • Factors such as life events, social influences, and psychological factors can contribute to the worsening of narcissistic behaviors in aging individuals.
  • Dealing with aging narcissists requires setting boundaries, seeking support, and understanding and managing interactions with them.

Summary of the Impact of Aging on Narcissistic Behaviors

While narcissists may not necessarily worsen with age, the aging process can intensify certain dynamics and challenges within their relationships. Aging narcissists may struggle with a loss of power, resist change, and engage in more manipulative behaviors to maintain control. The impact on their partners or family members can include emotional exhaustion, isolation, and codependency.

Final Thoughts on Navigating Relationships with Aging Narcissists

Navigating relationships with aging narcissists requires careful consideration and self-protection. Remember these key points:

  1. Set boundaries: Clearly define and communicate your boundaries to protect your well-being.
  2. Seek support: Reach out to supportive individuals and consider therapy to navigate the challenges of the relationship.
  3. Understand dynamics: Educate yourself about manipulation tactics and manage your interactions accordingly.
  4. Prioritize self-care: Take care of your own well-being and engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.

It’s important to recognize that you cannot change a narcissist, but you can empower yourself to navigate the relationship more effectively. Prioritize your well-being and surround yourself with a strong support network.

Remember, every situation is unique, and individual experiences may vary. Trust your instincts, and if a relationship becomes emotionally or physically abusive, prioritize your safety and seek professional help.

In conclusion, while narcissists may not necessarily worsen with age, the challenges in dealing with aging narcissists can be significant. By implementing strategies to protect your well-being, seeking support, and understanding the dynamics at play, you can navigate these relationships with greater resilience and empower yourself in the process.

FAQs about Narcissists Getting Worse with Age

Do narcissists become more manipulative as they get older?

As narcissists age, their manipulative behaviors can intensify due to a loss of control or power. They may use tactics like gaslighting and emotional abuse to maintain dominance and attention.

Can aging narcissists change their narcissistic traits?

While change is possible, it’s challenging for aging narcissists to transform their core traits. Personal growth and self-reflection, along with therapy, may facilitate some improvement, but complete change is rare.

Do narcissists become more defensive as they age?

Yes, aging narcissists often become more defensive, especially when faced with a perceived threat to their self-esteem or relevance. This defensiveness can manifest as increased hostility or aggression in interactions.

Are older narcissists more resistant to therapy?

Yes, older narcissists tend to be more resistant to therapy due to their entrenched patterns of thinking and unwillingness to acknowledge flaws. However, individual motivation and circumstances can vary.

Can the effects of aging exacerbate narcissistic behaviors?

Yes, the effects of aging, such as diminished sources of narcissistic supply and resistance to change, can contribute to the exacerbation of narcissistic behaviors in some individuals as they grow older.

Do-Narcissists-Get-Worse-With-Age-Exploring-the-Progression-of-Narcissism-Over-Time 2


This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care. Please consult a health care provider for guidance specific to your case.

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