Narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder is the impairment of one’s identity and self-direction in interpersonal functioning and pathological personality traits.
The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition” or DSM-5 Mark’s narcissistic behaviour as antagonism which follows the lack of empathy for others and attention-seeking behaviour that focuses on manipulation, deceit and callousness.
Most members of society have a very confused idea of what a narcissist looks like. You may associate narcissism with selfishness but there are actually different types, and it presents itself in people in a variety of ways. For example, a narcissist can be a superior peacock who considers themselves above everyone and flaunts their achievements or a charmer, presenting a caring facade to build trust in order to manipulate you.
Some narcissists can also be more subtle than that, acting introverted and self-deprecating in order to seem sensitive and in need of love. Narcissists can present in a variety of different ways and personality types and so can be difficult to identify, however an ongoing theme in narcissism is manipulation and antagonism.
A narcissist may act in many different ways in order to get what they want but narcissists will always use strategies of manipulation and deceit in order to get the attention, resources or status that they want. As with any mental or developmental disorder, narcissistic personality disorder exists on a spectrum.
Being selfish and self-centred is part of the human condition, so what sets you aside from a narcissist are the strategies that you use to get what you want.
Caring for a Narcissistic Parent
How do you know that you are caring for someone with narcissism? Consider the following questions:
- To what degree is their behaviour self-centred?
- Do they perceive their needs as being paramount over others?
- Are they hypersensitive to criticism?
- Do you often feel fear, obligation and guilt (FOG) when interacting with them?
- How often do they use FOG to their advantage?
- How often do you feel they use emotional blackmail to manipulate you?
These prompts are inherently fluid and based on a spectrum of answers, as to some extent, each person may feel that they notice these qualities, however the duration and severity of those behaviours may point in the direction of narcissism. As well, if these behaviours have been noticeable in your elderly loved one for years or decades, then there’s a good chance that they have always had narcissistic tendencies.
However, if there is a sudden onslaught of narcissistic symptoms after a major life event, then they could be reacting to a different mental disorder. Grief can manifest itself in challenging and difficult ways, such as through depression and anxiety, and in some cases these symptoms can be more easily treated with medication and therapy.
If there has not been a major life event, but there is an increase in these behaviours, they may also point to the onset of dementia depending on the age of your elderly loved one.
Either way, it is important to consider how long your loved one has acted like this and the severity of these behaviours, so that way you can take that information to your doctor when seeking a diagnosis.
Strategies to Navigate a Narcissistic Parent
One thing to remember when dealing with a narcissistic family member is that there is no winning or losing. People with narcissism often want to compete and win in their social interactions so that way they can feel self-important.
You do not need to play those games with them because everyone loses when you try to win in a relationship without considering the needs and wants of the other party. Consider what you want to achieve when interacting with a narcissistic family member and how to go about doing so.
- If your narcissistic parent is using information you give them to verbally abuse you…
You can try ‘grey rocking’ them.
‘Grey rocking’ is when you communicate in a way that is simple, concise and boring. Often people with narcissism want to get more information out of you in order to emotionally blackmail you. For example, they may ask you how a project is going and then berate you for not doing it the way they would like you to do it.
When you are ‘grey rocking’, you are trying to be as uninteresting and unreactive as possible. When you answer questions try and be as vague and uninteresting as possible. If you continue to ‘grey rock’ them by being uninteresting and not giving them any new information, people with narcissism will often lose interest and will not have as much ammunition to blackmail you with.
- You find as primary caregiver you are becoming deeply unhappy because your narcissistic parent is unkind to you and you feel you cannot escape…
You can address your boundaries.
When dealing with a narcissist, or being the full-time caregiver of one, the most important thing you can do is have boundaries. You need to set limits on how much you are willing to interact with this person and how many hours you need to spend with them.
If possible, see if you can receive respite care or access to community centres in order to give yourself and them space to have separate lives. If that is not possible, then ensure that you are carving out time to have a social life outside of being a caregiver to rejuvenate yourself with people who love you.
Burnout is very real and can take a long time to heal from, and so it is better to prevent burnout before it happens.
- You feel overwhelmed and under-prepared for caring for your narcissistic family member.
You can reach out to a professional.
Narcissism is a mental disorder like depression and anxiety, it takes more than a walk in the park or some daily meditation in order to navigate these complex mental disorders.
If you feel overwhelmed and under-prepared for caring for someone with narcissism, then you need to reach out to a professional such as a doctor, counsellor or psychologist in order to get real strategies that are tailored to your elderly loved one’s needs. As well, along with getting a diagnosis and treatment plan for your loved one, it is also important you reach out to a counsellor for yourself, as you may need therapy when dealing with someone with narcissism.
Emotional blackmail and dealing with FOG can have ongoing effects on your mental health and wellness. Ensure that you are in therapy if you feel that you are emotionally overwhelmed and want more coping mechanisms for dealing with emotional blackmail.
Navigating a relationship with a narcissist can be challenging on its own, however being a caregiver to someone with narcissism can feel almost impossible.
Loving someone and caring for someone who is a narcissist is a one-way street as most narcissists do not have the empathy available to them to love someone else, as they are too self-absorbed. You will need to adjust your expectations of them because the love and care that you are putting into the relationship will not be matched by them, and in fact it may possibly be used to manipulate you into giving more attention.
As long as you can take a mental shift in your expectations of your narcissistic loved one and have firm boundaries and expectations on how you want to be treated, it is possible to have a productive and caring relationship with a narcissist.
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