She may need help getting groceries. Maybe she can’t drive anymore.
Suddenly, no matter what boundaries you’ve erected in the past, you find yourself facing a dilemma. Without you, your mom can’t get groceries, get to the doctor, or pick up her medicine.
When this happens, what are your responsibilities?
The Demands of an Aging Narcissistic Parent
Over the last couple of years I’ve lived this dilemma with my father. He lived alone in a one bedroom apartment. His personality had finally driven everyone away, so he was left with a single friend that sometimes provided rides or picked up a few groceries.
The rest was up to my brothers and me.
I’ve mentioned it before, but as a reminder, my father and I did not speak for 13 years. Besides being a narcissist, he is an alcoholic. The last time I saw him before the 13 year stretch began—and before I realized he was a narcissist—I told him I wasn’t going to watch him drink himself to death. And I didn’t want him drinking around my kids. “Call me when you stop drinking,” I said as I slid into my car.
That phone call never came. He didn’t have a desire to be a father or a grandfather. The toughest part was explaining to my young kids why they never saw their grandpa. “It has nothing to do with you,” I explained. “He’s sick.”
Fast forward to a couple years ago. I now know my dad is a narcissist. I run into my brother—someone I saw once over the last 13 years. He tells me Dad is in the hospital and might die. So I go to say good-bye to him.
He survived. And now we had contact again. He needed rides to the doctor. He needed things picked up from the store and prescriptions filled. I received calls to pick up money orders to pay his bills.
The demands seemed endless. And I hated myself for responding, for acting like his lap dog.
But my brothers couldn’t do it all. I had the most flexible schedule. So I’d respond to his demands. Once he gave me $10 for gas. The money felt like it had a thin layer of scum coating it. I put it in my shirt pocket. I imagined the scum soaking through my shirt, oozing through the pores of my skin, and penetrating my heart.
I was afraid if it did that I would be just like him—my worse fear. So driving home I threw the money out the window and asked the universe to lead someone who needed the cash to it.
I had to get relief from Dad’s demands.
Services Available to Your Aging Narcissistic Parent
I called the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Each community has one (though they may be under a different name) and I encourage anyone overwhelmed by their parent’s demands to call this agency.
A case worker came to my Dad’s apartment and assessed him. She asked questions about medications, mobility, his ability to dress himself, and much more. Dad of course enjoyed talking about himself and provided more information than she needed.
Given his mobility problems, she arranged for a volunteer to grocery shop, and an aide to come and clean and do laundry once a week. She also ordered a device to alert a dispatcher if he should fall down.
This immediately removed a host of demands from my brothers and me. These services cost my father nothing. He was just asked to make a monthly contribution for an amount he chose.
My time spent with my father dropped to once every few months. A reestablished boundary set my mind at ease. Every now and then I took him to an appointment and returned him to his apartment.
As soon as I got him in the door he dismissed me. He never even asked me in for a cup of coffee. “Duty accomplished,” I thought. But that was fine with me.
Questioning Compassion for an Aging Narcissist
Things went fine like this until my father started falling. He fractured bones and didn’t tell anyone about them or get them treated. You’d ask about his bruised, swollen wrist and he’d say, “That’s the funniest story.”
His narcissism prevented him from asking for help or telling his children he was falling. He knew he was at risk of losing his independence and he wanted no part of that. When one of my brothers mentioned assisted living, he said, “I’ll fight you all on that.”
This is where I started to question how much compassion I should have for my father. He was in a situation of his own making. How many of the falls were because of the drinking? He avoided treatment.
In truth, I felt only a smidge of compassion for my father. And that smidge was related to the affection I felt for him when I was a little boy who looked up to him. He seemed so cool back then. In my heart I couldn’t believe this was the same man. Broken, withered, unable to walk.
So the compassion I had was based on regret for the father I always wanted but never had. A father who never played with me. A father who never talked to me about careers or college. A man whose only concern in high school was his question to me after I got home from a date, “Did you get laid?”
I knew now that any chance of my dad transforming into the father I wanted him to be was over. My compassion was for the man that never would be, not my father.
When an Aging Narcissist Needs More Care
I received a call at work late last winter. My brother found my father naked on the floor of his living room. Dad tried to make it to the bathroom but couldn’t get there.
Dad finally admitted he was falling all the time. He was admitted to the hospital. He was malnourished since he was unable to stand and cook. While in the waiting room my brother took him to the bathroom. He clutched my brother like a man going to his own execution. He was terrified of falling again.
No matter how lousy he felt, he remained a narcissist. He had to pee in a jug. He demanded that I hold his penis while he went since he couldn’t. No nurse was available so I donned a latex glove and tried to avoid puking. When he was done, there were no words of thanks.
A few days later he was admitted to a nursing home. He will live there till he dies.
At first I tried visiting. He showed no interest in me, choosing to watch TV instead. One time he laid down to take a nap without a word to me.
That little piece of compassion in me? It burnt up in the fury of my rage. I left and said a silent F-you.
Now his mind is going. He makes up crazy scenarios and calls us kids. According to him he is dating one of the nurses even though he looks like an undead zombie. He tells me about daily trips to some gambling club and how he needs money to pay the drivers. He sounds scared. I almost feel sorry for him at these times.
Soon he won’t remember who I am. The dad I know will be gone. So will my duty to him.
A Lack of Compassion for My Aging Narcissistic Father
In our culture, whether we believe it or not, now, we are socialized at a young age to “Honor thy father and mother.” I don’t know about you, but my Judeo-Christian upbringing has caused me a lot of guilt.
I face that guilt now because I don’t have compassion for my father. And this lack of compassion comes at a time that the religion of my youth would demand the greatest degree of compassion from me towards my dad.
I have no desire to visit Dad. He’s a mere three miles away. He may as well be three thousand miles distant. The man never loved me. He has never shown any interest in my children. They have to carry the pain of knowing their grandfather never cared about them.
Do I think you owe it to your parents to be compassionate to them? No. You owe them nothing. Your whole life they have used you to maintain their false-self.
As a child, you may have had your accomplishments bragged about by them in public. Then, when you got home, their mood turned faster than a drunk knocked over by a college kid. They told you not to think you’re so great and knocked your ego down till you felt horrible about yourself.
If you must transport your parent anywhere or care for them in any way, set limits. Say you have to be somewhere by a certain time even if you don’t. My dad constantly tried to get me to take him to his social club for a beer. “Can’t Dad,” I said. “Have to take one of the kids to the dentist.”
Your narcissistic parent will probably try to suck you into feeling sorry for them. This is purely an attempt on their part to get narcissistic supply. Just be cold and stick to the facts with them.
And if you just want to let your parent go and find their own way, that’s OK too. You owe them nothing. If seeing her causes you pain, or is toxic in any way, stay away. You don’t need to reestablish contact. If you feel you must do something, call the Area Agency on Aging and ask them to contact your parent.
Don’t feel you have to fall for the culturally imposed myth that we must show compassion to our aging parent. You don’t. Not when they’re a narcissist. If the tables were turned and you were in a nursing home with early stage dementia, would they have compassion for you?
No, they wouldn’t. Because they’re incapable of it. Just like they were incapable of empathizing with you back in high school when your boyfriend broke up with you. What did they say? “Get over it. Who’s going to love you?”
So feel free to let your aging narcissistic parent go. Feel the relief and freedom of doing so.
If anyone deserves compassion it is you. For years you suffered the abuse your narcissistic parent heaped on you. So have some compassion for the pain you’ve endured your whole life.
Now it’s time to heal. May your wounds close quickly.
What are your thoughts on having compassion for an aging narcissistic parent?
Tell us in the comments below.