Should We Have Compassion for Aging Narcissistic Parents?

You don’t expect it to happen. But it does. Your narcissistic parent one day seems old to you. Frailer inShould we have compassion for this aging narcissistic parent? body, but not so much in personality.

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.

14 thoughts on “Should We Have Compassion for Aging Narcissistic Parents?

  1. Thank you SO MUCH for this article. I decided last week, with the support of my counselor, husband and family, to go no-contact with my 79 year old narcissistic father. Two days later his part-time caregiver calls to say she is in the ER with him. I deleted the message. My brother (who lives out of state) has agreed to be the contact person with the hospital. I also contacted Adult Protective Services to notify him that he is no longer able to care for himself and no one in town is available to do it. A very hard thing to do, but so liberating! The hard part is not sadness, but letting go of the guilt that a “good daughter doesn’t do that.” Well, a good father/husband would have not treated us the way he did either. That monkey on my shoulder is starting to fade a bit, and soon he will quit bothering me. I can quit dreading the sound of the phone, wondering if it is him or about him. He is toxic to me, and my mental and physical health is so much more important to me, and I will work through this guilt. I already feel so much better, and it has only been 8 days!

    • Tracy,
      Congratulations on having the courage to go “no contact.”

      As adult children of narcissists, guilt is one of the hardest emotions to dislodge. We feel guilty for everything because our narcissistic parents wielded guild like a double bladed sword and cut us open every day with it.

      He tried to use against you again when the caregiver called you from the ER. Good job on not getting reeled back in. And calling adult protective was a brilliant move.

      I hope you have no trouble with good daughter guilt. What I find helpful is to disassociate my mother and father from their role of parents. I think of them as people who raised me. I consider myself an orphan because parents wouldn’t have done what they did to me. This helps me with the guilt.

      I’m glad you recognize your physical and mental health is more important than maintaining a toxic relationship. Each time the guilt comes up, examine it and ask what exactly you feel guilty of. Then examine that thing you feel guilty about and ask whether you should feel guilty of it. Don’t let your mind trick you and allow some conditioned response to answer. Use your rational, analytical mind.

      Tracy, I wish you much happiness on your healing journey. May you experience much joy and freedom from guilt.


      • Thank you Chase! It has been liberating. I talked to my brother a few days ago (he is dealing with all of my father’s stuff, but lives out of state so he doesn’t have to see him), and apparently my father has been cussing up a storm about me. I am a ^#%^$#%$^, stole his insurance money, his house (he rents a place I would NEVER live in), took his dogs (I put them in the kennel at the vet), yada yada yada. The more my brother shared what my father said, the bigger my smile got. I am apparently a horrid person in my father’s eyes and it is wonderful! No more of his manipulative pity party – I am free! It has taken me years to get to this point, but I knew that once I made the decision it would not take long to really accept it.

        My biggest fear was that he would end up in the hospital and not be able to come home to live on his own, and I would “have” to step in. My decision to go no contact came just two days before that happened. The timing was perfect, I was still fortified from my latest counseling session, and I figured it was easier to delete voice mails than to say no to a doctor/nurse/social worker. It was! They have finally quit calling me, I do not have a mini panic attack when the phone rings, and I am starting to really feel free. The worst happened, I did not give in, and no one can “make” me talk to them or take care of him. I think we have foster homes for his dogs and once that happens I am truly FREE!

        Thank you again for your supportive words. Reading similar stories to mine really makes me feel like I am not alone and that there are a lot of us out there that need to support one another.

        • Congratulations Tracey!

          Your comment brightened my evening. It does indeed feel liberating to be free.

          If one day you pick up the phone and a doctor or nurse is on the line, don’t let them guilt you and say you have a responsibility to your father. You don’t. He severed any obligation you had towards him years ago. So you stand strong and protect your boundaries.

          I wish you the best of luck and admire your courage to sever ties.


  2. This is a great article. Also, Kudos to Tracey for taking steps to protect herself and to go no contact. It is very liberating, and I’ve also had to go no contact with the narcissistic birther (the woman who gave birth to me) and the step-monster (her husband). It feels free. They are in their early 60s and are JEhovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witness church knew about the abuse and even helped covered it up. So I’ve severed ties with that cult and the parental figures. Since doing that, the quality of my life and well-being have increased dramatically.

  3. Thank you all for the great article and comments. I call myself Duh because it has taken me 50 years to finally figure out that my father is a full blown classical narcissist. Add some dementia to that and boy do you have a forest fire!

    I have shown compassion and obedience for half a century. I took the worst physical beating of my life on my 16th birthday. My life’s biggest regret was not getting away then since I did have my own car. In 1980, when you went to school all red and splotchy and barely able to walk, nobody asked any questions, ever. I wonder if my life would have been better if I would have had the strength and maturity to get away. I am resourceful and was very hard working. I probably could have pulled it off.

    Fast forward, he has outlived or alienated almost everbody and now he is in a Nursing Home. We will spend every bit of any inheritance we have coming, but it IS WORTH EVERY PENNY to not have to deal with him on a daily basis. I got him a phone. He would call me every morning which was ok until he started making demands. I shut him down by telling him NO, must have shut off his narc. supply. Have not talked to him in 2 weeks, check with staff to see he is ok, and he is.

    Thank you for the blog therapy. It helps!

    My best to you all, Duh

    • Dear Duh,

      Don’t worry about how long it took you to discover your dad’s narcissism, just be glad you did.

      I’m happy that he is out of your life. I’m also sorry for the beatings you took as a child. No one should have to endure that.

      Now you can start to heal. You have many wounds inside.

      I wish you a gentle life filled with loving people.

    • Duh – Good for you! You took the first step. The first few weeks are the hardest, then one day you wake up and feel a little bit “lighter.” Stick to your guns.Your inheritance is not having to deal with him any more, and that is worth its weight in gold. If you do not have a therapist/counselor, consider finding one. They are a great resource, and will help you to heal. And when they tell you things that make you feel better, it is because it is the truth, not because they want to make you feel better in that moment.When a total stranger (my first counseling visit) told me that I was not a bad person, that I had the right to a guilt-free life and how to reach that point, I started feeling rays of hope! And if you cannot afford it, there are many agencies that will help you at a reduced rate.

  4. My father is now in a nursing home and my brother came into town to clean out his house (with the help of my husband – I stayed away). My brother thinks I will feel guilty if I do not go visit him and get closure. Apparently he says my name all of the time, good and bad, and has finally slipped into the dementia phase (all of the narcotics do that to him). I, however, spent the last two years in counseling to get the backbone to cut off contact, and no way am I going to undo that by visiting him. He will either be a jerk and bring up angry feelings, or he will be a “poor little elderly man” and will trigger my guilt. No way – I have worked too hard to get to this point. Besides, if everyone he sees is me, he won’t really know if I have been there or not. I have purged a lot of the anger and resentment, but I will not risk my recent peace of mind by visiting him. I do not wish him any pain and suffering, but I also do not wish that upon myself either. So for those of you just starting this journey, it IS possible to start feeling normal again without the daily anxiety of impending doom. Life is getting brighter!

  5. What if the parent would not respond well to an Aging Agency representative showing up to evaluate their needs? My mom would take it as a personal offense. She’d lie to them about her mobility and driving ability and everything. She already lies to doctors and downplays or omits information that would be crucial to her treatment. She ignores prescriptions she doesn’t want to take for whatever reason. It is very important to her to be seen a certain way by her neighbors – she’s the youngest (67) in a senior independent living complex. Most of her neighbors have aides or children who come by to help them out regularly, but my mom doesn’t want to be one of them.

    • Dear ism,

      You can be there when the area agency on aging representative does the assessment and correct your mother’s responses.

      But in the end there is little you can do. We’re a free country and we have the right to live in risky situations. You have to make it clear that you will not be helping and let her find her way.

      My dad refused help and it took until he couldn’t walk that he agreed to go to a nursing home. All I did for him was drive him to appointments.

      One last option you have is calling adult protective services and make a report of a senior at risk. There’s no promises there but you might get them to place her in a higher level of care.

      I wish you luck and peace in finding a solution.

  6. Well, I did go with my brother to visit my father at the nursing home, and it was anti-climatic. I left feeling like Iike I had visited someone I did not know, and it was so freeing. And yesterday I got the message from my brother – my father passed away. What a sense of RELIEF! He is no longer miserable and I wish him peace in heaven, but for myself? I didn’t even cry. Just relief. I had done my crying/guilt/etc over the past few years and with the support of a wonderful therapist, my supportive husband, mom and friends. I hope all of you reading this can get yourselves to this point of peace. I no longer feel the monkey on my back, and when I start to look for it, I remind myself that I have banished it once and for all. If you had told me two years ago that I could find this peace I would have never believed it. Everyone works through things at their own pace, and it wasn’t until I met my therapist that I was able to start really healing. And if you have tried therapy and it doesn’t work? Try, try again. The right therapist will help you to free yourself.

  7. Very interesting reading and so true. I believe my Mam was a narcissist while I was young and would not put herself out for anyone. I have no bond with her and unfortunately she is now in a care home with late stage HIV, dementia and cancer. I find it hard giving back compassion and empathy as she never gave me any whilst growing up. I visit her two to three times per week but shows no joy to see me. I take her to her Drs and hospital appointments with no THANK YOU ever, let alone the cost of parking charges and fuel for my car, no money has ever been offered. Would she give compassion and visit me no way. I would do these things for anyone that’s who I am. Guilt I have loads of guilt. My husband has told me to cut visiting to once per week as she doesn’t even know who I am no. She seems to think more of carers who she has only known eight weeks rather than her own children, I’ll be glad when it’s all over,

    • Sue,

      I agree with your husband. Cut the visits way down. It is the guilt that is driving you there. And that guilt was lodged in your gut by your mother. If she didn’t have dementia she would be very pleased to see that you feel guilty. Guilt is one of the prime weapons of a narcissist. They are so good at it that the guilt stays with us for years.

      Your mom, when you were young, made you feel guilty if you were not meeting her needs. Now others are meeting her needs (the cares) and you’re feeling guilty about it. So you drive and visit her to make yourself feel better, only you still feel guilty.

      You have nothing to feel guilty for. The reason you don’t feel a bond with her is that she never bonded with you as a baby. You were not held, stroked, comforted, or played with. That was your mother’s neglectful behavior. So you never came to be attached to her. I had the same experience.

      I wish you relief from your guilt and the healing of your wounds.

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