At middle age, we all face the fact that our place in the world is evolving as we get older and our bodies and faces change. Narcissists are confronted with the decline of their sense of importance in the world and the fading of their good looks in a way that can be particularly devastating to them. There may be a frantic grasp at staying young by narcissists who have lived their lives trading on their physical appearance to be relevant and noticed. It happens on blogs and in the media as (more often than not) women try to keep the attention they've always craved through plastic surgery, overt sexuality, provocative words and images and more. In some cases, it's not sexy at all - it's sad and desperate.
According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissism is:
...characterized by dramatic, emotional behavior, which is in the same category as antisocial and borderline personality disorders.
Some of the symptoms of narcissism include:
- Believing that you're better than others
- Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
- Exaggerating your achievements or talents
- Expecting constant praise and admiration
- Believing that you're special and acting accordingly
As you can see, narcissists live in a fantasyland of their own sense of exaggerated self-importance. When the world acknowledges them as young beauties, they are given the kind of attention the believe they deserve without having to do much to attract it to them. As they grow older, the loss of attention can wreak havoc. Because they hold a mirror up to the world to see who they are, this lack of attention can very well obliterate their self-worth.
Narcissists are among the most difficult people with whom to have a relationship, be it personal or professional, because no matter what you do or say it isn't enough to feed their never-ending desire for admiration and applause. They expect to be praised simply for showing up, and watch out if you don't respond the way they think you should to their slightest effort. Narcissists are exhausting, and beware the narcissist whose anger is focused your way:
The anger of narcissists...can be more demeaning. Their criticism evolves from their conviction that others don't meet their lofty standards-or worse, aren't letting them get their own way. "Narcissistic injuries," or wounds to the ego, often pave the way for narcissistic rages, which can be passive-aggressive or planned out, as well as sudden. They are above you and you have displeased them and probably deserve punishment they will dole out. - Psychology Today
An article in The Atlantic entitled "The Narcissistic Injury of Middle Age" written by Joseph Burgo, a PhD who has written extensively about narcissism states:
In later life, when others stop looking, we naturally experience it as a narcissistic injury, as if it means that we are no longer "beautiful" and important. Even people who have never traded on their looks will find this experience painful to some degree.
While many at middle age may find the experience of others ceasing to look at us painful at first, it's debatable whether it's "naturally" a narcissistic injury or simply part of the aging process - unless of course one is already a narcissist, in which case most everything about aging is an injury.
For those who aren't narcissists, the pain of losing some visibility at middle age is little more than a passing of the torch to the younger generation who deserve the attention because there is an effortless, fresh beauty to youth. It's their turn. The majority of those at middle age get past the initial shock of invisibility and move on. Instead of looking to the world for validation of physical attractiveness and value, the well-adjusted middle-aged person will look to himself or herself and those he or she loves for the attention once garnered simply by walking down the street.
Dr. Burgo claims that by being valued by the younger generations who look to us for wisdom we can heal our so-called middle-aged narcissistic injuries. A big problem with this is the assumption that people are somehow injured simply by reaching midlife. Also, not all young people want to hear what we have to say, and not all at middle age care to spend time doling out wise and authoritative advice. Those who are not in need of attention to validate their existence are ready to relax a bit and focus on making their lives meaningful and fulfilling for the next 30+ years, no matter how the world may see them.
Most people reach middle age, experience a reasonable level of self-pity and mourning for their youth, and eventually shake it off as they get on with their lives. To call all middle-aged people victims of a narcissistic injury simply because they've reached this stage of life makes no sense, and is insulting to middle-aged people who aren't narcissists.
Previously published on Empty House Full Mind