In my lifetime, I’ve known many narcissists. One thing they all share in common is that they change their tactics as they get older.
When I was growing up, my mother was the bold, it’s my way or the highway kind of overt narcissist. She would do anything she wanted to accomplish whatever her goal was, not caring how abusive it was, so long as there were no witnesses. Now that she is in her mid 70’s, she has become much craftier. Gone are the days when she would wait until we were alone, then scream in my face, calling me horrible names & accusing me of terrible behaviors. Now, her abuse is much more subtle. In fact, unless you’re familiar with narcissism, you wouldn’t even know she was being abusive. And, she likes witnesses. If my mother & I are in public, often with my father, I can count on her attacking me viciously & quietly. Barely audibly, she will insult my car, pets, writing or anyone or anything that means something to me. I have no doubt she is trying to provoke me into yelling at her, so others will see what a terrible daughter I am to my sweet, elderly mother.
My father, the covert narcissist, has always been subtle. When I was growing up, he feigned ignorance & inability to help me regarding my mother’s abuse, making him sound more like her victim than I was. I often reassured him instead of him reassuring or protecting me. Occasionally he still tries this tactic but it’s rather rare. Instead, he complains to me about his bad marriage (something he’s always done) & tries to stir up problems between my mother & I. He also now enjoys challenging my boundaries & using guilt trips/criticisms disguised as jokes then telling me not to be upset when I confront him. “Now now, don’t you go getting upset..I was just teasing” has become possibly my least favorite phrase in the English language.
The worst case of a narcissist changing their tactics I’ve heard of though is from a friend of mine. Her mother was an overt narcissist & her father covert. Her mother was incredibly violent & vicious to her children. Her father wasn’t home much due to his job, so he didn’t see a lot. He claimed that he didn’t know just how bad she treated the children (I guess he missed the bruises & broken bones?) & that he couldn’t stop her.
Shortly after her mother died, her father married another woman, who was much like my friend’s mother. This woman didn’t want him to see his now adult children, & he told them there was nothing he could do about it.
Once she died, he expected his children to take care of him. They do everything for him from making his bed to cleaning his house to paying most of his bills. My friend’s father demands this & will go to great lengths to be sure his children do these things & more for him. Once a covert narcissist, he became a very overt one.
Dear Reader, you need to be aware of these things, because your narcissistic parents will change too. You need to be able to adapt your behaviors to fit in with theirs if you plan to continue having a relationship with them.
Some things are a given when dealing with any narcissist- you need to have & enforce good boundaries & show them no emotions, for example. Other things however, you may need to change, such as if your narcissistic mother tries to stir you up in a public place like mine does, avoid public places with her as much as possible. If your father suddenly likes to portray himself as a helpless old man when you know he isn’t, you will need to let him do what he can on his own.
If you are unable or unwilling to go no contact with your narcissistic parents, you are going to have to learn to be very firm in some areas, while very flexible in others. Always be firm with your boundaries, staying emotionless in their presence, providing them minimal information on your life & limiting your time with them. But, be flexible enough to know when things are changing & your old ways to deal with them aren’t working anymore or you need to find new ways to deal. Get creative- ask God to help you in that area if you aren’t sure what to do. Remember Matthew 10:16 “Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” (MSG)
As difficult as it may sound, you truly can handle this. God never gives you more than you can handle, although it may feel that way sometimes. Follow His guidance, common sense, your intuition & remember what you know about narcissists, & you will be just fine. Remember my post about my last visit with my parents? If not, please read it now. It is proof that God cares & helps us even with our narcissistic parents. If He helped me become the much stronger, capable person I’ve become, He certainly will help you as well.