Uncovering narcissism as a contributor to elder abuse


Hearing about cases where elders have been abused physically, financially or emotionally by their adult children is both shocking and sickening. How is it possible for your own son or daughter to turn against you? Or abandon you at a time when you are most in need of their compassion and support?

In recent times, patterns of abuse have been linked to personality disorders in perpetrators – in particular, narcissism. Narcissists are extremely self-centred, with a limited ability to empathise with others’ emotions, feelings and experiences. They also crave admiration from others.

Nothing is ever their fault

Everything is about them, and they won’t hesitate to play the victim and blame others when their own behaviour results in the breakup of a relationship or the loss of a job. Nothing is ever their fault. In their own minds, they are perfect. They genuinely feel entitled to special treatment or privileges, and become angry or resentful if they don’t get them.

Although it’s not always easy to identify narcissistic behaviour in relation to elder abuse, here are some tell-tale signs to look out for:

Financial abuse

Narcissistic offspring feel entitled to exert pressure on parents to provide them with money or assets – such as their home, car, or other possessions – for their own benefit, without regard for the parents’ well-being or needs. Or they may attempt to control their parents’ finances, claiming that the older adults are not capable of managing their own affairs.

If the money runs out, the narcissistic son or daughter is unlikely to stick around. But, since they always want to look good to others, abandoning their parents won’t be their fault. Instead, they will blame their parents for being too demanding, difficult, forgetful, ungrateful or impossible to live with.

emotional abuse

Control and emotional manipulation

Narcissists are adept at manipulating others’ emotions to serve their own needs. They may use emotional blackmail, gaslighting, or other tactics to confuse or control parents, making them doubt their own perceptions or sanity. Guilt, shame or fear are often used to control parents’ behaviour.

An abusive son or daughter may also isolate parents from other family members and support networks, to ensure they become increasingly dependent. Pitting family members against each other is another well-known tactic. A narcissistic son or daughter may manipulate parents into conflicts with other family members, or use them as a tool to exert control over siblings.

Emotional abuse

Narcissists generally lack empathy. This can be evident in their interactions with their parents. They may belittle or demean their parents, disregard their feelings or opinions and dismiss their concerns. Don’t expect a narcisstic son or daughter to understand or feel compassion for parents’ emotional or physical challenges.

Narcissists are also inclined to use their parents as scapegoats for their own shortcomings or failures, and make them the target of their frustrations or anger.


Since maintaining a positive public image is important to them, narcissists often present a false facade of being attentive and caring towards their  parents in front of others. But behind the scenes, their behavior may be quite different.

Neglecting older parents is common. Sons or daughters may refuse to help parents struggling with daily activities or medical care. It’s important to note that these signs alone may not definitively indicate abuse by a narcissist. However, if you suspect that an older person is being exploited by a narcissistic family member, you should seek support. Call Tafta’s Toll-free National Elder Abuse Helpline on 0800 10 11 10, or contact our social work services.