How does the story end for narcissists?
February 24, 2022 2:11 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for personal stories, or stories about public figures, that involve how things work out for a narcissist. (It doesn’t need to be someone clinically diagnosed.)

I’m dealing with someone who seems to sail through life unaffected by the swath of destruction in their wake, and I keep wondering if it will ever catch up to them. How does the story end? Do these people just slide on from one partner to the next, continuing to charm the people who don’t get that close? I’m both horrified and fascinated how masterful they are at image control and getting what they want, no matter the cost to others. Surely that cost to others must also have a cost, right?

It's pretty much equally useful for my purposes to hear "yup, they cruise through life pretty much unscathed, go figure" or "eventually people figure it out and stay away from them; they may look like they're getting away with it, but they probably won't forever."
posted by bighappyhairydog to Human Relations (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, as far as I know my jerky relatives I'm estranged from are all doing well, and my former bully just got a promotion. Most of the time, the Karma Houdini trope exists for a reason. Once in a GREAT while, someone might get busted (Harvey Weinstein), but most of the time, people continue to get away with whatever they want. Look at how many people have been "canceled" and how well that works/lasts.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:27 PM on February 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

There is a discussion of narcissistic personality disorder attributes of Adolf Hitler on Wikipedia. Everyone knows how that story ended.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:30 PM on February 24, 2022

Best answer: Narcissists exist everywhere in the social scale, and they tend to do well as long as their personal power in the situation lasts. But people don’t always know when that power is about to crack. I remember reading a blind item about an elderly big-name actor who fell in his kitchen and had to lie there for a night. He was always such a tyrannical character that he had no friends left, just people paid to be around him, and they were all off. It was just him and consequences.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:33 PM on February 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My evil grandmother had a long life full of manipulating her family members. When she was finally convinced to move to a retirement home and later their next-door full time care rooms, she had a loving boyfriend who was younger than her (only by a decade though) and one of the sweetest, nicest men you could imagine. But, although she died in her late 90s, financially secure, she did die alone, from covid complications early in the pandemic, after losing her husband a while back from increasingly disruptive strokes, two grown sons including the only one she liked, the only daughter in law she seemed to like, and none of her grandchildren or great grandchildren would speak to her or were allowed to spend time around her for at least a couple years before that.

It’s difficult for me to remember that she is dead, because for years now I refused to have anything to do with her. I last saw her at the memorial for my aunt, her daughter in law. She was immediately on her bullshit with me, despite not having spoken to me for years at the time. She received no repercussions. I had made her numerous very nice handmade crocheted shawls at her request in part to stave off her demands for me to come see her, and apparently by the time she died all of them had been given away to other people in the retirement home, never to be found again, although my parents and her boyfriend did try.

I will spend the rest of my life making sure that the aspects of myself that I recognize as being like her are channeled for good and kindness. As grown grandchildren my cousins and myself have talked freely about all the bad things about her and how her actions have echoed through the family. We will make sure her legacy, such as it is, is one of how to clock and avoid people like her.

In the end it’s a mixed bag. I think what I take away from her death specifically is that there is no karmic retribution going on. Plenty of wonderful people die painfully alone or have to slog through crap for no reason. Plenty of awful assholes die enshrined in gold and flowers or have lives full of easy nonsense. The only thing is that I have control over my own actions. I can form opinions about people and make choices about interacting with them and must trust myself to read a person right. I can’t control karma for other people but I can be valuable to someone and choose not to be used.
posted by Mizu at 3:23 PM on February 24, 2022 [22 favorites]

Best answer: My sense is that, however their life seems to be going on the surface, somebody with a personality disorder like this is actually a pretty miserable human being inside. They have a hole in the middle that cannot be filled, and they know in their heart of hearts that they are a monster and their public face is a sham. (Hence the intense need for accolades, to fill that hole, which of course doesn't work for long). They can't achieve a true connection with anyone. They are deeply lonely and trapped in a prison of their own making.

I would not want to be them, whether they "get away" with their offences or not.
posted by contrapositive at 3:26 PM on February 24, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not convinced gliding through life by bullying people is "getting away with it", but I don't see great outcomes for a narcissist in my life. Divorced, estranged from parents before their deaths, kids are low contact. Untreated health problems because there was no one to force them to go to the doctor, untreated mental problems that almost resulted in eviction (kids helped prevent that). Despite all that they don't understand why the people in their life reacted they way they did. This person went to a big name college, has very high traditional IQ, privileged. They were able to mooch off family members due to disability and a desire to avoid work, and have saved an enormous nest egg for someone in their situation by living in penury, so that's something. But no one would look at this person and think, boy, do they have it made!
posted by wnissen at 3:30 PM on February 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You might enjoy the fundamental attribution error.

If you subscribe to a religion, there are answers there. Otherwise: who do you think is meting out justice? It's *work* to add fairness to the world. That's why we have a very expensive judicial system; it's far far better than without (just imagine Harvey Weinstein in a medieval court with a normal king/queen/whatever -- how would he ever be caught?), and I'm grateful for the justice we do get, but it hasn't been free. People have worked HARD and paid a LOT of money (in taxes, in educational expenses, in leave from work to sit on juries) to make the justice we see happen. And even harder -- even more care in education -- to make sure that you aren't subjected to false punishment by people abusing the justice system. It's complicated and it's hard, and it's hard to persuade people not to just simplify it for convenience -- thereby making the world less just.

Do we need more? Yes. But it doesn't come from nothing.
posted by amtho at 3:33 PM on February 24, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Not exactly what you're asking for, but Issendai's dive into the weird world of estranged parents' forums is a bracing look at narcissists finding echo chamber communities.
posted by miles per flower at 4:05 PM on February 24, 2022 [11 favorites]

They attempt a coup, get impeached twice, and remain the leading candidate for their party's 2024 presidential nomination.
posted by Superilla at 4:11 PM on February 24, 2022 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe I haven’t lived long enough yet, but I haven’t witnessed any such evidence that the malignant narcissists I’ve known or known of have dealt with any sort of comeuppance, and they certainly lack the insight to feel any torment by guilt or shame for their actions.
posted by blue suede stockings at 4:15 PM on February 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

Adolf Hitler
they know in their heart of hearts that they are a monster and their public face is a sham.

this is all pretty disgusting. narcissism-the-personality-disorder is a psychiatry-classified mental problem whose details you will find in the DSM, not the D&D monster manual, and whose possessors are no more "evil" as a broad group than people classified as borderline or avoidant are. narcissism the vaguely conceived non-clinical trait, on the other hand, is a universal human attribute that people reveal, conceal, express, and repress in a thrilling variety of individual ways. neither is synonymous with "monster" or even "sociopath".

the OP could have been considerably clearer about what kind of person they meant, to avoid all this, but they shouldn't have had to be.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:32 PM on February 24, 2022 [6 favorites]

Specifically, you could have been clearer about what kind of destruction you are envisioning & expecting others to confidently recognize. I know two narcissists personally -- or I know two people who frankly say that they are narcissists, and since we take self-reporting as good enough evidence for depression, anxiety, and even ADHD and autism these days, I don't know why narcissism should be different. in fact there are professionals who count this as a diagnostic criterion in itself, in that they claim narcissists are the only ones not ashamed to say that they are narcissists, so if they admit it, that proves it. this has substantial problems with it as a line of reasoning, but let that be.

anyhow, both of them are fairly charismatic, which is lucky for them as they are also both a little exhausting. Everything that happens to them is very interesting. and if it isn't, they'll tell it as if it was. and if they don't know how to tell it like it was, they'll tell it anyway.

but they are fun people, all and all, and while I find it hard to get close to them and don't try that hard, they have no particular reputation for hurting people interpersonally and have never done anything worse than be highly self-aware about being profoundly self-involved, while I was watching (like all vices, narcissism is made worse when self-awareness is involved.) I am not aware of any destruction either of them has ever caused. I guess you could say that boring me now and then is pretty destructive to the limited amount of time I have to spend on this miserable earth. but they're just people, you know.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:44 PM on February 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

After a deeply unhappy lifetime of failed relationships, my narcissistic ex ended up killing himself, in his early 40s.
posted by girlalex at 7:35 PM on February 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

They're just people with a theoretical disorder. It ends like it does with all of the other people. Circumstantially.
posted by firstdaffodils at 8:03 PM on February 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: From a different perspective, as a non-narcissist, when I unexpectedly fell on hard times I was shocked and amazed at how many people I knew wanted to help. I had acquired a social "safety net" that was much larger and went back further than I realized.

If I was constantly wearing out my welcome and moving on to new people, my safety net would be only as large as my current social circles regardless of how charming I was.

So regardless of whether there is any comeuppance, if things go pear shaped and you end up needing help, charm gets you far, but I expect that having a bigger safety net is better.
posted by Cusp at 8:08 PM on February 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks so much for some really helpful answers to a vague question! Much food for thought here, greatly appreciated :)
posted by bighappyhairydog at 3:42 AM on February 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oof, I'm afraid to read any of the other repsonses because my jaw is already clenched in recognition...

I'll say that I had no concept of what the clinical meaning of narcissism until the last few years. But I watched, in horror, as the person I'd chosen to be closest to in life was revealed to be very squarely in the "covert narcissist" category. That also meant that I had a front row seat to what a narcissist is like once the jig is up and their schema is exposed to the harsh light of external scrutiny.

As best as I can say it, narcissists appear to sail through life unscathed. Underneath that veneer, though, there's just... an unfathomable void that I still struggle with. I hope I always struggle with it, because it confronts a lot of what feels like basic humanity in my worldview. And so, despite that smooth-sailing appearance, narcissists seem to be a constantly seething pot of shame and anger and duplicitousness that's unmoored from a central set of values. It seems exhausting and intense, but not quite to the level of being an unfeeling automaton (that's a sociopath), so, if my experience is any indicator, they are gnashing teeth at all times no matter how well they've honed the skill of appearing/behaving/relating otherwise.

There's so much valuable information out there that you might find helpful, but you have to sort through a lot of chaff. I sought therapy for the first time in my life because I didn't understand what I was dealing with when I started to see what I'd later learn is "covert narcissism." I was given a lot of resources and I found a lot of value in Dr. Ramani Durvasula's book "Don't You Know Who I Am?" (among others). She's very active on YouTube, too, if you'd like to listen to her thoughts on this life trajectory for all manner of narcissists.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:27 AM on February 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

The narcissist with whom I am best acquainted is getting sentenced in federal court today on three felony counts. The probation office is recommending about three years imprisonment, which is significantly less than the federal sentencing guidelines. The defendant and his lawyers are asking for probation only. We shall see how it turns out.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 4:43 AM on February 25, 2022

The narcissists I know tend to end up old, totally alone, and miserable. One has been diagnosed with a very scary neurological disease and her children have no interest in looking after her. The superficial relationships she previously relied on aren't of any use to her now.
posted by Stoof at 7:29 AM on February 25, 2022

I guess this kind of depends on their other traits, but the N in my life never seems that happy, because they take nearly everything other people do as a personal slight, so they're basically in a constant state of hurt feelings.

Especially these past few years, people have really had to knuckle down and focus on what's important to them. Not only is the narcissist realizing that's not them--which to be fair would be and has been tough for anyone--it's extra painful for them because "this is not about me" would never occur to them, so it feels like it's being done with the sole purpose to hurt them.

It's not a particularly satisfying comeuppance. It's really just kind of sad.
posted by lampoil at 8:13 AM on February 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

My family and I were discussing this friend of the family who died a long time ago, and his life. We came to the conclusion that he had narcissistic tendencies but he was never diagnosed.

This guy had a decent life but never really amounted to anything. He did odd jobs. He had two children in another country he mostly ignored when he moved away to pursue his whims. In his late 60s he cheated on his common law wife (no kids) for this rich lady who actually put up with him for a good number of years. He moved in with her and he thought he had it made with her and took her for granted. He had an arrogance that made their relationship volatile and verbally abusive. She wasn't a stand-up-for-yourself kind of lady, we thought, until she was. She kicked him to the curb. He had no where to go and spent his final years in a home. He alienated most his friends because he took them for granted and his visits dried up. Partly due to the pandemic and partly his temperament, he died with no one around. So not a great end. He wasn't really a destructive person, and he may have had other un-diagonsed mental illness. He presented as depressed sometimes.

There is one other person I know that probably has NPD as he fits the DSM criteria. He is 75+, extremely arrogant, entitled, feels superior and takes advantage of people. He has had a good career, has a lot of money, and is the most self serving person I've ever met. I think he may have cheated on his wife, but I don't know the details. His kids described him as a narcissist growing up and are all estranged now. His wife had an alarming health scare a few years back that was life-or-death and though he took her to the ER, he left her there so he could go golfing. His wife was in ICU, and he treated it like any other day. He told his son that he couldn't bail on golfing because he was 'meeting his friends there'. She recovered but has not been in great health since. She still does everything for him, cook, clean, etc. He treats her as dispensable. Anyway he has numerous grandkids that he used to live near. His wife was a pretty doting grandmother to them and they would babysit them a lot. He suddenly decided to move away (with his wife) so he could live in an area where he could more easily partake in his leisure activities; such as golfing. He didn't tell his adult children they were moving until he'd already sold their house and had planned the move. The wife went along with it, and now they live by themselves in another state, hours from everyone else. I think they aren't in contact with any of their kids, and they haven't seen their grandkids in over ten years. The grandkids don't even know they exist and barely remember them. The wife tries to maintain contact with phone calls but is not well.

Is he living a bad life away from his kids and grandkids? I guess. He doesn't seem to care or miss them because he just always wants to do what he wants to do. In fact, his family thinks he was irritated by the proximity to the grand-kids as he found them annoying (interfering with his life too much) and that that prompted his move. He isn't suffering yet, but he relies on his wife a lot and she is in ill health. Once she goes, who knows, because I really doubt his children will welcome him back in any capacity. He seems unable to see the trajectory of his future however, as he seems to believe he's going to live forever or something. He thinks he's really healthy (he isn't) and good looking (he isn't.) I can't see it ending well to be honest. It's sad, really. Especially for the wife that seems unable to unshackle herself to even come back to visit.

I mean, karma isn't really a thing, no, but sometimes people with NPD can burn through the goodwill of others. My only experience with people with NPD is that by the end of their life a lot of their good-natured friends are sick of their shit, or the law has caught up to them, etc. It's sad and it would have been nice if they got help. In the case of the first family friend, he wasn't a bad person at all, and was sometimes very charming and kind to people when he wanted to be. In the case of the second person, I never saw him act in any way that wasn't self-serving. It's still sad, though, especially for his estranged family.
posted by Dimes at 2:48 AM on February 26, 2022

I forgot one. Before Joseph Stalin died, he was neglected for hours -- some people didn't want to check on him, others didn't want him to get well, and the doctors, when they were finally called, were terrified to examine him. Everybody moved really, really slowly until nature took its course. Now of course I don't know that Stalin was a clinical narcissist, but I am going to hazard a guess.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:35 AM on February 26, 2022

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