Narcissists Are Like Children in These Ways

Updated on November 25, 2017
SinDelle profile image

I am a bodywork healer, counselor, clinical hypnotherapist, and Reiki master. I am also a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders.

There are many similarities between the way adult narcissists think and process things and the way children do. In fact, in many ways, these processes are virtually identical. This is because narcissists have arrested emotional development. The emotional maturation that most children go through did not occur within the narcissist for whatever reason. Often, this reason is abuse or neglect during childhood. These things cause the child to focus intensely on themselves, to the exclusion of all other things. It also results in the mind being taken up with trying to defend itself from the abuse. The mind is, in a sense, always playing catch up, and because of the trauma that it is experiencing, some things are skipped, so to speak, or don't happen. The mind becomes locked in a pattern of defensive reaction and emotional perception—made up of many different but related facets—that matures extremely slowly and is extraordinarily resistant to change. We call this reaction/defense pattern malignant narcissism. In children, these things are normal. In adults, they are evidence of a disorder.

Young children and babies are not capable of understanding the emotions or needs of others. They only know want and need. They have no way of taking care of their own needs, and they can only scream for someone to do it for them. When the mother is exhausted and deathly ill with a fever and vomiting, and she's been up for three days—and she simply cannot cope anymore, does the baby sympathize accordingly? Does the baby stop crying? No. The child does not recognize this. The child does not care. The child cannot care. They can only keep screaming out their needs, regardless of the mother's suffering.

This is, in essence, what you are dealing with when it comes to narcissists. They do not recognize, understand or consider other people's needs. They see only their own, and their inability to meet them. The more damaged the narcissist is, the more narcissistic they will be, the more immature they will be and the more childish their way of thinking. And this is not childish as in, silly. This is immature as in, the emotional maturity and understanding of a toddler.

For example, besides the hysterical tantrum behavior we see in many narcissists that is very clearly on par with a very young child's, narcissists generally believe they are immune to the things that happen to "regular" people. This is an example of something called magical thinking which is a phenomenon we commonly see in very young children. Narcissists see feelings as facts, the way that children do. Narcissists see everything in the world as an extension of themselves, the way that children do and narcissists truly believe in their own perceived omnipresence and immortality as children do. They have always been, they will always be. So children believe and so narcissists believe. The view that they are just another person that must fit into a wider world does not occur to young children. How could it? Rather, they function under the assumption that the world fits around them, and that everything they experience or encounter is related to them in some form. This is the same way narcissists see things. They have never matured past this extremely immature way of looking at things. The idea that the world does not revolve around them never occurs to children, as it does not occur to narcissists.

For example, children view their parents as only having to do with them and connected only to them, rather than as separate people with their own lives, needs, wants, feelings, etc. Parents are very one dimensional to young children; despite the fact that children are only one part of the parent's life, the child does not see this nor understand it in any way. To a child, parents only exist as their caretakers. It is the only context children view parents in and the only context they can understand. This is identical to how narcissists view all other people: outside of the narcissist and the narcissist's needs, these people do not exist.

As children mature, they learn that this viewpoint is not true; they learn to see and appreciate their parents as individuals that are separate from themselves. The development of the narcissist is so arrested that this, coupled with such extreme self-focus means they are never able to separate themselves as authentic individuals from the external world. Because of this, they often feel acted upon by the world and other people or circumstances, rather than as people who act in the world. In their view, they do not act, but rather react to the things that are being done to them. It's as if they never outgrew the idea of themselves as powerless children, unable to take control or ownership of their own lives. They behave as though other people are still responsible for them and their emotions, the way that parents are responsible for a small child. They seem unable to own their choices or even to recognize that things are choices. And this is also like a child.

Narcissists are generally impulsive, irrational and extremely immature. They are careless, irresponsible and foolhardy. They don't seem able to consider consequences or think about things before they do them, just like children. When pressed for an answer as to why they've done something, narcissists may seem just as mystified as everyone else. "I don't know" is a very common answer. It may be the truth. They seem to possess very little insight as to why they do things, simply reacting on impulse as we see children do. Like children, narcissists often feel helpless in a world of more powerful, more competent, more knowledgeable adults. However, this is also an excuse. It's easier to be a helpless victim. If you are a victim, you can never be blamed. If you are helpless, you can never be forced to take responsibility.

Children are not blamed for not controlling themselves or for their choices. Narcissists don't seem to feel they should be either. They don't seem to understand the difference between a child and an adult, and they will often say things to that effect. These are mostly things that no self-respecting mature adult would ever say. They may compare themselves to the children, compete with the children or complain that their spouse holds "double standards" because the kids are allowed to get away with things that they are called out for. They don't seem to realize that adults and children are held to different standards, or why this should be.

For example, the narcissist must be asked repeatedly every single night to bring their plate into the kitchen, or throw their clothing in the hamper rather than leaving these things on the ground. Instead of simply doing it, the narcissist responds that little Johnny never does it either but he doesn't get yelled at. Little Johnny is seven. The narcissist is 40 and is one of Little Johnny's parents.

The discrepancy here is obvious; this is the type of response you would receive from a child that does not want to do their chores, not an adult. To the narcissist, this is a clear example of favoritism and being attacked for who they are. It does not seem to enter their mind that there is a very large difference between a 7-year-old and a 40-year-old. Regardless of whether or not they actually feel this way, the childishness and absurdity of this argument is really unbelievable—almost shocking in it's ignorance. There is not only the complete refusal to behave as an adult, there is an inability to even understand why this would be expected.

The truth is, underneath of all of the horrible things they do, the narcissist is still that5-year-oldd child pretending they are somebody else to escape an abusive situation that ended years ago. When all their reasoning is examined, when all their behavior is scrutinized and looked at through the lens of perspective rather than pain, this is what we are left with: a person with the emotional maturity of a toddler who cannot understand why they are expected to behave otherwise and who is trying desperately to pretend they are somebody else.

All of their attention seeking, all of their manipulations, all of their gas lighting, all of their smear campaigns, all of their abuse, all of the hurtful things they do—when seen for what they really are, these things are nothing but childish behaviors that have been perpetrated by an adult. Every single one of these things is seen in children. Gaslighting is a 3 year old with chocolate all over his face who is hiding the chocolate bar behind his back in plain view, saying "What chocolate, Mommy? I don't have chocolate." Smear campaigns are a 6-year-old telling lies about a girl to all that girl's friends so they won't like her anymore. Though these behaviors are sometimes seen as sophisticated schemes, they really aren't. They are the same childish and petty things we all dealt with on the elementary school playground. They are just more confusing and therefore more dangerous because they are coming from an adult.

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