Most children are normally narcissistic to some degree, so it’s not surprising that narcissists exhibit a lot of behaviors we would associate as being childish. Of course, healthy children grow out of their narcissism whereas those who are never able to fully develop a healthy sense of self develop pathological narcissism. Those who develop NPD remain child-like in many ways because in a sense that’s when their ego stopped developing; in other words, you might say they are stuck in the selfishness of childhood.
Here are 15 ways narcissists behave like children:
- They are self-absorbed.
- They blame others.
- They try to charm you.
- They are demanding.
- They want you to focus on them.
- They throw temper tantrums.
- They need external validation.
- They lack empathy.
- They ignore you.
- They deny responsibility.
- They pretend they don’t understand.
- They play the victim.
- They devalue you.
- They change the subject.
- They run away.
It’s important to examine each of these behaviors to understand how pathological narcissistic behavior differs from the normal behaviors common in healthy children.
1. They are Self-Absorbed
Healthy children are self-absorbed because they are just beginning to learn about the world and their place in it. As they grow and develop, they learn to be more focused on what they can contribute to the world as opposed to what the world owes them.
Narcissists, on the other hand, are self-absorbed because their self-esteem is dependent on getting their narcissistic supply by manipulating the people around them. They need that because they never developed the inner mechanisms that healthy people have to prop up their own self-esteem.
The narcissist has buried their true self and feelings deep inside themselves, and they are typically full of shame and self-loathing. Left to their own devices, they have no sense of self-worth. They need to get that from the people in their lives.
2. They Blame Others
Normal, healthy children often blame others for things they did because they fear the consequences from authority figures in their life — that is, they might be grounded or have to do something they don’t like to do. This is vastly different from the reason why the narcissist engages in this type of behavior.
Because of their internal self-loathing, the narcissist can’t admit responsibility without risking having to face their inner shame. If they are forced into that position, they could easily decompensate and have a breakdown. For that reason, even if you can present evidence of wrongdoing to a narcissist, they will either deny responsibility altogether or blame someone else for causing them to engage in the bad behavior.
3. They Try to Charm You
Healthy children try to charm you because they are genuinely interested in getting you to like them. It’s not that they need you to like them, but they want you to like them. The narcissist, on the other hand, charms you into liking them because they need something from you.
What the narcissist needs from you is their narcissistic supply of external validation that props up their self-esteem. They need an almost constant supply of adoration and admiration because they have no way to internally comfort or praise or love themselves. The internal mechanism that usually does that for healthy people is their own sense of self or ego. Narcissists lack that and must get it from outside themselves.
4. They are Demanding
Children are demanding because they need adults to give them support and the basic requirements for survival. They are just learning about the world, and they are in the process of being socialized into their culture. They are learning how to survive and thrive, and they need you to show them the ropes.
Narcissists are demanding because they have told themselves a story about how important and entitled they are. They have come to believe they deserve everything good in life without really having to work for it, and they feel like the people in their life should supply those things for them.
5. They Want You to Focus on Them
Healthy children are still developing their self-esteem, and they are still learning how to interact with the people around them. They want you to focus on them because they are still learning how to focus on other people’s needs themselves.
Narcissists want you to focus on them because they see you merely as an extension of themself. They are not capable of understanding that you have your own needs and wants, let alone that they should care about them.
6. They Throw Temper Tantrums
Children may throw temper tantrums because they are overly tired or can’t understand why they can’t have what they want. They are still learning that not everything in the world is focused on them.
Narcissists are famous for their narcissistic rage, and this is usually a distraction technique to get you to focus on something other than their bad behavior or some mistake they have made. They are hypersensitive to even the gentlest criticism, and that is often more than enough to cause them to throw a massive temper tantrum.
7. They Need External Validation
Healthy children need external validation because they need encouragement and support as they are building their own healthy ego. They are just developing their sense of self, and they need you to help them learn how to comfort themselves and develop their sense of self-worth.
Narcissists, on the other hand, need external validation precisely because they never developed a healthy sense of self (ego). They can’t internally support themselves; instead, they must get adoration and admiration from outside sources.
8. They Lack Empathy
Normal, healthy children lack empathy because they have yet to learn that they must consider the needs of other people and the impact their behavior has on them. This is quite different from why the narcissist lacks empathy.
The narcissist lacks empathy because they have created a false self to interact with the world, but they need other people to prop up that false self. Since they rely so heavily on other people, they come to see them as nothing more than extension of themself. They don’t consider that they have feelings or needs beyond those of the narcissist.
They also can’t understand why other people would be upset by their actions or behavior. After all, they should be focused solely on the narcissist.
9. They Ignore You
Healthy children might ignore you because they are focused on what they are doing or what they find interesting. They might also have a limited attention span because of their young age.
The narcissist, however, ignores you because they are punishing you for something you might not even be aware that you have done. They might also ignore you once they have gotten what they need from you and no longer feel like they have to pay attention to you.
10. They Deny Responsibility
Many times, children will deny responsibility for the same reason they might blame someone else for something they did: they fear punishment. They will learn over the course of their life that mistakes don’t take away from their self-worth.
Narcissists cannot admit responsibility for anything. To admit they made a mistake is to admit they are vulnerable and imperfect. That’s not consistent with the grandiose ideas they have created about themselves.
11. They Pretend They Don’t Understand
This is a technique that healthy children will use to get out of something they don’t want to do or when they are bored and want to focus on something else. Narcissists use this technique to gaslight you. They will pretend that they don’t understand what you’re talking about as a way to make you doubt your own interpretations and judgement.
12. They Play the Victim
This is a tactic that both healthy children and adult narcissists will use to avoid responsibility. They want to make it look like your demands are a form of mistreatment so that they won’t have to comply. The difference between the narcissist and the healthy child, however, is that the healthy child will grow out of this tendency.
13. They Devalue You
A healthy child might devalue you — call you mean or say they don’t like you — when they’re frustrated. Perhaps they don’t want to go to bed, and they hope that by calling you a name, you’ll give in and they won’t have to.
The narcissist, however, has a completely different motive. They may devalue you so they can win an argument, they might want to feel good about themselves by comparison, or they may want to make you look bad in front of other people so they can pretend to be the victim. Their motives are far more sinister and dysfunctional than those of a normal child.
14. They Change the Subject
Normal, healthy children sometimes change the subject because they don’t have a very long attention span. Narcissists change the subject as a manipulative distraction technique. They are purposefully trying to get you to focus on something else so they won’t have to deal with whatever you were talking about.
15. They Run Away
Children with a healthy sense of self sometimes run away from you to get you to show that you care. they want your attention, and they want you to care. Narcissists, however, run away because either they know you’re right and they’re wrong (something they can’t face) or because they have gotten everything they need from you and no longer have a use for you.
While the behaviors of children and narcissistic adults can sometimes be similar, the reasons behind why are engaging in those behaviors are vastly different. For the narcissist, the game is all about manipulation whereas the healthy child is still learning the ways of the world. They are still learning the rules of the game. The narcissist knows the rules, but can’t accept them.
While narcissism typically develops because of childhood trauma, all children start out somewhat narcissistic. For that reason, you’ll also want to check out this post about the signs that a child is developing pathological narcissism.
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