How Trauma Can Stunt Emotional Growth

Years ago, prior to learning about narcissism, I had a friend who counseled people at her church.  She told me how she believed many people were stuck emotionally at the age they were when they experienced deep trauma.  This makes a great deal of sense to me, especially knowing what I do now about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Looking at some of the narcissists I’ve known in my life, they were abused, neglected or both in their childhood, or faced something very traumatic such as a life threatening injury.  My father, for example, nearly died at only fifteen from a traumatic brain injury, thanks to some drunk driver hitting his car head on.  Although he was a mature adult in ways such as keeping a full time job, maintaining & repairing his own car & home, in some ways, his behavior was very immature.  He seemed to think he should have whatever he wanted, just because he wanted it.  That is entitlement but it’s also a very immature behavior.

My late mother in-law grew up in an extremely dysfunctional environment.  At 15, she got pregnant & married my father in-law.  By all accounts, their marriage was not a happy one for many years.  Her behavior was quite immature, & often reminded me of a teenager.   Like my father, she seemed to think she should have what she wanted simply because she wanted it.

Obviously, not everyone who has experienced trauma, abuse or neglect in their childhood is like this.  However it seems to me that many narcissists are.  So many act very immature, & if you look at their lives, many also had some sort of trauma in their childhood.

I’m not telling you this to excuse the abusive behavior of narcissists, of course.  There is no valid excuse for abuse!  However, understanding them can help you a great deal.  It can help you not to be as hurt or angered by their abuse because you see it’s something wrong with them.  (This information is always a good reminder since they love gaslighting so much.)  It enables you to predict their behavior so you can protect yourself.  It also can help you to remember that basically, you’re dealing with a bratty child in an adult’s body & deal with them accordingly.

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17 Comments

Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Mental Health, Narcissism

17 responses to “How Trauma Can Stunt Emotional Growth

  1. I remember as a teenager thinking that both of my Nrents were less mature than I was. I saw them as children in adult bodies, demanding what they wanted when they wanted it, and grossly irresponsible in their parenting.

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    • I totally relate! Even as a kid, many years prior to learning about NPD, I felt more like I was raising them than they raised me in many ways. Actually that may be partly why I never wanted kids- I raised my parents & am done raising kids after that! lol

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  2. Interesting point about raising your parents. Mine rejected everything I suggested, and I believe it was because it would have meant that they had some respect for me. My siblings are the same way and always have been. Heaven forbid that any of them showed the family scapegoat and black sheep that she had anything valuable to contribute.

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    • Of course. 😦 That is awful. I understand that too. I always was confused that my parents obviously always thought I was stupid, yet still expected me to fix their marital problems or any problems they brought to me, really. Why ask someone you believe is stupid for help? Now I think it’s because they realized I was smart, but just wanted to keep me down. Probably the same for you with your family- they recognized how smart you are, but in typical narcissist fashion, had to keep you down.

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    • Serendipitous Stepmom

      I relate to this so much Suzanne. So so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My ex partner was certainly stuck in the age that he suffered trauma. Sometimes I felt like I was dating a child. It was very disturbing.

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  4. I have heard this before as well. My husband was sexually abused at a young age and I often find him incredibly immature and inappropriate…much like a 10 year old. What I wonder most about though, is myself. I have been abused my entire life…childhood right into my marriage. I wonder what I do…what tendencies do others see in me that I don’t see in myself that would indicate I am “stuck” somewhere emotionally. Stubbornness is one, but I can’t put an age on that. it’s interesting to think about and also good to be aware of. thank you for sharing this.

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  5. Serendipitous Stepmom

    I’ve tried to see it from this angle, but the narcissists that I know either were showered with love and affection, or were completely affection withheld, by the parents. The affection withheld makes sense to me because they’re creating their own glass house. They are creating what they didn’t have, for themselves. My philosophy on this comes from an amazing book I highly recommend, called ‘Unmasking Narcissism’ by Mark Ettensohn, Psy.D.
    The entirety of the book is learning about narcissism and how to navigate the narcissists in your life. It brought a whole lot of insight to me in a time I really needed to understand some difficult people in my life.

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    • I believe that is precisely how narcissists are made- either showered with love & affection or completely neglected in that way. And yes, it makes a lot of sense!

      Some though that have gone through trauma, I think are emotionally stunted. Not every one of course, but some. I don’t think it is the cause of their narcissism, but it explains some of their actions- they aren’t acting like mature adults. Granted all narcissists act childish in many ways, but some moreso than others, & this may be why. Not that it excuses their behavior, of course, just explains it so the person who realizes this about the narcissist in their life can (hopefully anyway) figure out more effective ways to cope with them.

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