Narcissistic parents are not like normal parents in so many ways. One of those ways is they never want their children to grow up. Why? Because a child is much easier to control than a self sufficient adult.
So how is something like this possible? Narcissistic parents make their children feel like they are forever the child, & the parent is forever the adult. This is done primarily through emotional warfare, such as making the child feel shame, fear, manipulating the child & reminding that child who the “adult” is in this situation. To show you what I mean, I’ll share some examples from my life.
I was a teenager in the 80’s. My friends were wearing make up by the eighth grade, & dating by the same time. I however, was unable to wear even lipstick before ninth grade. It took a great deal of begging on my part to be able to wear more makeup in ninth grade. Also, although my mother had told me for years that I could date at 16, when I met my now ex husband just prior to turning 17, my mother went completely ballistic at the prospect of me dating. In fact, she accused me of outrageous behaviors at that time, such as having sex with the entire high school football team & doing drugs. Her abuse hit its peak at that time, all because I admitted to wanting to date & called her out on saying I could date at 16. She refused to let me date until 1 week before my eighteenth birthday.
Another way my mother & many other narcissistic mothers keep their children childish is to control their appearance. My mother has dressed much the same way my entire life, & she always has attempted to make me dress a lot like her. I remember in late elementary school, sitting in a fitting room, fuming because my mother wanted me to like the hideous dark blue polyester pantsuit she insisted on buying for me. It was absolutely her taste, not mine, & no matter how much I stated my hatred of it, she was determined to make me wear it. As a teen in the 80’s, you would think I would have had mall bangs, pegged jeans & some of the other embarrassing fashion trends of the time, but nope.. instead, I dressed like a frumpy, middle aged housewife. Even as an adult, my mother would buy me clothes in her taste, not mine. One Christmas she got us matching shirts.
Age appropriate activities were also discouraged. School dances were not approved of, although I was able to attend a couple as long as I didn’t have a date. If my mother asked if I danced & I said yes, I was shamed for that. I was also not allowed to get a driver’s license until I was 18, & my mother could no longer legally stop me. She did, however, hide my birth certificate & showed it to the employee at the DMV while not allowing me to see it.
I moved out of my parents’ home just after I turned 19. My mother was livid. She told me I’d never make it on my own, I’d be back in six months & other nasty things. I felt then like she took me moving out as a betrayal, not as a natural course of events.
Once out on my own, my mother immediately broke her key in the front door, claiming it wasn’t her fault. My father ended up replacing all the door locks on the house. I don’t think it was an accident- I firmly believe it was my mother’s way of making sure I didn’t come back into her house since I had forgotten to give her my key back after moving out.
Being on my own didn’t stop her infantilizing behavior either. My mother constantly did little things to show me she disapproved of where I was living or how I maintained my home. She would inspect a glass before drinking out of it, obviously making sure it was clean enough to drink from, tell me I didn’t vacuum frequently enough or insult the town where I live claiming only “snobs” live here.
Behaviors like this are not only painful for the child (no matter her age) to live with, they also create a deep seeded insecurity & anxiety in the child. Prior to learning about infantilization, a child may grow up overly dependent on the parent doing the infantilization. The child thinks that parent knows so much more & she can do nothing without that parent’s wisdom. The child doesn’t trust herself. When a parent treats a child as if “Mother/Father knows best” no matter the child’s age, it ruins the child’s ability to trust in her own intelligence or instincts.
Once an infantilized person realizes what has happened, reversing the damage takes a LONG time & a lot of work. I was 16 when I began to see that the things my mother thought I should do/wear/like/drive/etc. & her opinions weren’t good for me- they were good for her. I am now 47 & I still have doubts about myself more often than I care to admit. Even so, the amount of time & energy I’ve put into shutting out her behavior has been worth it to learn to trust myself.
I wasn’t a Christian when I first began this journey, so honestly prayer wasn’t involved at first. However, now when I have doubts, I run to God immediately. I ask Him “Is this OK?” “Should I do/not do that?” or any question I have.
I also have found it valuable to question everything. When my mother would give me an article of clothing & say I should like it, I questioned myself- do I really like this? Why? If she told me I should or shouldn’t do something, I also questioned myself- What will happen if I do/don’t do this? Will it benefit me? Even now that my mother has been out of my life for two years, I still do this behavior if I have any doubts.
Getting to know yourself, your real self & not the self your parent(s) tried to make you into is also invaluable. The better you know your true likes & dislikes, the less doubt you will have & the more you will trust your own decisions. One way to get to know yourself is to learn your Myers Briggs personality. I found it to be an indispensable tool in getting to know myself! If you are interested in taking the test, you can find it at this link: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp There is also a list that describes all of the types at this link.
You also have to learn to trust your instincts. I believe they are the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding us, which is why they are so wise. Infantilization ruins one’s ability to trust one’s own instincts, unfortunately. Try listening to those gut feelings on small stuff, then work up to bigger issues. It really gets easier the more you do it.
As hard as it can be, you really can conquer the damage done by infantilization!