Why the Narcissist is still a Child

One of the most well-known theories in psychology is Sigmund Freud’s theory that as children, we pass through different psychosexual stages. According to Freud, if a child is over-indulged or under-indulged in any of these stages, it results in what he calls fixation. Fixation describes an adult who is stuck or attached to an earlier childhood mode of satisfaction.

An infant does not see others as indistinguishable from the self. An infant or small child perceives the world as an extension of himself. Children feel that people, particularly mother, are present to cater to their every need. They know that if they cry, they can elicit an immediate response in those around them. They will be presented with food and cradling in response to any fussing or crying on their part. They see others as existing solely for their purpose.

This type of selfishness is natural for an infant or small child. They must rely on others to meet their needs in order to survive. According to Freud, this extreme selfishness, or Narcissism, is a normal psychosexual stage of development between the stages of auto-eroticism and object-libido.

Children eventually grow out of this Narcissistic stage. They grow out of it and learn to understand that others have needs as well. Unfortunately, not everyone grows out of this stage. If they received TOO MUCH or TOO LITTLE attention, they become fixated in this stage, obsessed with getting their needs met at all times.

Sadly, a Narcissist was either neglected as a child or over-indulged. They are stuck. They never developed the more complex feelings that make us uniquely human, like love and empathy. They do not relate to the world or others in the same way we do. Narcissists are emotionally stunted and disconnected from their true selves. The easiest way to think of them is as a five or six year old child who has yet to understand that he/she is not the center of everyone’s universe.

Since Narcissists are not in touch with their true self, they are dependent on others to fill a void. Unfortunately, no one can ever fill this void because their expectations are unrealistic, unattainable and ever-changing. No one will ever be good enough for them and they will repeat this cycle of abusing and discarding romantic partners throughout their lives.

There is much confusion and pain when in a relationship with a Narcissist. We repeatedly find ourselves let down and disappointed by our partner. We have given our heart and soul to this person, but they cannot return our love and we do not understand why. Often, we deny the reality of our situation for years before we get honest with ourselves.

Getting over a relationship with a Narcissist is not the same as with a healthy well-adjusted adult. In a typical breakup, we grieve the loss of love, the pain of saying goodbye, the sadness of something wonderful ending, broken promises and halted dreams.

When grieving a Narcissist, this pain is compounded by the reality that this person is not who we thought they were at all. Thinking you know someone and then suddenly being confronted with a person you don’t even recognize is quite a shock to the system. This person professed their undying love for you one moment, but then abandoned you the next by either emotionally withdrawing or physically leaving. You realize they never loved you and simply used you to meet their never-ending child-like needs.

The way I see it is simple: you have two choices. You either accept your partner for who he/she is or you move on. It is critical that you understand there is nothing you can do to change the situation. It is not your fault. You fell in love with someone who is incapable of having an adult mature relationship.

Personality disorders cannot be treated. Sometimes in life we must accept the fact that the only person we can change is ourselves. Accepting that there is nothing you can do to improve your relationship with the person you love is painful, but powerful.

The painful part is obvious. Loving someone who cannot return your love is agonizing and difficult to accept. However, the knowledge that no matter what you do, this person will never change is quite powerful, in my opinion. Once you understand this fundamental truth, a whole new world opens up to you. Your newfound knowledge should be liberating. As we say on our forum.... Knowledge is Power!

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark: the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
~ Plato

Mar 3 - 6AM
ditto's picture

Good info.

My ex is stuck at the age of 13. And now the child we had together is 12, and a very introspective, intelligent and mature 12 years old, at that. Therefore, I am dealing with a child that is more capable than his father. Very tricky stuff....
Mar 1 - 12PM
smokabear's picture

I agree he even admitted to

I agree he even admitted to going without, at 47 he still stomped his feet when he slammed the door like a five year old, I even told him he acted like a five year old and to grow up there was no amount of attention i could have ever given him that would be enough, it was like having a child all the time always being the mommy or daddy or the babysitter,, thank god thats over
Feb 25 - 5AM
whskywmn5's picture

In agreement

I agree wholeheartly that is something that they have missed out on as a child. My husband was in the hospital for months as a small baby, because of the neglect he received from his mother. One of the drs in the hospital and his wife wanted to adopt him, but his mother wouldnt agree to that...sometimes I wonder how differently he might have been today if only given the opportunity to grow up as a normal child.
Feb 24 - 12PM
Susan32's picture

Acceptance-and why there's no closure

There was never a real "goodbye" because there was no real "hello" in the first place. That explains the D&Ds, the sudden abandonments when things become difficult (the ex-Psych prof literally ran away when I met his girlfriend),the silent treatments. The ex-P would freak whenever I was myself. He'd snap at me to "be serious!" if I made the mistake of smiling, be happy or giggly in his presence. There was no real "hello." As my friends said after the final D&D, the ex-P didn't know the REAL ME. With an adult, you can introduce yourself, get to know each other... and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. The guys I casually dated my junior year- I could be myself around them- and when we realized that we hadn't "clicked" we could move on rather painlessly. No need to hurl insults, throw hissy fits, or demean the other person. The ex-P didn't even give me a chance to say "hello" so there was no real "goodbye." Whenever I tried introducing myself... there were ways for him to put a lid on it. He'd accuse me of being a narcissist, etc. It's like after 4 years... he rejected me without really knowing me... and yes, THAT hurts. He thought that being a teacher, I was the student who catered to all his needs. "This type of selfishness is natural for an infant or small child"-The ex-P had a profound hatred of children. When I volunteered at a local school, all I got was the equivalent of raging, foot stomping, temper tantrums. I thought it would show that I wasn't creepily obsessed with him, that I had a life of my own... instead all I got was anger. The motif of all 4 years with him was how much he hated children. "Loving someone who cannot return your love is painful"-No wonder the ex-P was fixated on unrequited love (he liked "Shakespeare in Love").. and he was always putting up barriers to our relationship. We couldn't be friends because I was a student (that was his excuse) We couldn't be lovers because his girlfriend had moved in with him (that I got blindsided with) It always HAD to be something. When I declared my love to him, it was like the floodgates of hell were opened. I had never seen so much rage in a person. This was worse than falling in love in high school with someone who was uninterested and/or unavailable. In high school, I had a crush on a teacher and he was living with another teacher. I knew he couldn't return my affection;it didn't anger or pain me. I simply accepted it. Still, this teacher whom I had a crush on treated me RESPECTFULLY, and I learned much from him. He was a good teacher. All I got from the ex-P were endless lectures about how I was somehow going against the school's mission, behaving inappropriately, that I was not following my role--and so much rage at how he was offended. Getting endlessly berated is worse than finding out about a girlfriend or realizing they're just not interested. What's weird is that I have come to the acceptance that the ex-P had the perspective of my baby nephew. Before I came here. When I broke NC, I sent a letter to the ex-P, comparing him to my endlessly needy, tantrum-throwing nephew... using the fact that my brother in-law and the ex-P's father have the same name. It was a way of saying "I accept the fact that you're immature. You're immature;there's nothing I can do about it." But I put it more humorously and condescending...
Feb 23 - 7AM
sadderbutwiser's picture

question for lisa

lisa, i am fairly new to posting. i asked this question before, but not directly to you.i would really like your input.i have been learning about narcs and PD's for over a year, so i'm pretty knowledgeable on the subject. my question is this: you said that they will go through numerous romantic partners. my narc has been married for 24 years. i know about what he does with women, but since his wife works long hours and he is home alot, she has no clue. everything i read is that she must be miserable, etc. however, whenever i see her(she lives in our neighborhood, we see them at sports, etc). she always seems so happy. i've never seen her look sad. they take walks together with the dog(nauseating). do you think he can keep the mask on for her even behind closed doors? i know he is terrified of losing her since she is the breadwinner, and his life is just fun and games. he is always off doing his own thing. can he be that good of an actor to treat her right so that she doesn't ever leave? can it be that they have a good relationship even behind closed doors? without going into details, i know that he is sick and twisted, but since she is the madonna, could he be treating her well to be sure and keep her. are narcs capable of keeping on the mask for their long-term partners or is she just a zombie?
Mar 3 - 6AM (Reply to #6)
ditto's picture

He's a narc, you're cheating

He's a narc, you're cheating with him, his wife seems happy (it makes you mad that they take walks with their dog....hmmmm) What exactly is it that you want? I don't think your handle "sadderbutwiser" fits you at all. Where is the sisterhood honey?
Feb 27 - 8PM (Reply to #3)
Lisa E. Scott
Lisa E. Scott's picture


Dazed is right: "I feel like if I chose to stay with him I would be choosing to lose my self completely." The woman he is with now is either a zombie, in total denial or a great actress. Whichever it is, she has lost herself in him. There is no way she is happy. He has her brainwashed. He is absolutely keeping her happy to play the Madonna role so he can take her for all she's worth. Yes, they can put on an act until they get what they want. Once he feels he has no more use for her (inevitable), he will end it or push her to the point where she should end it and move on. You are so much better off without this man in your life Trust me and be patient with yourself. Take baby steps and you will start to find yourself again! You should be proud that you have not lost yourself completely in him. This is exactly what he was counting on. Stay strong and know we are here for you always! xoxo
Feb 27 - 8PM (Reply to #4)
michele115 (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

If I can chime in on this "picture perfect" marriage

It AIN'T perfect!... There could be a ton of dynamics involved...we see it everyday..."arrangements" accepting of "roles" I have a friend who on the outside looks like everything is hunky dory...I love her to death, admire her and respect her. She has FIVE kids...that was unexpected BUT...nice big house, money you name it... Hubby works 400 hours a week *I wonder how many are "on the clock"...AHEM... And one day I asked her in "sheer ignorance" 'How do you do it? How do you keep it together?' Her explanation was "I have no expectations"....HUH? **Crickets** So what appears to be hunky dory from the outside - which is YOUR perspective may not be accurate...THEY MAY BOTH have an "image" to uphold? Look, fronting, faking, pretending...there isn't anything happy about that. She can't be that much of a fool - or she can...BUT either way...no longer OUR job to care is it? You deserve real love, authenticity, unconditional love, acceptance, openess, honesty...you deserve EVERYTHING this person would not/could not give you. The grass isn't greener on the other side... a lot of folks have this green grass spray paint they use on their lawns...I swear, I read that somewhere! During the housing dip I know a number of folks were spraying their lawns to "sell" their houses...it's all an "illusion" Hugs... Out of their business...into yours!
Feb 28 - 9AM (Reply to #5)
sadderbutwiser's picture

thanks michelle and lisa

i guess i needed to hear that AGAIN. it's just so hard when i see them together, you know?
Feb 23 - 8PM (Reply to #1)
dazed and seeki...
dazed and seeking peace and strength's picture

I second sadderbutwiser's question

I also would love the answer to sadderbutwiser's questions. I feel like my N is capable of such a long term relationship. I just don't know if he is capable of being nice behind closed doors for such a long time. It would make me wonder if I could be his "Madonna" and live happily ever after with him - even while knowing that he is a PSI. Anyway, thank you for this post. I was having a particularly difficult day, and this post really clarifies some things about my exnbf. Ultimately, I feel like if I chose to stay with him (and I feel like I do have that choice...but I could be wrong) I would be choosing to lose my self completely.
Mar 2 - 10AM (Reply to #2)
ShaynasMommy's picture


there's no such thing as "happily ever after" with these cats. If Someone believes after they show their true colors that they are, or can be content with them they are in complete denial. Take it from me, I was for 7 years. I think Lisa put it best when she said any long term woman of his would have to be a brain-washed zombie in order to put up with it for the rest of her life. Seriously, one would, no joke, have to be literally brain dead not to know what these jokers are up to eventually. It's the women who cannot or refuse to see any other way of life that never leave of their own accord. I'm so glad I woke up and went complete NC after our final break-up. Otherwise I would have gone back again, again, and again. I understand your fears of "what if he finds someone who can live with it? or what if I could have done this or that differently?" I used to be sad about that too. But, in reassurance, NO ONE is able to 'cope' with these jackasses unless they totally switch off. Unless they decide that all they deserve in life are the few "feel good" scraps the N throws their way....unless, like you said, they are willing to lose themselves in the Narc. F--- THAT. And when it comes to being "nice" behind closed doors...There's a difference between someone who is all "nice" and someone who is good, honest, and with a moral charachter. Seriously, how valuable is it to be with someone who maybe does the dishes for you every other day, compliments you on your looks.....and bangs every woman you know behind your back while calling you crazy to your friends and family????? Trust me, you make the right choice if you stay No Contact