Let’s underscore that human development does not cease once a person exits childhood.  Developmental psychologists know that personality and psycho-social skills continue to evolve deep into the adult years.  With age comes the potential to incorporate mature insights and wisdom as you encounter an increasingly broad array of challenges and strains.

As you seek evidence that a person is indeed maturing beyond childishness and into adult skills, there are 4 primary qualities to watch for.  Maturing individuals move beyond:

Simplicity into complexity

Facts and beliefs into essence

Hard agendas into nuance

Wishful ideals into complicated reality.

Do you see the narcissists in your life as capable of responding to you with those primary qualities intact?  Unfortunately, narcissists with their attitudes of entitlement, control, invalidation, and manipulation cannot stop themselves from falling into tired, childish reactions when adult skills are necessary.

As evidence of their childishness, they are inclined toward non-productive patterns of anger.  They have an absurd tendency to be defensive.  They will lie or keep secrets.  They show a lack of curiosity or interest about your unique interpretations or emotions.  They are not team players since they act as if life is all about them.  They insist upon conformity, which illustrates that diversity threatens them greatly.

That being the case, they have great difficulty managing family tensions, as they choose contemptuous responses to differences.  Likewise, when the need to share projects with others arises, they confound their fellow participants with stubbornness and self-absorption.  Or when they are required to maneuver through the many hot topics that come up in conversations (politics, social issues, religion, or lifestyle practices), they can stymie sensible discussions.

Instead of leaning into complexity, emphasizing their inner essence, making room for nuance, and accepting how reality can be complicated, narcissists fall into practices that are common in youngsters who have not yet refined their relational skills.

Childish, narcissistic adults are inclined to thoughts like:

  • “Do it my way.”  Raw selfishness abounds.
  • “When we differ, it means you are unacceptable.”
  • “There are unbending dogmas I will not let go of.”
  • “When I don’t get my way, I’ll just pout.”
  • “When I don’t get my way, I’ll punish you.”
  • “I need to pressure you into doing and thinking just as I do.”
  • “I’m the victim here…you are rejecting me and making my life miserable.”
  • “I won’t compromise, but I will hold grudges.”
  • “Whatever I have to do to sabotage you, I’m willing to go there.”
  • “I have to win.”

Narcissists become so ensnared by the inability to see beyond their own narrow desires that they make little to no room for the complex matters that adults face each day.  It simply is not within their character to do so.  Their emotions become raw and unrefined, devoid of courtesy, and self-serving only.

So, knowing this, you can decide that someone inside the relationship needs to be the adult, and that someone can be you.  Just as when children become dysregulated, you can decide that you will set the standard for decency.  With calm firmness, hold onto your preferences, opinions, procedures, and priorities.  Show yourself to be willing to contemplate the other person’s needs and perspectives.  And when the narcissist remains stuck in an intransigent attitude, don’t try to force cooperation, but celebrate the fact that you will remain sober in your initiatives.

It makes no sense that a physically mature adult cannot also become a psychologically mature adult, yet that is the case with narcissists.  Remind yourself that life indeed can be messy and not conducive to simplistic formulas.  Then remind yourself that your own capacity to navigate complexities will be useful as you determine to rise above the narcissist’s disruptions.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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