Narcissists carry significant psychopathology within themselves, yet they want you to believe they are the Standard Bearers for healthy living. Part of their pathology is the unwillingness or the inability to introspect. They honestly believe: “If I can project an outer appearance of confidence and certainty, I’m a winner.” Yet, inside the narcissist a battle is going on between two people: the confused inner child and the pretender adult. Let’s take a look at each.

Very early in life that inner child had all sorts of questions and issues that needed to be addressed but were not.

For instance, that inner child might wonder:

  • “What do I have to do to be accepted?” They had many mixed messages regarding that issue that were not sufficiently sorted out.
  • “When I make mistakes or if I’m clumsy, why do people feel so angry toward me?” Patient guidance was typically in short supply.
  • “Whenever I try to explain my thoughts and feelings, my words are shot down. Why won’t people listen to what I am saying?” Often, they learned that questions are interpreted as intransigence.
  • “I see others being praised for giving the right answers and for pleasing the authorities. How can I get in on that act?” And yet, time teaches that they cannot be pleasing enough.
  • “Telling the truth about my confusion just gets me in deeper trouble, so why would I do that?” Self-disclosure seems too risky.
  • “It’s okay when adults are crazy-angry, but not when I am that way.” Those double standards are never going to work in the child’s favor.
  • “There are lots of things about emotions and relationship skills I need to learn, but why won’t anyone talk reasonably about all that?” Lifestyle tutoring focused on rules.

As that confused child drew closer to adulthood, it would have been ideal to sift out those and other questions for the purpose of building a mature foundation, but that is not common. And it was especially not common with the budding narcissist. Instead, that confused child learns to put on a false front of pretense.

In the adult years, that confused child remains inside, but the pretender adult tries to ignore what that child needs. Instead, all sorts of unhealthy patterns emerge.

For instance:

  • “Here’s the deal. Whatever you do, admit no mistakes, no matter what the evidence shows.”
  • “When someone shows displeasure with me, I’ll make them pay, making it crystal clear that they will be punished for trying to show me up.”
  • “If someone suggests I’m wrong, I’m not having it. I’ll deny any and all allegations against me.”
  • “Instead, I’ll make others look and feel foolish for differing with me. Insults, names, accusations…I’ll use whatever tactic that will get them off my case.”
  • “I can use moments of conflict to my advantage. In my anger, the goal is to create as much discomfort in that person as is necessary.”
  • “Never, ever will I show vulnerability. That strategy gets me nowhere good.”
  • “But, when possible, I’ll be glad to gather vulnerable data against others…you never know when that will come in handy.”

The confused inner child.
The pretender adult.

In my forty plus years as a therapist, I met many who carried those two people side by side within themselves. My goal was to help them find a third way, the way of growth and maturation. Those who were willing to come to terms with that inner battle would go on to build a solid foundation for personal and relational wholeness, and they would dismiss the pretender adult altogether.

They would focus on themes like:

  • Acceptance toward oneself and toward others.
  • A balanced manner of addressing conflicts, emphasizing assertiveness and civility.
  • Empathy, becoming constructively invested in knowing what lies inside others.
  • Honesty, trustworthiness, self-disclosure.
  • Being safe, approachable, and kind.
  • Leaning into the supremacy of love, peace, and humility.

I have learned that narcissists are so invested in the ingredients of selfishness, control, and manipulation that they are unable to grow. And in the meantime, that battle between the confused inner child and the pretender adult continues unabated. Actually, the two routinely merge into one.

Naturally, the narcissist does not see the problem of the two warring factions inside themselves. So that underscores the strong necessity for you to see it, so you can resolve not to become ensnared by the predictable fallout.

To watch the video version of this topic, please click here.

~Dr. Les Carter