‘Adulting’ can be exasperating—so much so that achieving autonomy and stability across the board seems nearly impossible at times. Adults who appear to ‘have it all together’ may witness other adults religiously rely on their parents for support and then grumble to themselves:
“Cut the umbilical cord, already.”
However, these ‘have it all together’ adults could benefit from considering that countless adult children may have actually been prohibited from clamping and snipping the figurative cord that connects them to their parents. Some parents—again, figuratively speaking—cling onto the sterilized shears used to complete the postpartum procedure as if they were the world’s most prized possession. In some cases, these aren’t your ‘typical’ parents who experience healthy doses of adjustment-related stress upon witnessing their child’s development. There’s a slight chance that they may be Nparents or narcissistic parents who emotionally abuse and keep close power and control tabs on their adult children targets via tactics such as:
Infantilization: To perceive and treat a fully-developed, mature adult individual like a child.
Infantilization perpetuates codependency, a term that describes a relationship in which two people rely on each other in order to ensure that their needs will be met and sustain overall functioning. Codependent children are significantly at risk for becoming narcissistic abuse targets, and, unfortunately, this target status may linger into adulthood. Infantilization and codependency also occur within romantic and workplace relationships, for example. However, for this blog, we’ll explore a few specific ways that the Nparent applies the infantilization tactic within the parent-adult child relationship.
You may have experienced infantilization if your Nparent:
- Wants you to live like Peter Pan or a Toys ‘R’ Us kid. The Nparent doesn’t want their adult child to ‘grow up’ and may attempt to confine them to an infant-like state in order to continue to feel like a supernatural, superior figure or even parent of the century. Overall, the adult child is a vital resource—akin to a massive depot where the Nparent browses and shops to replenish their narcissistic supply. The Nparent may also apply other tactics, such as love bombing and hoovering, in order to catch and spin the adult child back into a sticky web of dysfunctional codependence after they’ve managed to make a break for it.
- Acts like a delegating, decision-making machine gone haywire. The Nparent oftentimes completely dismisses their adult child’s human agency, and the word ‘boundary’ is usually omitted from their personalized dictionary. Telling their adult child what to do—or how and when to do it—is another way for the Nparent to shame, belittle, and make them feel inferior or incompetent. According to the Nparent, they’re the all-knowing, grand advisor to their adult child. They also rarely give the adult child an opportunity to disagree, and they may even weaponize their parent status by mentioning past ‘support’ or childbirth to evoke guilt if the adult child intends to say ‘no’.
- Blows your efforts and choices to smithereens. Once an adult child claims a greater percentage of independence, the Nparent becomes far from happy. In fact, they’ll likely feel threatened and ready to go to war in order to regain power and control. They may initiate this battle by using a cannon to attack every decision that their adult child makes—from their college major and romantic partner to fashion picks and hairstyles. In other words, the Nparent repeatedly chews and spits out their adult child’s choices like toxic snuff, leaving the adult child feeling like they’ll never be worthy yet still eager to receive validation.
For all of the adult children out there who grapple with an Nparent and infantilization, do yourself a favor. Avoid the strain and exhaustion that comes with efforts to jump and reach the Nparent’s unrealistic expectations bar. They’ll continue to raise it to ridiculously new highs. Also, beware of the gaslighting. Many Nparents will claim to destroy your self-confidence in good faith or in an attempt to ‘help’ you.