Why Narcissistic Parents Infantilize Their Adult Children

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that affects individuals’ emotional, mental and social ability to relate to others. As a result, they crave admiration and recognition to feel significant, show little empathy for others, and display an overblown sense of entitlement. Narcissistic parents, who have the disorder, often infantilize their adult children, keeping them dependent and incapable of self-sufficiency.

What is infantilization?

Infantilization is a form of psychological abuse that involves treating an adult as though they are still a child. Narcissistic parents often infantilize their adult children to maintain control over them by instilling a sense of helplessness and dependence on the parent.

Some signs of infantilization include:

  • Speaking to an adult in a childlike tone.
  • Controlling aspects of the adult’s life, including finances and relationships.
  • Refusing to acknowledge the adult’s accomplishments or independence.
  • Making decisions for the adult without their consent.
  • Refusing to allow the adult to make their own decisions.
  • Expecting the adult to obey orders without questioning them.

Why do narcissistic parents infantilize their adult children?

Narcissistic parents lack empathy for others, including their children. They view their children as extensions of themselves, rather than as individuals with their own identities. Due to this perspective, narcissistic parents see the success of their children as a reflection of their own worth, and failures as a personal failure.

As their children grow up and become more independent, narcissistic parents may feel threatened by the loss of control over their children. This fear can lead them to resort to tactics such as infantilization to maintain control over their adult children.

Narcissistic parents also infantilize their adult children to use them as sources of narcissistic supply. Narcissistic supply refers to the admiration, attention, and validation that a person with NPD requires to feel good about themselves. By keeping their adult children dependent on them, narcissistic parents ensure a constant flow of narcissistic supply.

What are the effects of infantilization on adult children?

The effects of infantilization can be severe and long-lasting, affecting the adult children’s emotional, social, and professional lives. Some of the most common effects include:

  • Low Self-Esteem: Adult children who have been infantilized by their narcissistic parents may struggle with feelings of low self-worth and a lack of confidence in their abilities.
  • Lack of Independence: Infantilized adult children may feel incapable of making decisions, taking care of themselves, or being financially independent.
  • Lack of Social Skills: Adult children who have been infantilized may struggle to form healthy relationships with peers and partners as they have not been allowed to form bonds with people outside of their family.
  • Limited Professional Growth: The fear, shame and constant parental control can impede the adult child’s ability to take initiative or seize opportunities, leading to stagnation in their careers.
  • Anxiety and Depression: Infantilized adult children are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

How to overcome infantilization?

Overcoming infantilization can be a long and difficult process, but it is possible. Here are some steps adult children can take to overcome the effects of infantilization:

  • Seek Professional Help: A therapist experienced in treating adults who have experienced emotional abuse and has an understanding of narcissistic personality disorder can provide the necessary support and help you heal.
  • Focus on Personal Growth: By focusing on your personal growth, you can build your self-esteem and confidence, take the initiative to make decisions and work at self-sufficiency.
  • Set Boundaries: Adults who have been infantilized need to set healthy boundaries with their narcissistic parents. These boundaries may include limits on interactions or taking control over crucial aspects of their lives, e.g., finances and relationships.
  • Find Support: It is essential to establish healthy relationships outside of the family that support you as you push past the effects of infantilization.
  • Practice Self-Care: adult children who have survived from the abuse may need to prioritize self-care to address any mental or physical health issues that may have resulted from infantilization.


Infantilization of adult children by narcissistic parents is one of several negative outcomes of the disorder. Adult children must overcome the effects of infantilization by seeking professional help focusing on self-growth, finding support, setting boundaries and practicing self-care. Awareness of the impact of narcissistic abuse and its associated effects helps the adult children understand that it is not their fault and find strategies to cope with the aftermath.


FAQs about Why Narcissistic Parents Infantilize Their Adult Children

1. What exactly does it mean to infantilize an adult child?

Infantilizing is a process whereby an adult is treated like a child by another adult, usually a parent, referred to as a “narcissistic parent.” It involves the parent continuing to treat their adult child as if they are still young, dependent and incapable of taking care of themselves.

2. Why do narcissistic parents infantilize their adult children?

Narcissistic parents infantilize their adult children for several reasons, including to maintain control over their lives, feel needed, and to avoid their own feelings of inadequacy. It is a manipulative tactic used by the parent to ensure that their child remains in a state of dependency and therefore, maintains their position of authority within the family dynamic.

3. How can infantilization affect an adult child’s mental health?

When an adult child is infantilized, it can have significant negative impacts on their mental health. They may struggle with issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and chronic self-doubt. They may also have difficulty developing healthy relationships and making important life decisions because of their dependence on their parent. Ultimately, it can impede their personal growth and well-being.


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2. Sabouri, S., Gerber, J. P., & Tipler, N. L. (2020). Narcissistic parenting and adolescent adjustment: the mediating role of the parent-child relationship. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29(1), 67-78. doi: 10.1007/s10826-019-01517-0

3. Rosenthal, R. N., & Dhawan, N. (2018). Looking in the Mirror: Narcissistic Parenting and Its Consequences. Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 30(1), 19-33. doi: 10.2989/17280583.2017.1376692