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Narcissism = Emotional Immaturity

I am spending increasing amounts of time with my five grandchildren. They are at the same time delightful, charming, engaging, manipulative, deceptive and self-centered. They are emotionally and socially immature, having little sense about the needs of others or how to mesh what they want with what is expected of them. They have little awareness of how their angry outbursts impact those around them. They often cannot see how shifting the blame, causing confusion, or getting angry inhibits their growth.

As I spend time with them, I am at the same time enchanted, delighted, stressed, and even irritated. I scratch my head when one of them throws a temper tantrum because they cannot do what they want to do. I’m stressed when they push for their way when it’s been made clear that is not the way things are going to be done.

My grandchildren have much to learn and much to experience as they mature into emotionally strong, well balanced, healthy adults. I expect them to outgrow their childish, immature traits, their limited frustration tolerance, and their propensity to blame someone else for their mistakes.

Narcissism and Emotional Abuse

Can you see the parallels between children and the narcissistic/emotionally abusive person? While the parallels aren’t perfect, they’re uncannily similar. In a recent session, a man in my program for men who have been emotionally abusive shared the following story:

“When I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do, I either refuse to do it or say I’m going to do it and then conveniently ‘forget.’ Then, when my wife reminds me, I accuse her of nagging. She gets mad and I criticize her for getting angry.”

Does this seem similar to the interactions you’ve had with children? Can you see that the labels we often give, such as ‘narcissist,’ may actually be emotional immaturity? Do you see the craziness that occurs when there is an absence of emotional maturity?

To be fair, these behaviors may be both narcissistic and emotionally immature. Passive-aggression can be simply that—passive-aggression. Oppositional behavior may be emotionally immature behavior and may be a symptom of something more egregious such as narcissism and emotional abuse. Either way, as we say at the Marriage Recovery Center, “Bad behavior is bad behavior and labeling it as such is a good starting place for recovery.”

Can we apply a new label?

So, what if we stepped back just a bit from the habit of labeling bad behavior as narcissism and instead called it emotional immaturity? Would we be losing anything by doing so? What if we took an even bigger, bolder step and named the specific action that was bothering us? It might sound like this:

Susan: “John, I’d like to talk to you about how you spoke to me a few minutes ago. Can we talk about that?”

John: “I suppose so.”

Susan: “I didn’t appreciate it when you accused me of being controlling. I would really prefer that you talk about your own feelings and ask me for what you want.”

John: “Yeah, I have a hard time doing that. I’m afraid you won’t listen to me.”

Susan: “I can understand that. I’ve not fully listened to you in the past but want to do a better job of it now. You can help me do that by voicing your feelings and asking for specific needs.”

John: “Okay. I’m willing to give that a try.”

Now, some of you may be rolling your eyes in disbelief. “My husband and I can NEVER talk like that. He would NEVER sit down with me and cooperate and collaborate as we communicate.” This is true for many couples. You may wonder how to get to a point in your relationship where a conversation like this would feel safe. Let’s review the following 10 signs of emotional maturity.

10 Signs of Emotional Maturity

  1. Cultivate emotional resilience and regulation.
    There will always be things that go wrong. Relationships are challenging and differences can be places of friction or places of excitement and energy. Healthy couples learn to manage their emotions and share them effectively with their mate.
  2. Take ownership of problems and repair them.
    Healthy couples take ownership for their part in problems. When they’ve made a mistake, they quickly own it and offer reparations.
  3. Share with compassion, relevance, and empathy.
    Healthy couples are compassionate toward each other, sharing with relevance to their mate and showing empathy for their mate.
  4. Have simple and efficient interactions.
    Healthy couples understand that interactions should be easy, simple, and efficient. They know conflict must be limited and joyful, and humorous interactions must prevail.
  5. Practice effective problem-solving.
    Healthy couples are able to step back and view a problem objectively. They don’t shame or blame one another, but tackle problems effectively.
  6. Give and receive love.
    Healthy couples give and receive love. They are intentional about showing each other, in small and large ways, that they care.
  7. Cultivate clarity of thinking.
    Healthy couples seek to think clearly, free from ‘thinking errors’ that erode trust, magnify problems, and shame one another. Clear thinking leads to solving problems and moving on with enjoying the relationship.
  8. Practice healthy self-care.
    Healthy couples know they must keep their minds and bodies well and it is their responsibility to do so. Subsequently, they consider how nutrition, exercise, and mind/body/spiritual practices help them.
  9. Reinforce healthy boundaries.
    Healthy couples are mindful of where they end and their mate begins. They consider “whose business is whose business,” not telling the other what they should do, think, or be. They manage and reinforce their personal boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.
  10. Practice acceptance of the other.
    Finally, healthy couples understand the individuality of their mate and appreciate their differences. While they may ask for changes, they understand they cannot manipulate or coerce the other into changing.

Examine Your Emotional Maturity

Now take The Emotional Maturity Test: Review each of these 10 signs, scoring yourself between 1-10:

1= never;    5= sometimes;     10= always

How did you do? Notice where you are strong and what weaknesses need to be improved upon. Where, as you assess yourselves and one another, does narcissism/emotional abuse occur?

What would happen if we all worked on growing up? Would narcissism/emotional abuse decrease? I really think so. Remember, however, we are all just trying to grow up. Even as you consider the issue of narcissism and emotional abuse, notice the places of friction where abusive actions are likely to occur. Consider how you might reframe the problem and practice growing up together.

If you and/or your spouse see areas you could grow in and would like help finding those attitudes and behaviors, contact our Client Care team at the Marriage Recovery Center or call us at 206.219.0145.


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