Never 21 or Infantilization by Narcissists
Examining my face anxiously, Mom inquired if I was eating and sleeping.
I was thirty-one.
Living on my own.
I wanted to sarcastically snap,
“No! It never occurred to me to eat if I’m hungry or sleep if I’m tired.”
But, of course, I bit my tongue.
Welcome to infantilization.
According to www.dictionary.com, infantilize means…
It’s a little game narcissists play with their children called “Never 21.” Another name for it is, “Age Is Just A Number.”
Here are the rules for playing a rootin’ tootin’ game of “Never 21.”
- The narcissist is the adult.
- Their child will never be an adult.
- Deal with it.
The Parent: A narcissist. Threatened by the horrifying imminence of their child’s metamorphosis into (gasp!) an adult and therefore (gasp!) an equal, they do their best to stop the clock and protect their status as the only adult.
The Child: Easily cowed and controlled prior to puberty, they now yearn to attain the same maturity milestones they watch their friends enjoying.
Shame, control, fear, pulling rank, sabotage, etc., etc. Same ol’ narcissistic shit.
“We Don’t Want You To Grow Up Too Fast”
How many times did I hear this!? I wanted to grow up. They had grave misgivings. So I knuckled under, playing the enfant to please them. I watched, barefaced and in tears, while my friends experimented with cosmetics. At thirteen, they started wearing lipstick. At fourteen, they donned eyeliner and mascara. At fifteen, they had their first date.
At age sixteen, my parents changed their tune. Suddenly, they decided it was time for me to grow up..as if it had never occurred to me. Shucks.
“Mommy” was banned; “Mother” was now the only appropriate way for her to be addressed.
Similarly, my New Year’s presents reflected their new Lenora-Must-Grow-Up mindset. Candleholders. Knick-knacks. Things not to be enjoyed now, but for my Hope Chest, my someday…the someday that might never come.
But I finally got mascara.
Another way narcissistic parents play “Never 21” is to make sure their children’s appearance is, how shall I put it, pathetic. Embarrassing. Out-of-Style. I’m sure most of my readers and subscribers can speak to this far more eloquently than I could. So, please, share your horror stories in the comments section below.
While the narcissist themself is often decked out in the latest designer labels and cutting-edge hairstyle, their child is not so lucky.
I was always told how nice I looked. And I bought that load of crap…until now. Nice? Nice!?
I came of age in the 90’s, a period of mall-bangs, permanent waves and make-up. And me?
Well, my hair never saw a stylist’s scissor til the tender age of nineteen. Until then, Dad or Mom snipped at my hair at home. My pathetic attempts at mall bangs with a lukewarm curling iron were met with a grimace of disapproval and the crush of a flattening hand. My OCD-ravaged complexion was met with lectures and yells rather than a dermatologists healing touch and a lick of cover makeup. A dogtag and key jangled loudly together while I ran laps in Phy-Ed in my velcro tennis shoes and changed in the locker room. My glasses chain gave me a distinctive Granny-ish appearance, while heavy leather shoes finished the look.
No wonder I had barely any friends and definitely no boyfriends.
Age Appropriate Milestones
The first date. Driver’s License. Prom. Graduation. Moving out. Age-appropriate milestones.
Don’t forget to subscribe!
Fugetaboutit! Any narcissist engaged in a grim game of “Never 21” will never let their child attain the same age appropriate milestones their friends are enjoying. How, how threatening. They might, might…lose control!
So it was that my father, without consulting me, declined my first date invite. I was seventeen. It would be eight years before anyone asked me out again. How embarrassing is that!?!
Being removed from school at sixteen, there was no opportunity to enjoy Junior and Senior events with my classmates and friends. And, as I wrote in High School Commencement Horror, even that event was all about glorifying the educator…not the educatee. Given your responses to that article, I was far from alone.
Unlike Erma Bombeck who claims she put a sign in her childrens’ rooms, “Checkout Time is 18 years,” unbeknownst to me, my parents had hung an invisible sign in my room: “Check out Time is Never…Unless You Can Snag a Husband.” Ha, ha. They made that damn near impossible.
Oddly enough, moving out on my own was never discussed. When, at the age of nineteen, I discovered that young adults actually move out, it was forbidden.
I had to snag me a husband first. Young stupid women should not live alone. They need a man to help them make wise decisions. Uh-huh.
If, by some miracle or rebellion, the child of a narcissist manages to make their escape, they’re not out of the woods. Not by a long chalk.
Ah, the tales my readers have shared with me. About their mothers coming over and rearranging their kitchen cupboards. A small, trite thing, you say. I don’t think so! It betrays a mindset.
Mommy Knows Best a.k.a. Infantilization.
One of the most glaring examples of infantilization occurred when I was just a little girl. Mom and I were having a Girls Day with Grandma and doing a little shopping. Picking up some bauble, I turned to my Mom with a question about it. Out of nowhere, Granny swooped in between my Mom and I, grabbed the bauble out of my hands and answered my question herself.
And so we come full circle. To Granny, her daughter was “Never 21.” And my mother treated me similarly in some ways.
That’s one of the reasons I’m No Contact.
Yet, many of my readers hesitate from going No Contact because they feel their children need to have grandparents. Oh my dear readers, I speak from sad experience when I say, “Screw grandparents! If they’re narcissists, their presence will do more harm than good in your childrens’ lives.”
Growing up, I barely met one set of grandparents. Both of them recently passed away and I don’t mourn what I never knew. Their absence had no detrimental affect on my life.
But the affect of knowing the grandmother I immortalized in my “Granny Trilogy,” has done untold damage. Her voice echos in my ears daily, taunting me, torturing me.
Yessirreebob, infantilization is just one of many reasons I revel in being No Contact.
Got a story about infantilizataion? Share it in comments!
This article is for informational and educational purposes only. Under no circumstances should it be considered therapy nor replace therapy and treatment. If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting himself or herself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is staffed by certified crisis response professionals. The content of these blogs and all blogs written by Lenora Thompson are merely her opinion. If you are in need of help, please contact qualified mental health professionals.
Thompson, L. (2016). Never 21 or Infantilization by Narcissists. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism/2016/06/never-21-or-infantilization-by-narcissists/