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  • Henk Nagel

KING BABY

Background


The King Baby concept emerged from Freud’s paper “On Narcissism”. Freud describes how

parents’ own narcissism is channeled into their child: “the center and core of creation- ‘His

Majesty the Baby’”.


As a baby, all your needs are met. Cry- you get fed. Scream- you get attention. You expect

everything from your caregivers, and they expect nothing from you. You are the center of your

own universe, and the center of theirs too. As we develop, we typically mature out of this King

Baby mindset. We learn to take care of our own needs, we see others have their own universes,

and we accept things aren’t always how we’d like them to be.


Yet, sometimes, through no fault of our own, we don’t shed certain parts of the King Baby

mindset. This might be due to overprotective or overindulgent parents, or if we suffer a

“narcissistic wound”, when our needs are neglected or our self-worth painfully undermined.

King Baby narcissism served us well as babies. It helped us get our needs met. But if it persists

as we get older, it starts causing us more problems than it solves.


Perception of Self


King Baby syndrome affects the way we relate to ourselves, others and the world. The King

Baby believes others must take care of their needs, but they feel no responsibility for the needs

of others.


Although King Babies may appear narcissistic, at the core is a sense of vulnerability and

helplessness. When they are told “no”, they may hear “you’re bad”, interpreting it as a direct

attack on them as a person. This makes it hard for the King Baby to compromise, to comply with

rules, and to accept any constructive feedback.


Beliefs at the core of King Baby syndrome include:


Others must do as I want

If someone says no it means they don’t like me

The world is not fair

Others don’t care about me

I am special and different

I am unlovable

I am worthless

I deserve the best

It’s never my fault


Those beliefs may sound contradictory. Feeling both worthless and superior creates painful

internal conflicts. That is why it is so valuable to explore our King Baby beliefs and behaviors. It

helps clear the path to personal growth and sustained recovery.


Traits and Behaviors


King Baby syndrome manifests in many ways. Common traits include: grandiosity, demanding,

entitlement, mood swings, selfishness, neediness, superiority, attention-seeking, fragile ego and

self-obsession.


These traits lead to many unhelpful behaviors. The King Baby often struggles with authority

because when they don’t get their way, they may feel attacked. Responsibility is repulsive for

the King Baby, because it means putting their own desires on the back-burner at times. The King

Baby will often blame others when things go wrong, refusing to recognize the consequences of

their own behaviors.


Relationships


Relationships are challenging for King Babies. They expect to be the center of their partner’s

universe, but struggle to consider the needs of their partner. Often the King Baby will coax

others into the role of enabler. The people around them may find it easier to cater to their

demands than face the explosive consequences of saying no. This can make it challenging for

the King Baby to change: the patterns of behavior have become so ingrained.


King Babies and Addiction


Many addicts experience some features of King Baby syndrome. Some more than others.

These can be an obstacle to recovery. Addiction is steeped in denial. People deny to

themselves and others that they have a problem, and that their behaviors have consequences.

This is only natural given how painful it is to acknowledge how much your behavior is hurting

you and those around you. But the King Baby’s denial and rejection of responsibility perpetuates

addiction. It becomes easy to blame a relapse on the behavior of others or the injustice of the

world. Instant gratification is the norm for King Babies. For sustained recovery this needs to

change.


The Challenge of Change


Like Peter Pan, King Babies are often afraid of growing up. This is understandable, given that

making difficult changes and taking responsibility can seem overwhelming. Surrounded by

rescuers and enablers, the King Baby may fear stepping into a world where their actions have

consequences. Through no fault of their own, the King Baby may feel they lack the strength and

coping strategies to stand on their own two feet.


But change is possible.


The Solution


The first step is acknowledging your problematic behaviors and perspectives. This can be

tough. At Embrace, you will be in a community of peers who are also on a journey of self-

awareness and growth. Through compassionate, constructive feedback, you can help each

other acknowledge unhelpful patterns and develop new ways of relating to the world.

Your view of responsibility might change from meaning “doing what you hate”, to “having the

capacity to respond”.


It’s not an easy process to alter patterns of behavior that have been long embedded. But it is a

rewarding process. You will feel empowered.


Acceptance is key. You learn to accept things are not always as you would like, and you

become OK with that. You learn to accept imperfections in yourself and others, and you see that

this is normal in a world where we are all flawed individuals doing our best. The mindfulness

program at Embrace Sober House can help you to build acceptance and compassion for

yourself and others.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a powerful tool that helps us recognize and

alter our King Baby traits and behaviors. Working with our CBT therapists, you can explore

deeply held beliefs and make positive changes to the way you see yourself, others and the

world.


Although we might not like to acknowledge King Baby traits in ourselves, having the courage to

do so can be an important step on your journey to wellbeing and a happy recovery.

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