5 Ways Adults Behave Like Spoiled Toddlers (And Why)


Driving my teenage daughters to school this morning, I was pissed. Traffic was slow. Then, we got stuck behind a school bus.

I pounded the steering wheel. “Ah, man! Why did people have to let that bus in!”

Noticing my daughters glance at each other, I continued.

“Yes, traffic should part in front of me! Everyone must understand that I am the only one in the world who matters, because I am….. a TODDLER!

We laughed. Then, of course, we started discussing all the ways adults tend to behave like little babies. Below are five of them.

But first, why do adults act like two-year-olds?

Why do we adults, who are capable of so much, act like spoiled babies? Freud postulated that unmet childhood needs get “stuck.” When your needs as a infant, baby or child are not satisfied, then you become emotionally stuck in that place, seeing the world through the lens of unsatisfied needs. Ultimately, you hold onto childish expectations that stem from chronic dissatisfaction.

Good luck finding another adult to satisfy those particular expectations.

It seems like a lot of us try, but other adults don’t seem to be impressed or willing to play our game the way we want them to (they’re busy playing their own game). This is where inner child work might come into play. The theory here is that, as an adult, you can meet your inner child’s needs and not expect other adults to do it for you.

Seems pretty intelligent, right?

Freud’s colleague, the virtually unknown Edmund Bergler, postulated something a bit more interesting, however. Bergler suggested that we become so accustomed to those unmet needs that we actually begin to (unconsciously) enjoy being stuck in the regressed state. Therefore, we don’t really want to let go and grow up. This leaves us stuck in what is essentially a self-sabotaging way of being.

ball of wool

So, there I am, pounding the steering wheel, angry and upset and subtly enjoying myself at the same time. Perhaps I am taking secret delight in infantile belief that I am the center of the universe. The sense of grandiosity is pleasurable, and even the self-righteous frustration comes with a hint of narcissistic pride.

Ouch. That’s a tangled ball of yarn!

Yet, it might explain why, at 47-years-old, these toddler expectations still come to life inside me. It’s pleasurable to consider the world catering to my needs – and when it doesn’t – I get a hit on all that strangely delicious angst. Win-win!

This subtle pleasure in emotional angst is the root of psychological attachments and self-sabotage, according to this model.

Why does holding onto toddler expectations lead to self-sabotage?

Because the world doesn’t work that way. Expecting your toddler expectations to be met by other adults is like hitting your head against and brick wall, over and over and over. Do you enjoy that pain?

Anyway, here is what we came up with as we slowly made our way to school, stuck behind that big yellow bus.

How Adults Behave Just Like Toddlers

1. Taking others for granted.

Toddlers may love their caretakers in a uniquely toddler way, but do not possess the ability to fully appreciate them. Many adults are similar when it comes to love. The direct or indirect message is, “What are you doing for ME? And forget what I can do for you. I don’t operate on those terms.”

In others words, “I am a big baby who demands to be taken care of while giving as little as possible in return. Now, accommodate me.”

2. Thinking you’re all that.

Yes, there are those who beam with delight about themselves, their accomplishments and positive traits. And somehow they don’t acknowledge or take interest in yours.

When you mention something positive that you have done, they condescend, patronize or one-up you. After all, they are all-powerful toddlers!

3. Expecting perfection.

This stuff really is all about expectations and NOT reality. Some of us adult toddlers simply expect everything to be perfect. We must be perfect, and if there’s a chance that we’ll be perceived otherwise, we panic.

Like a toddler, if a gift or a favor is handed to us, we find it so easy to be upset when it doesn’t match our impossible fantasy that every irrational whim be satisfied.

4. Wanting it NOW!

Ah, impatience. I am a huge fan of impatience because it feeds my toddler fantasy that life should instantly gratify my every desire. Too bad life doesn’t seem to be all that interested!

So many good things take time – and a ton of persistent effort. Starting a business, losing weight, building a healthy relationship – all these take much more time and discipline than many of us care to devote.

Nope, we want it now – all of it!

5. Expecting life to be easy.

This goes hand in hand with patience. You’ve heard the saying, if success were easy, everyone would have it. Most worthwhile endeavors require exertion, over time, that respects the potential reward. That’s how it works. That’s real.

But, no! I want total success now. And I want to it be served on a silver platter! And if you tell me I can’t have it, I’ll immediately begin acting like a baby.

Are you empowering your inner toddler?

We all do it. The question is, are you aware of how you feed your inner toddler’s narcissism? And are you making conscious choices to do otherwise when you can?

When you catch yourself acting like a baby, I suggest you simply acknowledge it. For example, say to yourself, “I am empowering my inner toddler again.” Or something like that. No need to get upset. That would just fuel the toddler fire. Just be aware and decide whether or not you want to keep doing it.

So many problems vanish when we approach them in an adult frame of mind.

And let’s remember that adult toddlers are not happy. Deep down, they harbor feelings of isolation, fear, humiliation, hopelessness and helplessness. Don’t react to them (or to yourself) as just another toddler. As an adult, expect maturity of yourself and others in a mature way.

By the way, I learned about self-sabotage and our tendency to nurture stuck states from Peter Michaelson over at WhyWeSuffer. I highly recommend all his books.

iNLP Center Staff
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