Why Won’t S/he Grow Up: Precocious Adulthood Syndrome (PrAS)

Uploaded 6/7/2022, approx. 9 minute read

Monday morning coffee in my new mini mug. Life is good. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, even if he is a professor of psychology, like me, and the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.

Today we are going to discuss the question, why can't you grow up? Why can't he grow up? And of course, why can't she grow up? Why do people remain in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to assume adult chores, adult responsibilities, an adult outlook on life, an adult life plan?

What's happening? Why are we all ensconced in our cocoons, playing video games, watching Netflix, and tending to our pets?

Instead of getting out there, doing things, having relationships, having children, propagating the species, and doing other pleasurable things.

Why is all of humanity fixated in a state of perpetual puberty?

This is me, Sam Vaknin, in my mini mug, about to reveal to you the mysteries of the universe of eternal childhood.

That was good.

Okay, Shoshanim, here's the thing. I propose a new clinical entity. Every Monday and every Wednesday, I propose a new clinical entity.

And some of them actually take hold, cold empathy, inverted narcissism, etc. have taken somatic narcissism, cerebral narcissism. They're all my inventions, and they're all out there in the wild.

So here I am again, having just coined the new diagnosis covert borderline. And now I'm proposing a new clinical entity in abnormal psychology. Precautious adulthood syndrome.

P-R-A-S. Precautious adulthood syndrome. You've heard it here first.

For short, we can call it adultification. Adultification in people who were forced into adult roles in their childhood or their adolescence.

Adultification, precautious adulthood syndrome, is brought on via three vectors.

There are three cases, the etiology, the reason, the causation, the three cases in which children become, however reluctantly, however forcibly, they are forced to become adults.

The first case is chronic illness. Chronic illness, including mental illness of either the parent or of the child.

In both cases, the child has to grow up and mature. Anyone who has been to a cancer ward of children knows what I'm talking about. Anyone who has witnessed a child with anxiety disorders, conduct disorder, depression knows what I'm talking about.

These children have progeria. They are like decades older than they should be. Their chronological age doesn't match their emotional or mental or psychological age. They are much older, so chronic illness.

The second vector is sexual abuse in early childhood to early puberty. The more egregious the sexual abuse, the more intimate the child is with an authority figure, a role model, or a parent, the more likely the child is to become adultified.

Children forced into sexual roles, early adolescence, pre-pubescent children forced into sexual acts with an adult, especially with a meaningful or significant adult. They grow up, they mature, they age, they become much older within a year.

And the third reason for adultification is parentifying or instrumentalizing the child.

I want to dwell on this a bit because it's much more common actually than sexual abuse.

Parentifying or adultifying is when a child is coerced by caregivers into assuming adult developed mentally inappropriate roles as, for example, a surrogate parent to his siblings, a referee between his parents, or a caregiver for a mentally or physically disabled parent.

These roles are adult roles, and when the child is coerced and shoehorned into these roles, he or she grows up very fast, much faster than they should, skipping in effect, childhood and adolescence.

I mentioned parentifying or instrumentalizing. Instrumentalizing is when the child is used as an extension of the parent, as a tool, as an instrument, mainly to realize the unfulfilled wishes and fantasies of the parental figure.

So these children are forced to become, I don't know, pianists or doctors or whatever. They are given, they're handed their careers and their opinions. They're molded into a reflection of the parent's frustrations, broken dreams and shattered hopes.

It's the child who should mend, fix the parent, save the parent by becoming that which the parent had failed to become because of circumstances or because of lack of ability, limitations.

The child emulates his parents and their mental issues. As the child assumes parental roles, child becomes a replica, clone of the parental figures.

Very often the parents of parentified children in Andrei Green's term are dead mothers, not dead in the physical sense, but absent, depressed, self-centered, dysempathic, capricious, dangerous, instrumentalizing or abusive.

The child is therefore forced to parent itself by internalizing his parents' disorders, dysfunctional attachment styles and trauma bonding.

When these children become adults, they regulate their sense of self-worth by caring for other people. Later in life, precautious adulthood syndrome, PRAS, leads to compensatory infantilism, known also as the Peter Pan syndrome, coupled with imposter syndrome.

Now, the Peter Pan syndrome simply means a person who is an adult rejects or undermines adult roles, chores and responsibilities, does not have an adult lifestyle, avoids acquiring adult skills, avoids establishing a family, driving a car, even drinking. It's a person who remains fixated or stuck in perpetual child-like state, childish state, actually.

And so these people go through life regarding themselves as babies, infants, they affect pseudo-stupidity, naivete or naivete, or naivete, which is unbecoming an adult. They're not actually gullible. They're pretty paranoid because they know that they are babes in the woods. They know that they're in danger or risking themselves. They know that they are being reckless by pretending to be children in an adult environment. So they're actually hypervigilant and suspicious and paranoid, but they place themselves in situations where they fulfill the submissive receiving role. They are the children in need of care, special treatment, concessions.

So this is the infantilizing element, compensatory infantilism, Peter Pan syndrome.

But this is coupled with an imposter syndrome, the feeling, the annoying feeling that you're faking it and you're not making it. You're just faking it. You appear to be a successful businessman, a great caring doctor or pastor or a husband or a father, but it's all an act. You're play acting. You're pretending. You are imitating and emulating. You don't feel one with the roles that you are playing.

This is the imposter syndrome, the belief that somehow you are succeeding to pull the wool over people's eyes. You're succeeding to deceive most people and that the day of reckoning, the day of judgment is at hand. Suddenly people will expose you for who you are and your fraudulent strategists will be unearthed and revealed to great public humiliation. This is the imposter syndrome.

Some of the studies, for example, there's a systematic review of 62 studies published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in December 2019. Some of the studies indicated up to 82% of individuals currently in today's world experience imposter-like feelings. In other words, up to 82% of individuals are actually infantilizing.

They don't feel like adults. This is not an epidemic. This is a global pandemic, far outweighing COVID.

Together with narcissism and psychopathy, dark personalities, Machiavellianism, manipulativeness. I mean, if you put all this together with infantilism, you see where we are going as a species.

Adultified children grow up feeling responsible for everyone around them. They are incapable of having fun. They've never had a childhood. They didn't acquire the skills of having fun, of relaxing. Adultified children become control freaks. They are self-reliant. They trust no one and always get involved in conflicts as arbiters or peacemakers.

So there are two possible reactions to precautious adulthood syndrome. There are two possible reactions.

One is infantilizing and imposter syndrome. And the other one is adultifying or adultification.

So when the child is treated as an adult, when the child is identified, instrumentalized, abused, etc., that child has two strategic choices, two possible coping mechanisms.

One is to remain fixated in that state as a child and to engage in repetition, compulsion, an attempt to resolve early childhood conflicts by repeating them with, for example, intimate partners, infantilization coupled with an imposter syndrome. That's one strategic solution.

And the other strategic solution is to become actually a parent figure for life.

So as I said, this second solution involves growing up feeling responsible for everyone, being incapable of having fun, being a control freak, being self-reliant as an ideology, trusting no one, being hypervigilant, always getting involved in conflicts as arbiters or peacemakers. This second solution adultify children. They always feel that they need to be good, worthy, trustworthy, reliable, strong, even at the expense of their own needs. They are, in other words, self-sacrificial. They always feel either that their efforts are not appreciated or that they should do more.

And consequently, some of these children turned adults end up being passive-aggressive, negativistic, or even covert narcissists or quote, unquote, empaths, which is just another label for covert narcissist. Adultified children resemble borderlines in that they engage in compensatory behaviors that are not calibrated and not proportionate.

So adult children are likely to engage in reckless rampant promiscuity and substance abuse. Some of these people end up being co-dependent people pleasers and highly sensitive people, HSPs.

So this is the terrain, this is the landscape. When you adultify a child as a parent, you're giving the child, you're leaving the child only two options, either to conform and to become an adult for life, to become a caregiver for life, or to refuse to become an adult also for life.

The child can reject your attempt to adultify him or her, and then he or she remains a child, a lifelong child, a Peter Pan, or the child can adopt the role willingly because there are some kinds of emotional or even sometimes financial rewards.

So the child adopts the role of taking care of the parent, realizing the parent's dreams, having sex with the parent, whatever it takes.

And this kind of child remains fixated in the position of a caregiver and a controller and the parent figure for everyone around.

Ironically, there is a kind of synergy between these two types. Adultified children tend to be attracted to each other. The adultified child who had become a mother figure takes care of the adultified child who had chosen to remain an infant.

And this is at the core of the shared fantasy of the narcissist, why it is such a successful strategy.

The narcissist is an adultified child, an erstwhile adultified child, who had chosen to remain an infant, who had chosen to never grow up, who had chosen to be a Sempiternal Peter Pan.

And then this adultified child who is an infant goes around looking for a mommy, a mother, and he finds another adultified child who had become a mother for life, who is incapable of being anything but a mother.

And they team up together, they establish a family, a fantastic family, a shared fantasy within which they cater to each other's psychological needs.

The narcissist lets his surrogate substitute mother mother him. And the mother has found the perfect object or the perfect subject for mothering in her narcissistic intimate partner.

I hope you had as much fun as I did. I strongly recommend buying a mini cup, mini mug that's a solution to all of life's problems. Trust me and then drink from her in every way possible.

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