A Narcissist Is Really Just A 13-Year-Old In An Adult Body

When a narcissist acts like a middle schooler — should you treat them like one?

man with a 13 year version of himself shadow Aa Dil via Canva | kieferpix via Canva | JohnMartinBradley via Canva

One of the core problems of a narcissist is arrested emotional development.

They may look like adults, but they are not capable of operating like adults. Typically narcissists operate in the emotional range of a middle schooler, 13 years or so.

That doesn’t mean they can’t mimic the behavior of adults or that they won’t resort to the behavior of a toddler. 

One of the proofs that the normal emotional age for narcissists is middle school range is that adolescents can be very cruel to each other. Narcissists’ behavior is often cruel in an emotionally stunted way.


Another indicator of the narcissist’s middle schooler position of operation is their contradictory and moody behavior.

When my two daughters were in middle school I was also trying to parent my parents. My mother is a narcissist and my father likely has Borderline Personality Disorder with lots of narcissistic traits. I had no choice but to see the similarities between my daughters and their friends and my parents, particularly my covert narcissistic mother.

The following are some causes of middle schooler and narcissist behavior that I have observed firsthand. Also provided are well-known ways to respond to the behavior of middle schoolers and an explanation as to why those responses do not work with emotionally arrested narcissists.


RELATED: The Scientific Reason You Were A Hot Mess In Middle School

Here are 6 ways a narcissist is really a 13-year-old in an adult body: 

1. Unidentified fear

Middle schoolers are often not rational and that normally means they have a fear, usually an unidentified one. The middle schooler will do something that makes no sense and a parent or teacher will ask why that did it. The answer is usually a mumbled, "I don’t know" or "Just 'cause." It is maddening to the parent or teacher.

Narcissists often do things that make no sense and when questioned they too cannot provide a rational response. This is when they present a convoluted response that is not an answer at all.

You can help a middle schooler avoid doing irrational things in the future by having a discussion with them and uncovering the unidentified fear so that it can be dealt with.


If you try to discuss a narcissist's irrational behavior, they will get belligerent because they do not want to face their fears, especially the unidentified ones.

2. Protection of not quite formed self

Middle schoolers are still developing. They do not yet fully know who they are. But they are uncomfortable with that situation and feel the need to protect that self while it is in its metamorphosis.

Narcissists are a lethal combination of an underdeveloped true self and a fragile fake self. This makes them doubly protective. First, they are protecting their true self from themselves, they do not want to look at it. Second, it actually takes a lot of protection to maintain a fake self.

You can help a middle schooler act appropriately by giving them space to protect themself and setting boundaries for what behaviors will not be tolerated.


Giving narcissists space is interpreted by them as accepting their bad behavior. Setting boundaries on behaviors is seen as a threat. Discussions about behavior are seen as criticism which is never tolerated.

RELATED: How To Spot A Narcissist With These 9 Behaviors

3. Lack of understanding due to lack of experience

Because their experience is limited, middle schoolers do not have the understanding they will have when they reach adulthood.

The experience of narcissists is limited because they limit it. They are only interested in things that help them present, protect and maintain their fake self. They are not interested in anything that they do not see a personal benefit in.


In short, they have a self-imposed limited experience in life. Because this limited experience is self-imposed it is not the same as a phase for a middle schooler; narcissists will have this limited experience for the rest of their lives.

It is not fair to expect a middle schooler to see things from the experienced view of an adult. As my grandfather used to say "You just have to allow for teenagers." Tolerance, instruction, and patience are a winning formula for dealing with a 13-year-old's lack of understanding.

However, lack of experience and understanding are choices on the part of a narcissist. It’s like the deaf man who turns off his hearing aids when someone says something he doesn’t want to hear.

4. Need to keep up appearances

Middle schoolers need to look cool, with it, up to speed, or whatever the phrase of their generation is.


Narcissists need to maintain their fake selves.

You can help the middle schooler by once again giving them some space and letting them know that you don’t take their distance as an affront.

When my niece was in middle school her grandfather often took her to school. She was mortified at the idea of getting out of his huge SUV in front of all of the other middle schoolers. She begged him to park at a nearby church so she could walk up to the school. Her grandfather complied even though he thought it was absurd. It allowed my niece to keep up appearances which at that time were important to her.

Keeping up appearances is not a phase for narcissists; they are eternally 13 years old. They are desperate to maintain their fake self so anything that they see as an obstacle to the fake self-maintenance is considered an out-and-out threat.


Anyone is subject to punishment if the narcissist feels threatened. Unfortunately, you never know what will be considered a threat.

RELATED: 10 Sure-Fire Ways To Spot An Emotionally Immature Adult

5. Peer pressure

Belonging is important to everyone including middle schoolers and narcissists.

For middle schoolers, belonging often means acting and dressing like the group they want to belong to.

When my oldest daughter was in middle school there was talk by the school district administration about students wearing uniforms. My daughter complained that she did not want to wear a uniform. I told her I didn’t understand her aversion to a uniform because she already wore one. She countered that no, she did not.


I reminded her that she and all of her friends wore the same combination of clothes every day — a t-shirt, jeans, and Timberland boots. She did not appreciate my humor.

Narcissists need to belong to groups that they think are important — and which group is important depends on the fake self the narcissist is presenting to the world.

My narcissistic mother identifies with a local radio talk show host and claims that she and the host are better than the average person at seeing the real motives of politicians and government officials. She gets extremely defensive if anything bad is said about the talk show host.

Once again this is a phase that middle schoolers experience as they experiment to develop their selves and find their place. Being open to the middle schooler's questions and helping them explore will get them through this phase in a way that helps them mature toward real adulthood.


My uncle used to refer to one of his friends as "the perpetual teenager." That is a good portrayal of narcissists, except that they are perpetual 13 years olds.

They are not exploring or trying to find where they fit. They have decided how they want to be seen — as their fake self — and have created a fantasy world to present that fake self. Their pressure comes from within, not from peers. Besides they are so wonderful that no one is a real peer to them.

6. Shame avoidance

If you want to see a middle schooler freak out, embarrass them. Come to think of it embarrassment also makes narcissists freak out.


Middle schoolers have shame sensitivity because they are still forming. They do not yet understand that there is a difference between being embarrassed about something they did and being ashamed about who they are.

Narcissists have shame sensitivity because, like the oyster, shame is the irritating grain of sand that they have formed the pearl of their fake self around.

You can help the middle schooler deal with the shame they feel by listening and showing them that everyone gets embarrassed. You can also help them see that embarrassment and shame are not the same.

There is nothing you can do to alleviate the shame of the narcissist. The best thing is to stay out of their way because they are looking for a person to put their shame on.


There is hope for the middle schooler because they are learning to be an adult.

There is not any hope for the narcissist because they have no intention of being an adult.

RELATED: How To Deal With A Narcissist — 8 Smart & Simple Steps

Janet Christy is an author who uses the experiences from her many years of research and analysis to write articles that help people understand and deal with the many layers of relationships. In addition to being an author, she is a wife, mother, grandmother, narcissistic abuse survivor, and empath.