What Is Infantilization? Signs, Causes, Impact, And More

Last Update on December 4, 2023 : Published on January 10, 2023
What Is Infantilization

Have you ever been treated as a child when you were an adult? Have there ever been moments when your parents, partner, or friends treated you like an infant even though you never warranted such behavior? Did you know that there is a term that can be used to describe this strange situation – Infantilization?

We are all guilty of treating each other, at some point, as a child. I know I am. More often than not, this behavior creates a cycle of dependency where the adult needs to be constantly told or directed on what to do and even how to do it. This infantilization can also contribute to an increase in childish behavior in adulthood.

Often, it’s the parents who are guilty of infantilization as their children grow up, especially during their teenage years when a child is busy trying to find their way.

Treating a teen or an adult as a child can diminish their sense of self and can leave them feeling like they are less than who they really are. Not only in parent-child relationships, but infantilization can also happen in friendships and even romantic relationships, especially if there’s a narcissist in the relationship.

In this article, I’ll be exploring the signs of infantilization, what causes this behavior, the impact of infantilization in relationships, and how to cope with this.

The Tell-Tale Signs Of Infantilization

It’s important to understand that infantilization does not only happen in parent-child relationships but can occur in romantic and platonic relationships too. Here are some of the common signs of infantilization that you need to be aware of;  

1. Excessive Neediness: Examples of infantilization when we talk about excessive neediness can involve constantly seeking reassurances, compliments, or even attention.

2. Constant Connection: Another sign of infantilization includes wanting constant connection, either through text messaging, phone calls, or social media.

3. Downplaying Achievements: If someone is more interested in downplaying one’s achievements, then it could also be a sign that you should not ignore. In such a case, a person doesn’t express praise but undermines the other to make them feel less.

4. Questioning Decisions: Another example of infantilization can be when your parent, partner, or friend questions your decisions instead of accepting them as they are. They constantly ask, “Are you sure about this?” instead of acknowledging your decisions and even making suggestions regarding your choice.

5. Gaslighting: If your loved one is making you question your sense of reality by denying your experiences, then they could be infantilizing you.

 If you feel that you are infantilizing your loved one, then you need to acknowledge these signs and stop them in their path. If you find yourself doing all the above-listed things then you need to step back and assess your behavior.

 It’s also important to consider the “why” behind your actions. Do you believe that this is truly the right way to treat a loved one because it was how you were raised? Or it is because you’re codependent or feel comfortable being the superior person in the relationship?

Let’s take a look at some of the common causes of infantilization.

What Causes Infantilization?

People can engage in such behavior for many reasons. In a parent-child relationship, this behavior starts during infancy and lasts throughout teenage years, and even continues until adulthood. Sometimes, controlling parents can make the child doubt themselves and their decisions. This can make the child doubt their ability to take care of themselves in the long run.

 In a study, it was found that infantilization by parents can have a negative impact on the child’s overall development and maturity. Another study suggests that this behavior by parents can cause the child to develop behavioral problems and lead them to copy the same behaviors with their children.

Parents want their children to make the right choices but in a misguided attempt to help the child make smart choices, they might engage in infantilizing their child. In some cases, this behavior can be a way to take control of the other person’s life.

In romantic relationships and platonic relationships, infantilization can be a way to control another person by making them doubt themselves. This causes a person to become helpless and controlled by the other, making them believe that the former can’t take care of themselves.

On the other hand, if you are infantilizing yourself to make other people help you, then you may act like a child more often than not, wanting to be treated as one. While it may feel comforting in the beginning, it can limit your ability to live life to its fullest.

You may get what you want, but it will also prevent you from taking responsibility for your actions and enjoying the freedom that comes with life.

How Does Infantilization Affect An Adult?

The infantilization of adults can leave long-lasting consequences that can be felt and seen years later. If you’ve been infantilized as an adult, then you may struggle with;

Another common reason for infantilization can be to gain control. As parents engage in infantilization, they might enter with good intentions but can negatively affect the child if it hinders their ability to make decisions. In a romantic relationship, it could be done with the idea of gaining control over the partner.

 If you find yourself engaging in infantilization, then you can seek professional help and intervention. A therapist can help you recognize your actions and behaviors that might be supporting this condition.

 Here are other ways you can address infantilization.

Addressing Infantilization: Ways To Cope

If you’re a target of infantilization, then you can set healthy boundaries in the relationship. It can be a good start to maintaining healthy relationships. Setting boundaries can also help you keep your personal life personal. There might be moments when you (the one being infantilized) will be able to speak for yourself.

When a parent begins to give their opinion to their child, the child needs to be able to recognize the behavior and stop it there and then. Be strong and stand by your decision. Don’t allow the other person to explain the logic behind your decision. This will only give them the opening to undermine your decision and lower your confidence.

 You need to also make sure that your boundaries are respected. If they are not respected, then you need to enforce the consequences. This could include changing the locks to your house, not answering your phone when your loved ones call or cutting contact with them (if it takes that).

 Infantilization can undermine an adult and lower their self-confidence to smithereens. It could also lead to severe mental health conditions.

Talking to a professional counselor or therapist can help you identify the behaviors, statements, and actions that can be considered infantilizing and then address them as they are needed.


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Final Thoughts…

If you are being infantilized, then it can be frustrating, but there are always ways to address this behavior with therapy. If you are the one infantilizing your loved one, then you can work to understand your actions and behaviors that are undermining the other person. Even with this, a therapist can help you identify your actions and work through them.

The infantilization of adults can lower confidence, increase self-doubt, cause a poor sense of self-identity, and cause a lack of direction in life. It’s important to understand these behaviors and change them to have healthy relationships with oneself and others.

I hope this article helped you understand what infantilization is, its signs, causes, impact, and how to deal with it. For more, you can write to us at info@calmsage.com or DM us on social media.

You can also share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

 Take Care! 

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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