Most people who have never participated in a 12 step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) probably have not heard of King Baby Syndrome. The odds are that you’ve experienced it either in yourself or someone you love, especially if addiction has touched your life. The term has become a kind of shorthand description for a constellation of personality traits often linked to substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and related dependency disorders. So what is King Baby Syndrome, how does it emerge, and how can you escape the shadow of the Big Baby?
What is King Baby Syndrome?
King Baby Syndrome (KBS), in a nutshell, is all about the adult’s level of emotional development, or rather, the lack thereof. Someone with King (or Queen) Baby Syndrome believes, even on an unconscious level, that the world really, truly does revolve around them, and that if it doesn’t then it should.
However, that mentality doesn’t always manifest at first. In fact, King (and Queen) Babies can be irresistibly charming. They’re the life of the party. They easily win friends, admirers, and allies wherever they go.
The trouble comes, though, when things don’t go their way: when they don’t get what they want, when they’re embarrassed or uncomfortable, disappointed or discouraged. Then you’re unleashing the stark manipulations and sky-shattering tantrums of the overgrown toddler, and the results can be destructive–to relationships, to careers, even to the Big Baby him or herself.
It’s not only that the King/Queen Baby doesn’t like to have their instant gratification thwarted. It’s also that people with these personality traits often are highly narcissistic, impulsive, pleasure-driven, and emotionally dysregulated. You can’t ask for a worse recipe for addiction than that.
There are a lot of theories as to when and how KBS emerges. Many speculate that traumas in early childhood lead to arrested development. Emotional and psychological wounds incurred that cause you to get stuck in that narcissistic stage of development, resulting in a whole host of pathologies that underlie and drive the King/Queen Baby behavior, including insecurity, low self-esteem and self-efficacy, insecure and unhealthy attachments, hyperactivity, and disinhibition.
The King Baby often constructs an entire persona dedicated to concealing their insecurities from others. At the same time, these charismatic, fun-loving, and often egoistic personas serve as an instrument to assuage their own anxieties, fears, needs, and poor self-image. Not only do they learn to inhabit this fictive self, but they build their whole world around maintaining the illusion, and they require everyone around them to participate in and contribute to that fiction. Hence the defensiveness, selfishness, and self-obsession that so often characterizes the King/Queen Baby.
King Baby, Addiction, and Escaping the Cycle
Of course, reading the character profile of King Baby Syndrome is very much like reading that of the addictive personality. That is the reason, indeed, that the term has so much significance in the AA program. At the heart of the syndrome is a sort of pathological narcissism that readily contributes to the development of addiction and to challenges in recovery (1, 2, 3).
The good news, though, is that there is hope. It is possible to escape the Big Baby’s clutches and to restart the process of emotional development that was likely arrested in childhood. However, getting unstuck means being proactive, committed, and strategic.
Get With the Program
There’s mounting evidence to show that people who have both dependency and personality disorders such as those associated with KBS benefit greatly from active engagement in a 12-step program such as AA or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) (4, 5, 6, 7). At the core of these programs is the effort to help those facing addiction learn to de-center from their own lives, to learn to see beyond themselves and their own needs, hurts, and desires. Of particular significance is the cultivation of a spiritual sense, a sense of the belief in a higher power. Armed with this sense of a being, and a meaning, that lies outside of and is untouched by the exaggerations and illusions of the narcissistic Big Baby ego, you’re better able both to define your purpose and to develop a healthy sense of perspective and proportion you need to resist the lure of substances as a coping mechanism.
Much as 12-step programs emphasize the need to move beyond selfish narcissism through the cultivation of spirituality, studies have also shown that pursuing a life of service can greatly aid in recovery (8, 9, 10), When you begin to move beyond your fixation with your illness and yourself and you turn instead to the needs of others, you systematically begin to dismantle that narcissistic ego that informs KBS and so often drives addiction.
It’s not only about honing the skills you need to begin to recognize, empathize with, and respond to the needs of others. When you begin to serve, to truly make a difference in the world, the narcissistic self, which is often usually both vulnerable and grandiose at once, begins to give away to another, healthier sense of identity. You begin to develop a sense of your own agency and self-efficacy. You learn to recognize yourself as an empowered subject with the power of choice, not as a helpless and resentful victim of circumstance. Once you begin to see what kind of difference you are capable of making in the lives of others, you also begin to believe in your power to make a difference in your own life, including making the choice to abstain (11, 12, 13, 14).
Dismantling the Persona
As we’ve seen, King Baby Syndrome is all about creating the fictive persona that serves both to conceal the narcissistic pathologies that lie beneath and to mitigate some of the pain that these pathologies cause. But, the same personas that emerge in KBS are also the very same personality types that contribute to addiction.
For this reason, emerging from the throes of KBS means systematically dismantling the Big Baby persona and, in the process, trading the addicted identity for a sober one (15, 16, 17). At the heart of this is learning to develop a lifestyle in which trust, personal responsibility, and accountability inform every aspect of your behavior, your choices, and your relationships. King Baby fears discomfort and embarrassment above almost anything else, but when you are building a mature, adult life of personal responsibility, then discomfort and embarrassment are inevitable.
There will be disappointments, moments when you don’t always get what you want. That’s uncomfortable. That hurts. And there will also be mistakes and shortcomings. That can be embarrassing, especially for those battling deep-seated insecurities and low self-esteem. Learning to acknowledge and endure them without retreating behind the King Baby mask or disappearing into a bottle of booze or pills is essential not only to growing up but also to remaining sober.
How Bayshore Can Help
At Bayshore, we pride ourselves on treating the whole person, not the disease. Our specialized, multidisciplinary team of mental health experts and addiction recovery specialists provide individualized, holistic, and evidence-based solutions to help you escape the grasp of King Baby Syndrome and achieve the healthy, happy, and dependency-free life you want and deserve. Contact us today to discuss how the caring professionals at Bayshore can help you or someone you love.