King Baby Syndrome and Addiction

‘His Majesty the Baby’ were the words used by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in his 1914 essay on Narcissism, to describe a self-obsession typified in the ancient Greek myth, that combines inborn egotism with childlike fear and irresponsibility. Unlike less serious signs of a longing for eternal childhood such as Peter Pan syndrome, king baby syndrome can underlie serious consequences in a person’s life and should always be taken seriously.

This article will explore the essence of the King Baby Syndrome, addressing its origins, manifestations, and potential impacts on personal relationships, personal growth narratives and links to substance abuse, while offering insights into potential avenues for effective intervention and recovery.

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What is the King Baby Syndrome?

‘King babies’ refer to people who fail to navigate the normal growing-up process and therefore struggle to deal with life as mature adults. The cause of this may be childhood trauma of some kind – perhaps a lengthy illness, dysfunctional family, or parents and authority figures with alcohol addiction or a drug habit. It may also be caused by the abuse of mood-altering substances at an early age.

Such people present with childlike fears and irresponsibility which they attempt to manage through inflated egos and unhealthy coping mechanisms. King Baby syndrome can be a major block to long-term recovery from addiction and sufferers must receive focused professional help to address their behaviour. Any form of untreated mental illness will potentially progress unless dealt

Though not exclusive to addiction, the syndrome is a common trait among people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. King Baby syndrome can also be a major block to long-term recovery from addiction and sufferers must receive focused professional help to address their condition. Any form of untreated mental illness has the potential to get worse unless dealt with and in overcoming King Baby syndrome sufferers reach a crucial point in recovery.

The King (or Queen) part refers to the person’s ego: 

  • Demanding – putting ourselves and our own needs first
  • Extreme arrogance and wanting things their way
  • Rejecting criticism
  • Complaining
  • Being obsessed with money and material things
  • Having big plans, (but limited ability)
  • Feeling that rules are for others. The Baby part is the little child in all of us, fearful but demanding:
  • Seeking approval and people-pleasing
  • Rebelling against authority
  • Avoiding responsibility
  • Feeling unappreciated and criticised
  • Seeing the world as a jungle of selfish people
  • Seeing everything as a catastrophe
  • Fearing failure
  • Preferring to charm superiors and intimidate subordinates
  • Holding emotional pain and losing touch with feelings
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Being constantly anxious.

Where Does the Term King Baby Come From?

The term was first used by psychotherapist Tom Cunningham in his 1986 leaflet ‘King Baby” drawing on the work of Sigmund Freud in relation to addiction treatment. Anyone reading the leaflet would be left in no doubt how crucial the need to overcome the syndrome plays in successful recovery, however difficult this may be – an adult-baby tyrant does not yield their throne easily because it provides too much comfort.

King Baby Behaviour & Personality Traits

The syndrome is not a personality disorder or a type of mental illness but a set of behaviours indicating inner struggle and emotional pain which at first sight seem almost contradictory (and after all, much childish behaviour is contradictory). Common characteristics of an adult baby include:

  • Needing to be the centre of attention
  • Self-obsession and desire for immediate gratification
  • Judging rather than understanding but avoiding personal responsibility
  • Seeing everything as black or white
  • Finding difficulty with interpersonal relationships.

King Baby Syndrome and Narcissism

Narcissism is a personality disorder characterised by grandiosity, a constant need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others whereas King Baby (or Queen Baby) syndrome is a behavioural response where an adult acts like an emotionally immature lost child who demands attention and validation from others without showing empathy or understanding in return.

Causes of King Baby Syndrome

Role of Childhood Experiences

During the first few years of our lives, we have no responsibilities but unfortunately, all life isn’t like that – we do have to grow up and the process can be a painful one. Infant tyrants begin by struggling with this and eventually find unhealthy ways as substitutes for their lack of success. Normal rules apply to others, not to them. Feeling inadequate to handle life, they overcompensate instead, using anger and aggression, or charm and pleading to get what they want.  Within most of them, there lurks a scared child – a lonely, shamed girl or boy who whispers self-defeating thoughts based on a lifetime of negative messages. They constantly compare themselves to others and feel that they don’t measure up.

Biological Predispositions to King Baby Syndrome

There is no direct biological evidence of any person inheriting King Baby characteristics through their genes. The King Baby or Queen Baby syndrome is not a form of mental illness or disorder but a series of maladaptive behaviours.

What is the Relationship Between King Baby and Addiction?

Any person, especially a young man or woman who has learnt unhealthy life skills from parents or friends – such as that suppressing feelings is desirable for self-protection – may turn to the use of drugs and alcohol and then perhaps, more drugs, as a coping mechanism. People seeking help for drug taking or other addictions are often found to display King Baby characteristics.

Treatment Approaches for King Babies with Addiction – How King Babies Can Grow Up

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can be used to treat the King Baby condition successfully by identifying and challenging negative behaviours and the underlying thought patterns and core beliefs.

Healthier coping strategies will be then discussed and practised and attitudes of understanding and empathy promoted and encouraged.

Support Groups and Psychotherapy for Personality Disorders

The first stage of the therapeutic process is for sufferers to accept their present selves and consider their situation rather than be tempted to blame others for it. In the words of psychologist Carl Jung they must accept that: 

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” 

They can then, with the help of a therapist and group, start to go through an (often painful) personal reality check. This may require several challenging sessions but it must be done. 

If the patient is honest, they will recognise the negative and self-defeating nature of their actions and it is then the therapeutic task to turn this dissatisfaction into a decision to take action for change.

Some of Us Never Shed This So-Called “King Baby” Attitude

It is difficult for king babies to move out of their role because by continuing to act in this way, the ego tripper can free themselves from the emotional pain that often comes with adult life. The negative consequences that sometimes appear, especially for drug users, may seem a price worth paying. Specialist and careful treatment is probably the only way to help a person in this condition.

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How Does King Baby Syndrome Impact Personal Relationships

King babies are great manipulators. Many people who engage with them simply make the path to mature adulthood harder by enabling them in some way. These miniature monarchs need others to deal with whatever it is that they refuse to do themselves. And if others don’t, they may break down and throw a temper tantrum.

Co-dependency is often found in these situations especially when drug use is involved. The partner of an addict may be so afraid of losing the relationship that they become dependent on the apparent happiness of another for their own well-being, like a clinging vine around a shaky tree.

Coping strategies for families: Dealing with the situation can be challenging for family members. Setting boundaries, consistency and communicating openly can help. Patience and positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviour will also be useful and professional guidance is often needed. At Castle Craig, a person’s treatment plan will normally provide for family therapy sessions with a specialist therapist.


What Is the Definition of King Baby Syndrome?

The Syndrome refers to a personality trait where an individual displays selfish and demanding behaviour, reminiscent of an infant’s demands for constant attention combined with arrogance and self-importance.

How Does King Baby Syndrome Manifest in Daily Life?

In daily life, the Syndrome manifests through a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy for others, excessive neediness, and failure to take responsibility for actions.

How is King Baby Syndrome Diagnosed?

The Syndrome is not a recognized clinical diagnosis, but it may be identified and addressed through psychological evaluation and observation of behavioural patterns.

How Does King Baby Syndrome Differ from Other Personality Disorders?

The Syndrome is not usually classified among personality disorders in that it primarily focuses on a specific set of entitled and demanding behaviours, rather than a broader range of personality traits and characteristics.

Can King Baby Syndrome Occur in Both Men and Women?

Yes, the Syndrome can occur in both men and women, as it is related to certain personality traits rather than gender-specific factors.

At What Age Do Symptoms of King Baby Syndrome Usually Appear?

Symptoms of the Syndrome typically become evident in early childhood and will often persist into adulthood if not addressed.

Is King Baby Syndrome Recognised by the Psychological and Psychiatric Communities?

The Syndrome is not an officially recognised disorder in psychological or psychiatric diagnostic manuals such as the DSM-5.

Can King Baby Syndrome Symptoms Evolve or Change Over Time?

Symptoms of the Syndrome can evolve or change over time based on individual experiences and life circumstances.

How Do Mental Health Professionals Assess for King Baby Syndrome?

Assessment happens through interviews, behavioural observations, and exploring coping mechanisms and interpersonal relationships.

If you are worried that addiction is affecting you or a person you have a relationship with, a good first step would be to talk it through with a professional. At Castle Craig Hospital we are always ready to listen and discuss your options in complete confidence. Give us a call any time – 24/7 – on 0808 303 0176.


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