Narcissism or Emotional Immaturity — 6 Ways to Tell

Lea O
6 min readJan 12, 2021


Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

According to the internet, nearly everyone is a narcissist now. Expert opinions differ on whether narcissism is really on the rise or not. Some argue it is while others argue that our collective knowledge is increasing instead.

One thing that is undeniable: narcissism has become an insult-laden buzzword. Diagnosable via listicle.

Factors that Contribute

The way we live has changed drastically. Technology booms. The rise of social media. Selfie culture. Now we exist in an infodemic.

More information is readily available at our fingertips than ever before. Studies show that our attention span has severely decreased.

Creating the perfect storm for a one-off read-through listicle about narcissism to become a snap judgment.

All this can lead to a confirmation bias. Because the internet is teeming now with SEO-worthy searches for narcissism, we are all at a higher risk for developing a confirmation bias.

If you believe you’re dating a narcissist and then search for “Traits of a Narcissistic Boyfriend”, you will likely find a list of traits that aren’t all that different than the ones on this list.

The belief, plus the Google search articles, can and will often result in a confirmation bias. Then a snap judgment. The point is, all of these labels can be and are misconstrued.

Labels are subject to interpretation. What is defined as a grandiose sense of self per the defining characteristics of NPD can be interpreted differently. What is grandiose ego to me may not be to you and vice versa.

Narcissism can be mistaken for inherent immaturity and vice versa. Emotional immaturity can be mistaken for borderline personality disorder. Dissociative Identity Disorder can be mistaken for Borderline Personality Disorder, narcissism, or emotional immaturity.

What is Narcissism

Narcissism is an extreme form of emotional immaturity. It exists on a spectrum. The narcissistic label is often applied to run-of-the-mill emotional immaturity. They present in nearly identical manners.

Narcissism is classified as a personality disorder. One of the most well-known traits of a narcissist is an exaggerated sense of self and entitlement. They demand recognition as superior even without any qualifications.

They expect special favors and uncompromising compliance. Narcissists perpetuate a grandiose sense of self. They must have control of this narrative. This is a short list but since the internet is full of articles about it.

I don’t think I need to reiterate the point much. For clarity, this article compares only malignant narcissism. The Mayo Clinic classifies NPD as rare, meaning less than 200,000 cases. Check out their list of qualifications.

It’s all well and good that we are starting to notice these characteristics. This is the first time in generations these issues have been spoken or written about it. We are only now beginning to learn and share our experiences with narcissists. And we are beginning to understand how to do all that plus recover from it.

I am glad that we are recognizing these behaviors. To be crystal clear, all narcissistic abuse victims are to be believed and validated. But it is important to strike a balance somewhere here.

Here are some ways to differentiate.

Shift Blame

Emotionally immature adults (EIA’s) won’t go deep in a relationship. They resort to shifting blame instead.

They may say things like “I don’t understand how you can feel this way” if you express any deeper level of anything. Instead of responding with “What makes you feel this way?”, they will find reasons to point the finger at you. Before the update, I named this separately as having immature defenses.

Narcissists will go deep. They thrive on manipulating emotions to force a reaction. They do this to maintain power and control.


Yes, narcissists do this too. It is better labeled as “gaslighting”. Narcissists are calculating. When they do this it is less likely to be an off-the-cuff lie.

Narcissists gaslight by planting seeds of doubt, then doubling down on that narrative. It is a manipulative tactic the narcissist will use for control. Designed to make you doubt your self-judgment.

EIAs will resort to lying to stay out of trouble in an uncomfortable situation. This is because they lack the emotional depth to connect. If they are confronted with discomfort in dealing with emotions, they will lie to get out of it.


Specifically with gifts or affection. One common tactic of narcissistic behavior is known as love-bombing. Grand gestures of affection at the beginning of a relationship or in situations they feel like they are losing control over.

Before I updated this list, I said that EIA’s have to be the center of attention here. They do, but it comes out differently than malignant narcissists. EIA’s are more likely to present you with gifts that are tone-deaf.

These gifts or gestures of affection can be hurtful and confusing. Often, EIA’s present you with behaviors, gifts, et cetera that they themselves would like. Not the other way around.

Sometimes an EIA will give you a thoughtful gift. Making you believe the relationship is getting better. Later it will return to insincerity, crushing any hope you may have had for a better relationship.

Struggle to Commit

This can present as poor impulse control (this is what I called this previously). They don’t think about or plan for the future. Often resorting to impulsive actions.

Much like a child, they may behave recklessly when they feel threatened, hurt, or mad. Often resorting to impulsive actions. Mature adults can pause and think things through.

Narcissists are calculating and rarely behave in ways that do not serve their end goal.

Emotional Take-Overs

Emotionally immature adults engage in zero to sixty emotional escalations. This is a result of their inability to go deep into a relationship.

Often this includes shift-blaming and lying (as detailed above). They have no gauge for the range of human emotions.

Before the update, I listed this as emotional escalations. Some narcissists do this too. They lash out in anger when things are not going their way. Usually, this happens with micromanipulations and microaggressions.

Narcissists do have a gauge for human emotion though. Manipulating them is a primary source of power and control.

They Don’t Discard

Narcissists discard but emotionally immature adults usually don’t. Again, narcissists are calculating and use people as a means to an end. When they no longer have a use for you, they dump you. It’s as if you never existed to them at all. They hoover, in an attempt to suck you back into their orbit. But after that, they drop you.

Emotional immaturity on the low end of the spectrum doesn’t engage in the discard. Instead, they will continue to try and engage with you. Cries of how they don’t understand, six months or a year later. Previously, I named this as being unable to engage in any introspection. EIA’s never learn from their mistakes. This is why they don’t typically discard.

All these behaviors leave a whisper of budding narcissism in the air. This is how these two become intertwined and emotional immaturity becomes mislabeled as narcissism.

Reiterating here that narcissism and narcissist abuse is rampant. And that all narcissistic abuse victims are to be believed and taken seriously.

But plain, low-level emotional immaturity is rampant too. Quickly labeling some behaviors as narcissistic can leave us in a pattern of feeling stuck between these two. Ultimately making some of us feel as though we are forever ticking off some narcissistic qualities yet not the whole list.

It’s important to find balance. It’s important to weigh confirmation bias with the information availability.



Lea O

9X Top Writer. Essayist. Personal development. Creativity hacks.