When I was growing up I believed that my family was horrendously unique. I was sure it would be impossible to find another father who acted in as deranged a manner as mine did. It was painfully clear that he hated me and adored my brother, but I simply could not work out why.
Then one day I read an article about narcissistic parents and I realized that my experience was far from unique. Our narcissistic father had forced my brother and I into the cookie-cutter roles typical of most narcissistic families.
Finally I had a name for what had happened to me. I was born into a narcissistic family and my father had assigned me the role of the scapegoat, while my brother was the golden child.
Growing up in a Narcissistic Family
It has taken me years to work out my family dynamic, and although it really hurt to have to face the facts head on, in the end it was essential for me to move on and start healing.
My brother and I had totally different jobs in the family.
The golden child existed solely to reflect my narcissist father’s brilliance. My father used my brother to vicariously live his every unrealized whim and desire, even when these were not suitable for a child. It was not clear where my father ended and my brother began. Nothing was good enough for my brother, because nothing was good enough for my father.
My job as the scapegoat, on the other hand, was to be the family trash can. Whenever my father was irritated or angry, he dumped his feelings on me. I lived my life dodging bullets and missiles, constantly on the alert for danger.
The Destruction of the Golden Child
When I was a little girl I believed my brother was lucky. There was nothing that my father was not willing to do for him. However now that I am older I understand that I was actually the lucky one.
The scapegoat has a horrible childhood, but they are in fact less damaged than the golden child. Their narcissistic parent wounds them deeply, but they still have a chance to build a decent life once they leave their family of birth.
The golden child, on the other hand, is so psychically damaged that their chances of ever functioning normally and being happy are slim to none.
Narcissistic parents mould their golden child into their image. They use them as a channel to attain their unrealized need for perfection, power and success. In the process they warp their child’s sense of self, turning them into their clones.
The Golden Child – No Sense of Self
The golden child often has no idea what they personally like or what they want from life. They have been brainwashed to believe that their parent’s needs and wants are their own. This becomes the backbone of a pattern of intergenerational trauma, passed on from narcissistic parent to golden child.
“As the infant complies with the parent’s narcissism so the infant’s true self is sacrificed, goes into hiding and is protected by a false compliant self. … the compliance also serves as a means for identification, which in the absence of other emotional nurturance the infant and later the child is reluctant to relinquish.
There is then an underlying conflict involving an anxious struggle between absorption by and abandonment from this malignant identification. The longing to separate and the fear of survival if separation takes place creates a terrible dilemma especially as the child reaches adolescence and tries to leave home.Fiona Gardner, British Journal of Psychotherapy 2004
Adults with no sense of self
I initially found it very hard to understand what not having a sense of self meant. I used to ask myself how it was possible for someone to not know who they are. However one day I had a chat with someone who chillingly illustrated the problem.
The woman I was talking to was a lawyer, but she absolutely hated her job. We were discussing her options, when out of the blue she announced that she had become a lawyer in order to feel closer to her father. I was so stunned that the hairs on my arms stood up on end. “He is such a good lawyer,” she continued. “I wanted to know what it felt like to be him.”
There could not have been a more striking example of the golden child’s problem with a sense of self. This old family friend was an adult, successful in her profession, and a mother with two lovely children. However she was depressed and lacked a sense of direction in her life. She had no idea what she wanted to do and who she wanted to be.
My advice to her was simple. She needed to see a therapist to get to the root of her existential crisis. She needed to learn to draw boundaries around her sense of self, separating herself from her father psychologically.
Scapegoat and Golden Child – Role interchangeability
In my family the casting as scapegoat and golden child was set in stone, but in many narcissistic families the roles are not fixed and can be interchangeable. The narcissistic parent might favour one child for a period of time, but then suddenly switch to favouring a different child. In this case the damage to the children is more diffused and even more insidious.
In such a situation the narcissist has taken the abuse up a notch, creating a poisonous triangulation between their children. One child competes with the other for the coveted role of the favoured child. The battle between the siblings becomes a major source of supply for the narcissist, who expertly plays off the children against each other.
All is not lost!
None of the children in a narcissistic family emerge unscathed. The type of narcissistic abuse the siblings experience may be different, but it is nonetheless abuse. They are all damaged by the behaviour of their parent. However this does not mean that they are broken for life. It IS possible to heal and to become whole. It may take years of therapy and lots of courage and insight, but it can be done.
For Further Reading
You might also want to check out the following posts about narcissistic families and the impact of childhood trauma:
- SoNM (Sons of Narcissistic Mothers)
- SoNF (Sons of Narcissistic Fathers)
- DoNF (Daughters of Narcissistic Fathers)
- DoNM (Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers)
- ACoNs (Adult Children of Narcissists)
- Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers: What You Need to Know
- The Narcissistic Family Golden Child
- The Narcissistic Family Scapegoat
- The Narcissistic Parent and the Enabler
- Narcissistic Family Roles: The Complicated Dynamics of Narcissistic Families
- Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Family Abuse
- Emotional Abuse as a Child Linked to Adult Chronic Pain
- CAPDR – Child affected by parental relationship distress
- Adverse Childhood Experiences and PTSD: What’s the Connection?
- The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Puberty
- Learning how to Trust and Love after Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Parentification: The Role of the Parentified Child in Narcissistic Families
- What is Codependency and how to overcome it
- Resilience – the ability to bounce back after adversity
- Is the Golden Child destined to become a Narcissist?
- Secrets and Shame: The Corrosive Impact of Family Secrets
- How to Deal with a Narcissistic Sibling: Tips for Navigating Family Drama
- Going through the stages of grief for my lost childhood
And finally, this is my story. I was the scapegoat daughter of a narcissistic father.
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