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.
What is the Golden Child?
The Golden Child is a term used to describe the favoured child of a narcissistic parent – one whose every need is catered to while other siblings are neglected or even vilified.
A golden child typically grows up feeling superior and entitled, believing that they can do no wrong in the eyes of their parent. At the same time, they are often unaware of how challenging it is for their siblings who aren’t receiving the same level of attention or approval.
Being the golden child of a narcissistic parent sets up an individual for a lifetime of insecurity and instability in their relationships, while paving the way for codependency and various forms of psychological trauma in adulthood.
One the one hand, they are expected to live up to unrealistic standards set by their parents. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness when these expectations are not met.
On the other hand, golden children tend to have difficulty connecting with others due to an inability to recognize boundaries and people’s own needs, symptoms that are connected with having been raised by a narcissist.
Growing up in a Narcissistic Family
It has taken me years to work out my family dynamic. It really hurt to have to face the facts head on, but it was essential for me to move on and start healing.
As in most narcissistic families, one of my parents was a narcissist and the other was an enabler.
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. However, 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 psychologically damaged that their chances of ever functioning normally and being happy are slim.
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. However, 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. However they 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.
The Way Forward for the Golden Child
While it is true that the golden child of a narcissistic parent suffers serious psychological damage, this does not mean that they will never be able to function normally or find happiness in life. In fact, many have gone on to cultivate successful and fulfilling lives despite their background.
For a golden child, healing from past experiences often requires therapy, as well as time for self-reflection and introspection. By slowly working though deep seated issues of shame, guilt and codependency, adult golden children can build healthier connections with others, while finding ways to move forward in life despite their difficult upbringing.
Having relationships with compassionate friends and loved ones who understand what you’ve been through can also be invaluable during this process. Experiencing empathy and unconditional love can help provide an understanding of what it means to be seen and accepted just as you are.
Tips for the Golden Child who wants to leave their childhood trauma behind them
Seek Professional Help
Seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor experienced in working with survivors of narcissistic parents is one of the best ways to start your journey to healing. A qualified mental health practitioner can help you identify and address the core issues that have resulted from your upbringing as well as offer coping strategies for dealing with emotional pain and trauma.
Self-Reflection & Introspection
Taking time for self-reflection and introspection can be an important part of your healing process. This can include activities like journaling, visualization techniques, or simply spending time alone reflecting on the events of your life and considering how they may have impacted you.
Connect With Others Who Understand
Finding people who understand what it’s like to have grown up with a narcissistic parent is another important step towards healing. Having relationships with compassionate friends and loved ones who genuinely care about your wellbeing, can not only provide much needed support during challenging times but also serve as a reminder that you are accepted and accepted just as you are – even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
Look For Healthy Coping Strategies
Learning how to recognize triggers, identify unhealthy patterns, and cultivate healthy coping strategies will also be essential during this process. Nurturing yourself through activities like yoga, meditation, nature walks, or anything else that brings you joy can make all the difference when trying to heal from past trauma.
Practice Self-Compassion & Acceptance
Lastly, don’t forget to practice self-compassion and acceptance throughout this journey. This is difficult for those who have been raised by narcissists due to deep rooted feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy ingrained since childhood.
It’s ok to make mistakes as we grow, but don’t let them define who you are. Learn instead to embrace your flaws as part of being human, while recognizing your own unique strengths at the same time.
Ultimately, it’s important not to give up hope when coping with the aftermath of narcissistic parenting. The path ahead may not be easy but so much is possible once healing begins.
Final Thoughts about the Golden Child
None of the children in a narcissistic family emerge unscathed. 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.
If you believe you were (or still are) a golden child of a narcissistic parent, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t have to define your life going forward.
Taking time for self-reflection and finding support from friends or counsellors who understand this dynamic can help you break free from negative patterns and nurture healthier connections moving forward.
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2 thoughts on “The Golden Child – another victim of the Narcissistic Parent”
My mom got pregnant with her golden child in 1961. She and my dad had called it quits but she found out that she was pregnant so they married. It took me decades to understand how a narcissistic person could place another person above their own self. One day it occurred to me that she was ashamed of having a “bastard” or “illegitimate” child and this bothered her despite having gotten married over it. She built the child up to such unrealistic standards that he could never live up to so he resorted to emotionally abusing others to achieve that special feeling that was easy for him when he was a child and too young to have to prove himself. It’s quite sad. I remember how my mom used to put me in her lap and we would sit outside of his bedroom door while she would tell me to look at all of his perfect things that he chose to have and how talented he was for the way he took care of everything. I have so many of those memories that remind me how extreme the situation was. I’ve never envied my golden child brother. As I child, I was trained to worship him and as I grew up I was simply disgusted by him. Today I understand that he was caught up in an extreme situation, too. This enables me to feel a bit of sympathy for him even though he still behaves in this harmful, narcissistic way at 60 years old. He does this because he lacks a sense of self. I have more gratitude for the situation I was put in simply because it gave me the ability to self-examine and have self-perspective. All these years, he’s been struggling to fit the mold that my mother made for him and trying to regain what was never even possible. The golden child grows into a crippled adult. It’s really a sad situation. Thanks again, Carla.
Hi Erica, welcome back 🙂
I totally understand what you are talking about. I too have mixed feelings about my brother, whose life is a disaster. When I was a child I feared and envied him, because I perceived him to be everything that I could not be and have everything that I could never have. However as I got older (and wiser?) I realized that my father had destroyed my brother psychologically. He had harmed me too, but at least I still had a sense of self and I was determined to save myself.
So in a nutshell, the fact that you have come to the same realisation is important, because it transforms you from victim to survivor. Sending you lots and lots of love!