Is the Golden Child Destined to Become a Narcissist?

In narcissistic families there is usually a child who is treated differently than the others. The narcissistic parent will lavish this child with attention and praise, while ignoring or mistreating the other children in the family. This favoured child is known as the Golden Child. So, what happens to the Golden Child when he or she grows up? Does the Golden Child become a narcissist?

golden child become narcissist

Understanding the Golden Child Phenomenon

The ‘Golden Child’ is often the recipient of excessive praise, attention, and privileges.

They are the shining star in their parents’ eyes, and their actions and achievements are held up as paragons of perfection.

This can create an unrealistic self-image for the child, where they believe they are superior to their siblings and peers.

However, it’s crucial to understand that being the golden child doesn’t always lead to narcissism.

The relationship between parental favoritism and narcissistic behaviors is complex and influenced by a variety of factors, including the child’s personality, the family dynamics, and the parenting style.

woman and child wearing crowns

How Does the Narcissist Treat the Golden Child?

For the narcissist, the golden child is a blank slate on which they can project their own aspirations, dreams, and fantasies.

The actual needs and wants of the child do not matter. The narcissistic parent anoints this child to be the idealized version of themselves.

The Golden Child must always meet the high standards set by the narcissist and will never be good enough.

The Golden Child is a mirror, and is constantly under pressure to reflect well on the narcissist and to make them look good.

The narcissist parent uses the golden child as a prop.

They will boast about the child’s achievements or show them off in social situations. If the poor child does not perform to the required standard, they will face their parent’s fury.

The golden child is also a source of narcissistic supply, providing the attention and adulation that the narcissist craves.

They become their parent’s sycophant, always agreeing with them and stroking their ego.

The golden child will do anything to please the narcissist, even if it means sacrificing their own happiness or well-being.

spoiled little girl

The Impact on the Golden Child

Pressure and Self-Esteem

Being the golden child, while seemingly a position of privilege and adoration, often comes with its own unique set of challenges.

This role often places an enormous amount of pressure on the child, leading to significant impacts on their self-esteem and mental health.

The Weight of Expectations

Golden children are typically held to high, sometimes impossible standards set by their parents.

They are often expected to embody the parent’s own ideals, achievements, and dreams, acting as a proxy for their magnificence.

This constant need to perform and live up to these expectations can be overwhelmingly stressful, leading to a pervasive fear of failure.

Their self-confidence often becomes tied to their external accomplishments, fluctuating based on whether they perceive themselves to have met or exceeded these high standards.

The overwhelming need to please can lead to them growing up faster than their peers, becoming super high achievers out of necessity rather than personal ambition.


Impact on Self-Esteem and Mental Health

Despite the special treatment and adoration, golden children usually struggle with low self-esteem.

Their self-worth becomes contingent on the validation they receive from others, particularly their parents.

This dependence on external validation for self-worth can lead to long-term issues in relationships, friendships, parenting, work, and general self-esteem.

Moreover, the fear of disappointing their parent, of not living up to the golden image, can lead to anxiety and depression.

They feel an intense pressure to maintain their “perfect” image, fearing that any slip-ups could lead to a withdrawal of love and approval.


Dependency and Decision-Making

Golden children often grapple with an underdeveloped sense of self.

Their identity becomes deeply entangled with their parent’s approval and validation, hindering their ability to make independent decisions and form their own beliefs.

The Intertwining of Identity

One significant impact of being a golden child is the struggle to develop a distinct sense of self.

Their identity becomes so entwined with their parent’s expectations and approval that they often lack a clear understanding of who they are outside of this golden child persona.

They may find it difficult to determine their own interests, passions, and values, as they have always been guided by their parent’s desires and expectations.

This can result in an identity that is largely shaped by others rather than self-discovery and personal growth.

fear of failure

The Impact on Decision-Making

This lack of a solid sense of self often leads to difficulties in decision-making.

Since their choices have typically been influenced or even dictated by their parents, golden children may struggle to make decisions independently.

This dependency can extend to various aspects of their lives, from trivial everyday choices to significant decisions related to their education, career, and relationships.

The fear of disapproval or disappointment can paralyze them, making it challenging to trust their own judgement.

They might constantly seek validation or reassurance from others, doubting their ability to make sound decisions without external input.

loss of identity

Long-Term Consequences

The impact of this dependency can extend into adulthood, affecting both professional choices and personal relationships.

In their careers, golden children may find themselves gravitating towards professions that their parents approve of or deem prestigious, instead of pursuing their own passions.

In their personal relationships, they might continuously seek validation and approval, leading to potential conflicts and dissatisfaction. They could also struggle with setting boundaries, as they are used to conforming to others’ expectations and desires.

problems with identity formation

Relationship Struggles

Raised on a pedestal, golden children grow up expecting the same level of adoration and attention from others that they received from their narcissistic parent.

This can lead to unrealistic expectations and potential conflicts, as they grapple with the reality that others may not view them through the same golden lens.

Unrealistic Expectations

Having been the center of attention in their family, golden children often carry this expectation into their relationships outside the family.

They often anticipate the same level of adoration, attention, and validation that they received from their narcissistic parent. This can lead to unrealistic expectations in friendships, romantic relationships, and even professional relationships.

They might expect others to always prioritize their needs, agree with their opinions, or be available for them at all times, mirroring the treatment they received as the golden child.

This distorted perception of relationships can create unnecessary tension and conflict, as it’s simply not feasible, or healthy, for one person to always be the focal point.

unhappy couple

Potential Conflicts and Misunderstandings

These unrealistic expectations often lead to potential conflicts and misunderstandings.

When others fail to meet their high expectations, golden children feel disappointed, misunderstood, or unappreciated. They might struggle to understand why others don’t treat them with the same reverence they received from their narcissistic parent.

This can result in frequent misunderstandings and disagreements, as they might perceive others’ actions or words as personal attacks or rejections.

They might also struggle with empathy, as they are used to being the primary recipient of attention and care.

unhappy couple

Difficulty in Maintaining Healthy Relationships

The golden child’s high expectations and potential conflicts can make it challenging to form and maintain healthy relationships.

They might have difficulty understanding the concept of give-and-take in relationships, expecting others to constantly cater to their needs without reciprocating.

Their need for constant validation and approval can also be draining for their partners or friends, leading to strained relationships.

In addition, they might struggle with setting appropriate boundaries, as they are used to getting their way and having others bend to their wishes.

Identity and Boundaries

One of the most significant challenges faced by golden children is their struggle to individuate their identity from their narcissistic parent.

This enmeshment with the parent often blurs the lines between their personal boundaries and the parent’s expectations, leading to a host of issues including mental health problems and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.

problems with identity formation

Enmeshment and Identity Formation

Golden children often find it challenging to separate their identity from that of their narcissistic parent.

This enmeshment can be so pervasive that they struggle to form a clear sense of who they are as individuals, separate from their roles as the golden child.

Their identity often becomes an extension of their parent’s desires, dreams, and expectations, leaving little room for them to explore their own interests, values, or aspirations.

Consequently, they might find it difficult to make decisions independently, always seeking their parent’s approval or fearing their disappointment.

golden child become narcissist

Struggle with Personal Boundaries

This enmeshment also makes it particularly challenging for golden children to establish and maintain personal boundaries.

They might feel obligated to fulfill their parent’s expectations at the cost of their own needs and desires.

This lack of personal boundaries can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety whenever they attempt to assert their own needs or make choices that deviate from their parent’s expectations.

The inability to set healthy boundaries can extend into their adult lives, affecting their relationships and interactions with others.

They might find it difficult to say no or express their own needs, fearing rejection or conflict. Alternatively, they might expect others to disregard their own boundaries, just as their narcissistic parent did.

loss of identity

Mental Health and Relationship Challenges

The lack of a distinct identity and personal boundaries can contribute to various mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

The constant pressure to meet their parent’s expectations, coupled with the fear of disappointing them, can lead to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.

Moreover, these issues can also affect their interpersonal relationships.

The inability to set healthy boundaries can lead to imbalanced relationships where they either dominate or become overly dependent on others.

They might struggle to form meaningful connections, as their relationships are often based on validation-seeking rather than mutual respect and understanding.

difficulty trusting others

So, is the Golden Child Destined to become a Narcissist?

There is no simple answer to this question.

Some Golden Children do become narcissists, while others do not.

Being the golden child does not inevitably lead to narcissism. While there might be an increased risk, many factors influence the development of narcissistic tendencies.

Every child is unique, and their journey to adulthood will be shaped by a myriad of experiences and influences, far beyond their early family dynamics.

Thus the answer is that – it depends on a number of factors, including how severely narcissistic the parent was, and whether the Golden Child received any emotional support from other family members or friends.

The Golden Child is often unaware of the fact that their parent is damaging them psychologically.

They have no idea that they are nothing but puppets on a string.

puppet on a string

While it is not guaranteed that the Golden Child will become a narcissist, there is indeed an above-average risk that they will develop narcissistic traits or even full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

This is due to the fact that they have been raised in a narcissistic environment and have been subject to the damaging effects of narcissistic abuse.

Golden Children have learned that the only way to get love and attention is to be perfect.

And since perfection is not possible, they will always feel inadequate and unworthy.

This could become the source of a narcissistic injury , which could trigger the development of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The Takeaway

If you are the co-parenting with a narcissist, you need to be vigilant.

If you see the narcissist assigning one of your children the role of a Golden Child, counteract the damage.

Focus on giving your child plenty of love and attention, and help them to develop a strong sense of self.

This will go a long way towards protecting the child from the damage of narcissistic abuse.

If you were the Golden Child in a narcissistic family, know that it is not pre-ordained that you will follow in your narcissist parent’s footsteps.

It is only when we let our narcissistic tendencies reign unchecked that we do serious damage to ourselves and those around us.

Seek professional help to help you develop a strong sense of self and learn how to set boundaries with others. With the right support, you can overcome the damage caused by growing up in a narcissistic family and build a healthy, happy life for yourself.

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2 thoughts on “Is the Golden Child Destined to Become a Narcissist?”

    • Hi Paula, it is very difficult to tell with so little information. However if there is a golden child, meaning a child who is privileged over other children in the family and who is enmeshed in an unhealthy way with one (or both) of the parents, then there clearly is some form of dysfunction.


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