A golden child is often the product of being raised in a "faulty" family dynamic where the child is expected to be very good at everything, never make mistakes, and feel highly obliged to meet the aspirations of their parents, according to board-certified psychiatrist Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, M.D.
"To be clearer, a golden child is held responsible for the family's success. Parents appreciate and adore them and, in a way, reinforces them to become better in whatever they are doing," she tells mbg. "A golden child is an example for others to follow. Even the siblings of the golden child are compared with them to create continuous pressure on their performance; to ensure that they shouldn't fail or fall short in their good behavior and accomplishments."
Children who possess the characteristics of a golden child are typically raised by narcissistic parents who are controlling and authoritarian, she adds. Because of how strict their parents are, these children are unlikely to feel safe enough to voice their own opinions or go against the rules of the home.
"Their main purpose in life is to satisfy their parents' needs and procure success, name, and fame for their family from outsiders. Parents consider [them] an asset to the family and always make them appear superior in front of others. The parents exert discipline and action and force the child to reinforce their desires. The child feels dutiful to satisfy what the parents want them to do, even if they do not like it," she says.
Victims watch aghast as the Flying Monkeys go to work, and are staggered that they can’t see the narcissist for who they really are. But pause to consider:
As the narcopath’s smear campaign gets underway, they surround themselves with these loyal disciples. Their role is threefold:
The narcissist will need somebody to dump their frustration and disowned rage on. The second oldest or the most outspoken child will be designated as the ‘problem’ child and be put down severely at any chance. Other children in the family may follow the narcissist’s lead and unwittingly dump their rage and shame on the scapegoat.
The Mastermind/Manipulator –
He is sinister, selfish, and abusive. Paired with the golden child the role, the mastermind and manipulator will turn into a narcissist. He is driven by entitlement and coerces people through manipulation. He is sneaky enough to operate just below the radar and he uses the dysfunction and the rest of the family to his own benefit. He intentionally creates conflict among family members to get what he needs and what he wants. He knows how to put on the charms and can manipulate even the adults in the family. He can also take on the quality of a sinister jokester, echoing the words “What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke?”
My yongest brother I believe was cast into this role, my regret is that I didn't reach out to him when he was a lot yonger. I was told he was "special" and it was amazing that such a special child could function. I didn't realize how everyone else in the family thought about him till a few years ago.
A lost child is any children who have not been designated the role of golden child or scapegoat and will be neglected and encouraged not to rock the boat. They grow up with a sense of not knowing who they are or how they fit in the world, as well as a burning feeling of shame and inferiority.
In simple terms, a narcissistic family is one in which the needs of the parents are the focus and the children are expected in various ways to meet those needs. The healthy family model is turned on its head to support the parents rather than foster the children’s development.
As in other kinds of dysfunctional families, there is abuse and corresponding denial of the abuse. There is also secrecy, neglect, unrealistic expectations, an impoverishment of empathy, disrespect for boundaries, and ongoing conflict.
Narcissistic homes have unspoken rules of engagement that dictate interactions among family members:
1. Acceptance Is Conditional.
To gain acceptance, children must comply with the family narrative and value system. Expressions of difference are rejected and pathologized.
2. Submission Is Required
Everyone is expected to submit to the dominant narcissist’s authority, no matter how ignorant, arbitrary, cruel, or destructive it is.
3. Someone Must Be Blamed for Problems
When something bad happens, from a lost job to a spilled glass of milk, someone must be blamed for it. Typically there is a family scapegoat who is made to bear the main burden of the family’s problems, frustration, and unhappiness, as well as the dominant narcissist’s projected self-loathing.
4. Vulnerability Is Dangerous
Mistakes, accidents, and weaknesses, even ones you take responsibility for, are cause for shaming treatment that can persist for years.
5. You Must Take Sides
Just as there is always blame and shame, there are always sides, and if you are not on the dominant narcissist’s side you are wrong. Children often feel forced to choose between parents, siblings, and other family members.
6. There Is Never Enough Love and Respect to Go Around
Renewable resources in healthy families, love and respect are limited to the narcissist and whomever else is deemed worthy, usually a favored "golden" child. Respect for one person means disrespect for another.
7. Feelings Are Wrong
The feelings that make us human, help us connect and get our needs met, and protect us from harm are selfish and must be repressed. Only the narcissist has free rein to express feelings, have emotional reactions, and make demands.
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One-upmanship, favoritism, and constant comparison create a harshly competitive environment that undermines trust and breeds hostility and betrayal.
9. Appearances Are More Important Than Substance
Even if everyone is suffering, they must smile for the family photo.
10. Rage Is Normalized
Everyone is expected to swallow and endure the dominant narcissist’s irrational, explosive, and perhaps also violent rage. This may be magnified by other forms of mental illness and/or addiction.
11. Denial Is Rampant
To sustain the dominant narcissist’s control over the family, there is denial of:
12. There Is No Safety
Although the scapegoat is targeted with the most abuse, everyone is on hyperalert because no one is safe from blame and rage.
Adapted from The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free, by Julie L. Hall, Hachette Books.