In an old, English, folk-poem of the 19th century, to be born on a particular week-day, imbued said child with an abiding characteristic. “Monday’s child was fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace” but bad luck anyone born on a Wednesday, since “Wednesday’s child was full of woe.” Of course, there is no truth in any of it. It’s just a rhyme so that Thursday’s child can have “far to go”. Giving children characters based on days of the week is nuts but it is about as logical as the behaviour in narcissistic families where one child is golden and can do no wrong, the other the incarnate of Wednesday’s child and then some.
The truth is that it isn’t the children but the narcissistic parent (Mother & Father) who is at fault and I have seen it with my own eyes in a family who used to be neighbours of mine. Jax had two children, the older and less bright Eddie, and the younger and frighteningly intelligent, Beth. Sometimes we would run into each other socially and talk. I heard so much about Eddie, his studies, job, new car, lovely new wife, the list was endless. Occasionally she would talk about Beth who was sullen, difficult, challenging and high handed.
At the time, I could believe it because all I had seen of Beth confirmed her mother’s spiel, she seemed to sulk for a living. This was until I happened to get into a conversation with one of Beth’s old school teachers who told me how exciting it had been to teach Beth who was hard working, bright, capable, and who had led fundraising activities in school as well as being president of the school sixth form. The teacher, who taught psychology confided in me she was surprised that Beth was sane, since having met her mum at a parent’s meeting she was convinced that Jax had NPD.
The Golden Child and the Scapegoat
A narcissistic parent, frequently mum will see one child as an embodiment of themselves and their grandiosity. The Golden child will be encouraged, allowed to achieve and any success will be recognised with praises heaped upon them. In the worst cases, the golden child will have better clothes, more money spent on them and even better opportunities in the form of extra-curricular activities. There may be a price exacted for this attention though, such as being kept close and potential emotional blackmail. This is especially so for sons of single moms who are narcissist. The Golden child may be expected to stay in the orbit of the mother and nurse her fragile sense of self. In some families, the golden child is the one to be pitied since he or she may never manage to break away from the narcissistic parent and be caught in their model of the world for ever.
The scapegoat, on the other hand is the opposite, the yin to the golden child’s yang. Any problems will be viewed as the failing of the out-of-favour child, any faults will be magnified, and this is particularly cruel if they relate to the appearance of the child. A scapegoat really can have any shred of self-confidence pulled out of them and trampled on. Also, if they are high achieving, this can be a challenge to the narcissistic parent in that their wonted “self-fulfilling prophecy” is being denied them. This in turn can lead to rage and a spiral of emotional abuse. The abuse is often subtle and sneaky, because to do otherwise would defeat the narcissistic parent’s narrative that the problem lies within the scapegoat. However, she or he may be stopped from doing activities which they are good at because of “cost” or inconvenience.
Things which the child deems precious may disappear, or worse be given away by the parent:
“When I was 13 I got rid of most of my childish toys but decided to keep my one precious teddy which was tatty but associated with the love of my dad from happier times. I came home from school one day and she acted like she had done me a favour by tidying my room and my teddy was gone. I couldn’t retrieve it because she deliberately chose to do it on a day when the bin was emptied. It was that calculating. She said she thought I was too old for such things”
The narcissistic parent is in their element when the resentment from the scapegoated child boils over into resentment of the golden child since this falls into her narrative about them being “evil”. Also if there is conflict between her children then the parent has “divided” and ruled so any consistent alternative narrative about how things are in the family never gets formed and told. This helps the narcissist maintain control of the family story. The golden child is also unlikely to want things to change since they are favoured and they may not wish to or see things from an alternative point of view.
The Effects On The Scapegoat
Long term and repeated abuse by parents can lead to severe mental health issues. In the worst cases, a child may grow up as an adult with complex PTSD which is a relatively newly understood condition born out of living in a chronic abuse situation. Being a scapegoat of a narcissistic parent is a form of domestic violence in that their behaviour is coercive and controlling. Scapegoats are more likely than the public at large to suffer from eating disorders, addiction, chronic low self-esteem and poor pattern of relationships which may or may not themselves be based on repeated domestic abuse.
In some cases, a scapegoated child may be taken for therapy by the abusing parent(s) as part of the narrative of the child being “broken” in some way and in need of fixing. In these cases, therapists may be taken in by the parent, especially if supported by a spouse and/or seeming credible. The child may then be judged to be “in denial”. It may be many years before the true story emerges.
Beth did OK and is now a journalist at the other end of the country, Eddie still lives with his mum. All names used in this article are fictional.