Last Updated on August 15, 2022 by Alexander Burgemeester
It’s often said that all families are dysfunctional in some way. If this is true, then narcissistic families must be among the most dysfunctional families.
If one or both parents in a family are narcissists, they will put their own emotional needs ahead of those of their children.
This is bound to cause some tension among the other family members – and indeed, research shows that children of narcissistic parents are at greater risk of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
But what is this “tension” I’m talking about here? What happens in a narcissistic family that doesn’t happen in other families?
While there is very little research in this area, we do have reports from people who grew up in narcissistic families – and from the psychotherapists who treat them. And some common themes have emerged. As trauma counsellor Shannon Thomas told INSIDER in 2019:
“[Narcissistic parents] will triangulate siblings, they spin stories, they tell half truths, and you start to notice the pattern, just like in a romantic relationship, of how they create that chaos.”
One of the “pattern” that Thomas refers to here is known as the “golden child scapegoat dynamic.” Here’s what we know about the Golden Child and Scapegoat Child dynamics and how it affects the family.
The golden child and scapegoat child
As I said earlier, narcissistic parents put their own needs ahead of their children. In fact, their need to be in control and at the center of attention is sometimes the reason they choose to have children in the first place.
To fulfill those needs and get their narcissistic supply, narcissistic parents sometimes push their children into specific roles within the family.
Two of the common roles that have been identified are the “golden child” and the “scapegoat.”
Let’s look at the characteristics of each role in turn, and see at what they actually entail.
Golden child characteristics
The golden child role is just what it sounds like – it’s the favored child of the narcissistic parent. However, this isn’t your ordinary, garden-variety favoritism – as is often the case with narcissists, it’s taken to extreme levels.
Most of the time, the golden child can’t put a foot wrong. Anything they do well will be celebrated exuberantly.
The narcissist will pile on the praise for even minor successes. They win the diving competition? “That’s fantastic, you’re so talented!”
They get a C in English? “Great work, you’re so smart!” They tell a joke at the dinner table? “That’s hilarious, you’re so funny!”
The golden child is often chosen for the role because they possess some qualities or abilities that would reflect well on the narcissist.
They may be the most attractive of their children, do well in school, or have some potential in a skill such as a sport or musical instrument.
This is not always the case though, and sometimes the child who simply identifies the most strongly with the narcissistic parent will become the golden child.
Scapegoat child characteristics
Scapegoating is a group dynamic where one person is singled out by the rest of the group, and becomes a target of blame, abuse, and other negative treatment. And again, unfortunately, this is taken to the extreme by narcissistic parents.
While the golden child can do nothing wrong, the scapegoat can do nothing right. They win the diving contest?
“Did you? Oh OK. Oh by the way we’re going to have to stop your diving lessons, we can’t afford them on top of your sister’s violin lessons”. They get a C in English? “Just a C? Is that all? Why am I not surprised?” They tell a joke at the dinner table? “That was terrible, maybe you should just be quiet.”
The nature and intensity of the abuse varies from family to family, depending on the type of narcissist we’re talking about, and how severe their NPD is.
Direct, overt verbal abuse such as insults, blaming, and put-downs are commonly reported, but in more extreme cases there may also be physical abuse.
In other cases, the abuse may be much more subtle. Take the diving example above.
The narcissist failed to praise their child for something they did well, and then removed the diving lessons to prevent them doing it again.
They might have done this so that the scapegoat stealing the thunder from the golden child – but they’d never admit that.
The Golden child-scapegoat child relationship
As you can well imagine, the relationship between golden children and the scapegoat is likely to be strained at best, but downright toxic more often. This comes down to how the golden children treats the scapegoat children.
In some cases, mainly where the golden child identifies with the narcissistic parent, or has a narcissistic side themselves, they will join in the abuse directed towards the scapegoat.
This is obviously no basis for a healthy relationship, and the narcissistic parent will do nothing to bridge this gap. In fact, they will likely encourage rivalry and hostility, using triangulation as a tool of control.
Scapegoat child syndrome
When we experience stress, neglect, and abuse early in life can have long-term effects on us.
In one study of 21,000 people in Australia, those who experienced childhood abuse were at greater risk of poor mental health, particularly anxiety and depression, and poor physical health, including a higher risk of heart problems.
The striking thing about this study, is that the participants were all over the age of 60. The researchers concluded that “the effects of childhood abuse appear to last a lifetime.”
In the case of the scapegoated child in a narcissistic family, some other more specific issues might spring up.
Some have referred to these as “scapegoat child syndrome,” although this isn’t a recognised condition in the way that disorders like depression are. Psych Central lists a few of the longer-term impacts that the scapegoated child might experience:
1) An altered view of relationships/difficulty trusting others.
2) Internalising the negative views that are pushed upon them, leading to excessive self-criticism.
3) Little or no sense of belonging, due to never experiencing a safe and stable family life
4) Damage to their sense of self
5) Repeating the pattern – they may be drawn to friends and romantic partners who are controlling or narcissistic themselves.
Golden child syndrome
Again, “scapegoat child syndrome” isn’t a recognised condition – rather, it’s something that popped up online, it’s a label given to the negative effects of being the golden child.
Negative effects? Yep, you read that right. You might think that life is pretty great for golden children – and in terms of day-to-day overt abuse, that’s almost certainly true. However, there are downsides to the this role too. The School of Life gives some examples:
- They never learn that flaws and weaknesses are OK. To flourish in life, we need to be able to make mistakes. We need to learn that we will be forgiven, that the love and esteem we receive from others won’t be compromised if we mess up. This is known as “psychological safety.” But the golden child often has their mistakes and faults swept under the rug. So they can become terrified of failure in the future.
- Insecurity. If you are given high praise and told you are special, gifted, talented, and so on, it’s usually in response to something you’ve done. However, the narcissist showers such praise on the golden child without them having done anything to warrant it. This is called “overvaluation.” The problem here is that the golden child comes to need that praise, but they don’t know why they deserve it. This can cause insecurity because they have no basis for knowing if the praise will come in the future.
- Lack of control. Being a golden child comes with responsibilities – namely attending to the narcissistic parent’s needs. They are an extension of their parent, not allowed to be themselves. For this reason, they may struggle to develop an identity of their own.
- Guilt. Remember that they are still a child. They are being pushed into the role by the narcissistic parent, and they go along with it because they lack the maturity to understand any differently. However when they get older, some develop great guilt when it dawns on them that they were participants in the abuse of the scapegoat child.
But there is another potential impact of being the golden child that we should discuss…
Does the golden child become a narcissist?
Although there is very little research on these two family roles, there is reason to believe that children placed in the golden child role are at greater risk of developing NPD themselves – certainly compared to the scapegoat. Here’s why.
The development of disorders like NPD is a bit like baking a cake (although the outcome is much less pleasant).
To bake a cake, you need to put the right ingredients together (flour, eggs, sugar, etc.), and then put them into the right environment (a hot oven), for the right amount of time.
If you use sawdust instead of flour, you will not get a cake – no matter how long you bake it for.
Likewise, if you mix flour, eggs, and sugar together, then put them in a refrigerator instead of an oven, you won’t get a cake.
So it is with NPD.
The “ingredients” of NPD are genetic – a particular combination of genes work in tandem to produce the psychological and behavioural effects that we call narcissism.
We all inherit half of our genes from our mother, and half from our father. So it really is a roll of the dice when it comes to whether the children of narcissists inherit these genetic ingredients or not.
The research so far suggests that these genes are necessary for NPD to develop – or at least, they make it much more likely.
If the golden child doesn’t inherit these ingredients, it’s like mixing sawdust with eggs and sugar – not going to make a cake.
If children do inherit these genes, they’ve got the right ingredients, but they still need to be “baked”. So what’s the equivalent of the hot oven in this analogy? What are the environmental factors that might “activate” these genes, and cause NPD to develop?
One of the key factors identified in the research is parental overvaluation – this is where parents shower their children with praise, even when they have done nothing to warrant it.
If you’re thinking, “That sounds exactly like the description of the golden child,” then you’re right – it is!
The theory goes like this – when children are told continuously that they are special and better than other people, but they don’t understand why, then the only way they can get that feeling of being special, is through praise. So, the child develops a need for verbal praise from others.
At the same time, the fact that a narcissistic parent doesn’t provide any unconditional love or affection creates low self-esteem.
They don’t know when or how the praise will come, so they start learning how to elicit it from other people through things like bragging and lying. If you’re thinking, “That sounds like a description of a narcissist,” you’d be right again!
Some research also suggests that the siblings of scapegoated children display lower than normal levels of empathy. It could be that siblings with low empathy end up being the ones who join in on the abuse of the scapegoat.
But, the researchers also propose that it could be the other way around – siblings who join in on the abuse could end up with lower empathy.
For example, the child may suppress their empathy to hide from themselves the fact that they are being abusive – to avoid the self-guilt and self-shame that this might trigger.
Since impaired empathy is another characteristic of NPD, this shows another potential reason why we might expect more golden children than scapegoats to develop NPD themselves.
However, another important thing to point out here is that the second parent’s impact can be crucial.
If the second parent is non-narcissistic and can show the golden child the warmth they don’t get from the parent with NPD, while also not engaging in overvaluation, they might act as a barrier, preventing NPD from developing.
What happens to the golden child when the scapegoat leaves?
Although it might sound strange, there are some advantages to being the scapegoat child.
Although they receive the brunt of the narcissistic abuse, the golden child is certainly more controlled – they have more expectations put upon them.
Their role is to serve the narcissist’s needs and give them something to brag about. Because of the narcissist’s low opinion of the scapegoat, they have less expectations placed on them.
The golden child in this dynamic is being manipulated and abused too. But the abuse is more subtle, more confusing. They may not really realize what’s happening, and may not see their situation as unfavorable, at least relative to the scapegoat.
This means that the scapegoat has the most incentive and opportunity to leave the toxic family environment of the two roles.
When they leave, they may also take a stronger sense of who they actually are with them – something they may not fully develop, as they are being shaped by the narcissist.
So what happens when the scapegoat child leaves?
The writers over at “Silence is not OK” suggest that discord in the family can increase after the scapegoat child leaves.
As we’ll see, the scapegoat child can form as a kind of pressure release valve. When that valve is taken away, the anger that the narcissist previously it directed at the scapegoat, will find alternative targets.
They may also find someone else to fill the scapegoat role. If the narcissist set up the golden child-scapegoat dynamic in the first place, it is probably because they need it (we’ll discuss these needs a little later on). So with the family now a scapegoat down, what does the narcissist do?
Well, the original scapegoat will often remain the scapegoat, even if they are not physically present.
Much like Napoleon did to Snowball in George Orwell’s animal farm, the narcissist may continue to use, blame, and insult the scapegoat, even in their absence.
If there are any more children in the family, another sibling may take up the scapegoat mantle, and in some cases, they might switch roles.
Can the golden child become the scapegoat?
It’s important to note that the two roles we’re discussing here say more about the parent assigning then than they do about the characteristics of the children themselves.
Some people who have reported experiences have said that the roles were more fluid in their family.
They were based on which child was the flavor of the month – in other words, which child had been most effective at providing narcissistic supply and the ablest to avoid triggering a narcissistic injury.
Although it’s more common for the roles to be fixed than fluid, a fixed role is not necessarily permanent.
Often a narcissist’s opinion of someone is influenced more by their most recent interactions with that person, than a rational, long-term evaluation of their interactions over time.
So, if the golden child was to trigger a sufficiently painful narcissistic injury, they could certainly find themselves out of that role and perhaps the new family scapegoat.
Of course, the action that would trigger such a role change will vary from person to person, but imagine if the golden child directly challenged the narcissist’s abuse of the scapegoat – it’s hard to imagine them remaining in this role for too long after something like that.
Why do narcissists have a golden child and a scapegoat child?
Before we get into this, let me make a quick little side point. This family dynamic is not guaranteed to occur in families with narcissistic parents.
At the time of writing, there is very little research on these roles, so we don’t know for sure how common they are.
The main thing we have to go on is people’s reports, and this can make the dynamic seem more common than it actually is.
For example, how many online or off reports have you read where someone said, “I grew up in a household with a narcissistic parent, and we didn’t have a scapegoat or a golden child.”?
I’ve read a few comments about this effect, but not many. But is that because this dynamic is super-common, or is it because people who didn’t experience it aren’t speaking up as much?
We have no way of knowing. One fair assumption we could make, is that this dynamic is more likely to occur in people with more severe NPD, especially those who we might classify as “malignant narcissists.”
We’d expect to see it less in narcissists with less severe symptoms of NPD, and much less still in people who are narcissistic, but don’t meet the criteria for NPD.
So the key driver behind this dynamic will be the severity of the parent’s narcissism. But just remember that not all narcissists have NPD, and not all narcissists with NPD have malignant narcissism.
Anyway, with that point made, let’s explore why a parent with NPD might be inclined to push their children into them…
Why do narcissists have a scapegoat child?
Here are a few possibilities as to why a narcissist might have a scapegoat child.
The emotional lightning rod
When one key family member puts their needs (far) ahead of everyone else’s, this can create dynamics where stress, fear, and conflict are more common.
Now, to a narcissist, image is everything – and this applies even within the family, where they are largely the one in control.
Since narcissists view themselves are pretty much perfect, they have a bit of a dilemma here – if they are so great, why would there be there stress and conflict within the family?
Enter the scapegoat as a ready-made solution to this problem. As Peg Streep explains over at Psychology Today,
the scapegoat “permits the narcissistic mother to make sense of family dynamics and the things that displease her without ever blemishing her own role as a “perfect” mother, or feeling the need for any introspection or action. She has a ready-made explanation for fractiousness or any other deviation from what she expects her family to look like.”
(note: Streep was talking about narcissistic mothers in this article, but the point applies equally to narcissistic fathers).
So one reason narcissists create scapegoat role, is for them to serve as a lightning rod, attracting negativity so they don’t have to experience it themselves.
This can sometimes become a team effort where the rest of the family joins in – commonly known as “family mobbing.”
Another reason is narcissists have a scapegoat child is more simple – to serve as a source of narcissistic supply.
Narcissists sometimes insult and put others down so they can feel better about themselves.
It simply enables them to think better of themselves, knowing that there’s someone else that they’re superior to.
One interesting theory around why narcissists create these two roles is that they are projecting different aspects of themselves onto their children.
As you may know, people with NPD have two “selves”. One is the the grandiose image of the perfect person that they present to the world.
The other lives much deeper in their mind – the insecure self who lurks beneath the surface.
The insecure self worries that they aren’t as important as they like to think. Narcissists hate this aspect of themselves and put most of their energy into avoiding ever having to face it or accept that it is real.
Yet it’s there underneath, nonetheless. So what do you do in that situation?
Well, one thing you can do, is to protect your insecure self onto someone else – the scapegoat.
Any hatred towards the insecure self can then be directed at the scapegoat. They turn an inner conflict into an outer one – something they can attack and control more easily. They “externalize” their pain, so that it’s no longer a part of themselves.
Why do narcissists have a golden child?
Here are a couple of ideas as to why narcissists have a golden child:
To understand a narcissist’s behavior, you need to come back to their two key needs – to obtain narcissistic supply and avoid narcissistic injury.
So how does the golden child provide supply? It comes down to the family image. They don’t just just praise the golden child directly, they brag about them to others, too.
They understand that to have intelligent, successful, high-achieving children is something that gets you a little status in the eyes of other people, so they use the golden child to get that status. It’s the offspring equivalent of a trophy wife.
The golden child will also be a direct source of supply to the narcissist – they are the narcissist’s chief assistant, there to serve their needs.
The golden child will often come to identify with the narcissistic parent, and then reflect their positive view back at them. They are like a familial “yes man/woman”.
As the scapegoat is the projection of the narcissist’s insecure self, the golden child is the projection of the narcissist’s grandiose self.
It’s often said that narcissists see their children as extensions of themselves, rather than as individuals in their own right.
So in a sense, the golden child – or at least the narcissist’s image of them – is who the narcissist would like to be.
Does this sound familiar?
As I said earlier, while these dynamics appear to be somewhat common, they won’t appear in all narcissistic families.
And where they appear, each instance will have its unique flavor and severity.
Did you grow up in a family where one or both parents were narcissistic? If so, what was your experience? Do these roles match up with what you experienced?
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34 thoughts on “Why Do Narcissists Have a Golden Child and Scapegoat Child?”
Hi. Thank you for this great site which educates about narcissistic personalities, with all the problems that arise. It’s an important topic, and it is useful to understand the psychological wounds that may occur when living close to a narcissist. Found this article particularly interesting, and have not read something this clear about the golden child / scapegoat dynamic elsewhere!
Both my parents were narcissists. It seems I was the Golden Child. They sent me to China to learn mandarin, which boosted their ego as it was perfect conversation at cocktail parties. My brother committed suicide shortly after. I felt so abandoned. We never talked about it with my parents, of course. My relationships have all been with narcissists, I have worked and been diminished by narcissistic bosses and I feel I am surrounded by such individuals, which does not help with my sense of trust in a relationship. I only realized this year that the father of my 2 children is a Covert Narcissist. We separated but I am really concerned that he is manipulating our children, with my son being the GC and daughter being SG. Fortunately, they are now with me most of the time. My mother and my parents-in-law are all self-absorbed, so they are not resources. I am seeking help and will do everything in my power to help my children develop healthy emotions, self-confidence and self-esteem. Although in appearance I was the GC, I can relate to all 5 impacts associated with the Scapegoat Child Syndrome.
No mention here of when there’s only ONE child and ONE parent – say a Narcissistic Mother and Son – what then?
Hi Matthieu, maybe this article is more what you are looking for? I talk here about how children develop in adult life after growing up with Narcissistic parents.
I was giving you depth into the scapegoat subject and your site deleted it too bad you missed out.Bottom line it was neglect and abuse.There is no such thing as health narcissistic.Either your poison or not.I have suffered since 5yrs old.If you need to know the depth you can call me .1-508-584-4232
I know a family where this happens. The older daughter has been praised all her life, and developed an air of superiority because of it.
The younger daughter was constantly put down and told she was ugly, fat, worthless and would never achieve anything.
What’s funny is that the younger daughter (the scapegoat) is actually the prettier one and she is much nicer than her older sister. But she doesn’t believe this, because the abusive comments damaged her self-esteem. Meanwhile the golden child has an inflated sense of self and feels entitled to everything. It’s really sad to watch.
In narcissistic families, there is a pecking order. It will be decided who is “worthy” of love and who isn’t…which does a lot of harm to children, who then grow into adults that never feel good enough.
This type of favoritism is cruel because no child should ever be made to feel that way. I had to call out the golden child for being mean to her sister recently. I told her it was terrible the way she treated her scapegoat sister, and that she needed to be more humble.
She simply laughed. Not all golden children are like this, some are decent people…but this particular person is rotten and she has received many undeserved privileges in life while her sister hasn’t been so lucky. The family has never tried to hide their favoritism either.
It seems to be a game that they all play. To her credit, the younger sister works hard and continues to be kind despite what she’s been through. She managed to find a loving husband and has two great kids, so the scapegoat sometimes comes out on top despite how they were raised.
Hi, this article is very important for self education.
I can witness to every single detail of the exemples.
Coming from an family of one narc mother and one enabling father
3 siblings with about 5 1/2 years between each
I’m the oldest and the scapegoat
Middle Brother is golden child
And the youngest brother somehow in a free zone,
but I’m not completely sure because I had left home when he
(youngest brother )
was only 5
so i didn’t witness his upbringing
But now as he had his own kids
I see some sign of him scapegoating one of his kids
So I guess he didn’t avoid the toxicity after all
-About being the scapegoat and how it impacts lifelong
I can say that all of the above mentioned in the article is reality for me.
Only now in my early fifties after more than a decade of reading about narc online
I can slowly and methodically begin to realize that I’m not that dumb, impossible, flawed, unintelligent, odd, ridiculous ect ect
I suffer with: cronique fatigue, severe sleep disorder anxiety evasive depression borderline
(though depression lifting slowly through methodically working on my inner strength and the overall “right” to be me” )
I can recommend the book: [now it’s about me] :
As the scapegoat I was very aware that my mother wished to crush me, break down my spirit
I felt that without doubt.
Despite that I never stopped being highly critical and “suspicious” of her
whether I spoke it out loud or just observed her
It was obvious to me that she was not like other grownups
She would have killed me if looks could kill !
At the same time I felt sorry for her because she obviously lacked true empathy,
it was like she somehow was hollow
and very very sad
She died quite young
and despite the sorrow
and pain and that I felt and feel deeply sorry for her miserable emotional life, it was ALSO an relief
The family dynamic is muuuuuuuuch more relaxed
Not so high toxic
To my surprise when speaking with my middle brother,
something that was unlikely before (my mom died) because he and I were almost deadly enemies …..
now we can speak on the phone
and be in the same room without massive conflict , arguing
and when younger even physical fights
To my surprise when he tells me about how he felt when growing up
(as the golden child in my perspective)
He say the exact same words as I do :
I never felt loved
I never felt I could do anything right
This puzzles me as he was the Goldenchild completely
And now as an grownup he is without doubt on the higher end of the
But all the praise raining down on him didn’t make him grow up and feel content and relaxed about him self
On the contrary ???????
His ability to reflect upon his own character is 0 zero
But his lifelong pain is similar to mine, nothing he said or did was ever good enough
We were not loved !
It breaks my heart
all That pain
probably going down in generations
My mom was not loved by her mother
And I guess my grandma was not loved by her mother
On and on and on
As a parent I must admit that there’s only a hairthin line between being my genuine empathic Soul
and being a 1-1 copy of my mom when it comes to my own behavior towards my child
With severe awareness I work HARD to not fall into the trap of either scapegoating or Goldenchilding ( is that a word ?)
Sorry to say but my own childhood has scarred my inner persona
Not my immense strong Spirit
but my persona is damaged in its core
very hard to adjust !
Not much more I can add
as the article pretty much has the various dynamics covered
in exellent way
Well written and good research done
It’s really like Cinderella. In the story of Cinderella, the wicked stepmother is a stepmother, and the her children are stepchildren. However, this is still the same story. Usually, the mother is jealous of the daughter, and this articles seems to “leave out” this key fact. The “scapegoat” isn’t usually “not golden” at all. They are usually the opposite. The mother abuses them and puts them down and abuses them because they are jealous of them in some way or another. It could be relationships with the father, friends, or even the other siblings. But after the abuse starts, and that’s usually pretty early, people, ( including whoever wrote this article) are fooled into thinking the “golden child” is actually “golden” at all. It’s the scapegoat who is actually “golden” but the mother does everything she can to turn those tables and sometimes it actually works, and other times, like the story of Cinderella the mother’s (be it stepmother or real mother) backfires, and Cinderella wins. Don’t let the narcisisst fool you about her children. She is downing the “golden child” and writing her own reality because writing the reallity of actual human beings “her children” is where she gets her feeling of power. She is “taking down the golden child” and turning the “ungolden child ” into the “golden child” and getting her kicks doing it.
Exactly. Thank you for writing this…in my family, I think it was as simple as my older sister (Golden Child) was born with brown hair (non-threatening) and I was born blonde like my mother so, as an aging woman, she felt threatened/jealous by the blonde baby. Her favoritism was so extreme she paid for a fancy college with all the perks plus an MBA for my sister while I went to a state college. She supported my sister financially throughout her adult life and left absolutely everything to her when she died. My mother’s excuse was: your sister needs it more. My husband makes a lot of money and my sister is divorced, so this is true now, but I needed many things a long time ago that I never got. And of course, the money is the least of it, it’s merely a paper trail for gross favoritism and control. I consider myself lucky to have escaped. Do I blame my sister? No. After all, just as she said nothing in my defense when I was young, I watched her fall into the trap of caring for our elderly mother and was relieved not to share that burden. We both upheld at least the minimum level of decency toward the other and each felt helpless to do more. In the end, it’s about self-preservation and not drowning to save someone else.
Thanks for writing that perspective. I think you’ve actually nailed it perfectly. It’s one of the reasons the golden child is also a role to be pitied; they know somehow the praise piled high on them is feigned, and over the top. If you reflect on that, this is worse than no praise at all, as it delivers not just a zero, but a negative number. The author called it over valuation.
I find this article truly revolutionary. It totally cuts to the heart of a family where I always felt like an outsider when with my mum and sister together. (Mum’s doing only). I can so relate to this. Even the comments above are similar to my story. A mother who clearly favoured my sister, the “uncomfortable trail” of money, praise and affection leading to blatant laser focused attention to only her. It’s totally unconscious behaviour in them though. They’ve learned it, I could tell my mum’s mum was a little light on love to my mum, I only ever heard criticism. Both my mum and her own mum seemed to hide their toxic way of raising siblings under a veil of being a saint. What a joke!
Excellent write up! Thank you for focusing on this area as it helps so many of us make sense of our family dynamic.
Thank you for your articles. It’s very helpful bc I am a forgetful person by nature and always get gaslighting by almost everyone in my life. I am my father’s daughter Golden child but my mother hates me. I could feel all her feelings radiated to me when I was 5 especially when she were forced by my father to sit me down on her laps. My mother always physically abuse all of us 5 before whenever she had problems with our father (he avoided her bc he can’t stand to face realities, conflicts, etc). So my mother stop when one of our neighbor killed all of her families (known cause: anger issue and stress) and my father come back controlling her this time. They switch roles. But my father is the overbearing type from that time onwards and won’t dote on me any longer. My mother has lessen her physical abuse but resort more to verbal abuse. This is where my story of scapegoating starts. My older gets to be GC. Our caretaker hates my crybabyself so she would physically abuse me till I bleed and black in not so obvious place when not in presence of others. She always abuse me verbally when I didn’t do things she orders as perfect as she wants. She won’t even look at me, real me, current me. Now, I know better; she is also a narcissist. She always do smear campaigns to our relatives about my family but target specifically me. I always get blame by all of my family members and her all the time and still is. I am stumped. They have disarmed me so much. Most of the time I’m wishing that I should just die already or lost my memories or even losing my heart and spirit so I could not feel anymore and be their perfect puppet/doll. A plaything if you will. My family’s too complicated bc I have noticed they have double standard and sexist attitudes. All the girls get severe abuse than the boys. We become 8 siblings now. But like I said I am specifically targeted by my mother, so everyone join in as long they didn’t get the same treatment as me. They are all so happy in doing so it’s no wonder I looked so much stressed/in agony when I look back at our family event photos’. They all look very healthy, young and stress free. Me, opposite of all that. I get denied whenever I get happy, sad, anger, and many things. I wish I am treated like a human rather than their own personal slave 🙁 I am unemployed, no friends, and worth nothing to the world as I am right now. I wish for an end whatever ends that would bring me. I feel so alone in this crowd called ‘family’.
Thank you Alexander Burgemeester. Wonderful articles like yours help provide actionable awareness and understanding for us trapped in exit-less horror houses. In my case, my 10 year old daughter is the GC and 14 year old son is the SG. Sadly, my ex also uses him to maintain control over me years after the divorce and, as a result of the many times realized risk of pain to my son, I am unable to build a new life because I want to minimize his pain. With all of this drama, do you have any thoughts on (1) whether it would be harmful/help to “call” (i.e., point out) my ex on her NPD behavior, by,. e.g., sending her a copy of this article or something else (with the unexpected hope, she will have an epiphany and improve) and (2) any way to get my son and daughter mental health therapy even though my ex refuses to consent (which she must do in FL for a kid to get counseling). It is horribly sad to see my son count the days until he is out of the house. Thank you for any help, Keith
Hi Keith, that all sound horrible and very complex. I would suggest foremost to find some support to help you build a new life. a Social worker or psychologist could help you with this.
1) Confronting a Narcissist is almost always a waste of time. They don’t see themselves as “sick” and will only attack you for insulting them. The few Narcissists who do see they need help are often the ones looking for help by themselves.
2) This is not something I can help you with sorry.. I hope a local social worker who knows the law in your state can help you better with this and let you know what is possible. Reading your message, I am not entirely sure if you are still seeing your children of have joint custody? Children need a stable home where they feel safe. Keep talking to your children and try to help them where it is possible. Invest in quality time seeing your children.
Amazing article Alexander! Thank you so much for shining a light on a dynamic that so few genuinely understand.
My mom was pregnant when she met my dad. She was very charming and they married soon after they began dating. They married in March and she delivered in September. Needless to say, she told elaborate stories about how the baby was very premature. This child was my sister, the original CG. My mother put her heart and soul into convincing my dad that this was his child. When she immediately became pregnant with me, I think she saw that as a challenge to the scenario she wanted to create. She did not want him to devote any attention to me, and for that matter, she wanted no one to devote attention to me. Two years later, another daughter came along. My parents divorced soon after. My mothers abuse toward me accelerated after they split. She married my step dad, and he quickly stepped in as the heavy hand, carrying out what her hearts desire when it came to lashing out toward me. “I am going to get rid of you,” was something I heard almost daily. The slightest mistake on my part would cost me a meal. Those missed meals started to come more and more frequently.
My brother was born when I was 9 years old. He was the new and super mega golden child. I was not allowed to touch my brother, because I was labeled a bad child and would hurt him.
My 4th grade teacher contacted DSS after having some concerns. DSS recommended family counseling. Counseling sessions consisted of the entire family discussing how I was “the problem.” Counselors were alarmed by what they saw, and I was subsequently placed in foster care. I was 11 years old. I never returned home. I only had 2 visits back home and they did not go well. I told my sisters that I liked being out of the home, and that I was treated better than I had ever been treated in my life. My mom was furious when she heard this. My punishment: she signed my sisters up for violin and dance lessons.
My older sister, the one who had been the original golden child, well she became the replacement scapegoat.
We are now all in our 50’s. My brother is 47. Nothing much has changed. My sister just did 23andMe and got confirmation that my dad is not her dad. She feels very alone and disconnected to any sense of family.
I was able to attend a wonderful private college; a privilege afforded me thanks to scholarships and being a ward of the state.
I spent around 20 years as an Investigator for Child Abuse and Neglect cases.
Families are all complex. They are all different and special. I never met any family quite like my own. I did see other examples of scapegoating in families, and they were the hardest for me to keep an objective mindset.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful article. I made me feel much less alone in my circumstances.
I just really want to say thank you thank you thank you for this article. Never have I read anything that has resonated more with me. It has given me the most clear, in depth explanation of my mother’s narcissism. The initial smear campaign when I left home at 14 because of the constant projection, gaslighting and Triangulation with my golden child sister was something I always knew was so wrong.
I’ve been silent about it and so my family believe her and I even believed I was a real “devil child” as she would call me. I only recently discovered that narcissism was a “thing” and I cannot tell you how much of a breath of fresh air it is to see the chaos clearly and objectively now.
Given I’m now 27, I feel I am lucky that I haven’t lost too many years to this horrible treatment. I am having to go no contact because her behaviour is so severe and I have realised it will never change. But most of all I’m glad there isn’t something wrong or bad in me that she made me and my family believe for so long. Just.. thank you for the clear explanation of everything. It’s like you told me my own story. You have great insight.
I am looking forward to an emotionally healthy, peaceful life and I am looking forward bringing my future children into a world where they will feel nothing but unconditional love and protection from me.
wow! I am almost 59 yrs old and just now figuring out that what has been going on in my family is a “real thing”. My parents were both only children which is a weird dynamic in itself. My parents pitted my sister and me against each other and our syndromes were fluid just as you were stating! My sister was abused and now she is married to a narcassist. It’s textbook stuff. I have recently felt like my sister didn’t fit into my mother’s perfect world by the time she was 4 so they had me to be the perfect, cute, fun one. This is all making so much sense! I’m so glad I researched this article. Thank you
I also have a question, hoping you can shine some help on. My sister has left the family and my father recently died leaving my mother in an assisted living home. I am the only person she has left. She places so much guilt on me due to the fact that I live out of state and she can’t get me to do things for her. How do I distinguish the guilt from a narcissist verses guilt normal children have caring for an elderly parent. How do I detach?
Thank you so much for this article. It really clarified the situation I was growing up in (in my case, as the scapegoat child).
Thanks for this article. And the many comments. It really helps understanding my family toxic dinamic better.
I was the scapegoat and my older sister was the golden child, however as in one the comments above, we both felt unloved and suffer and continue suffering having a narcistic mother . Everyone is always going to be better than us, and no matter what we do we are laways at a disadvantage.
we have a younger brother who could be the ‘invisible child’. I ‘ve always been protective of him. Him and my sister havent spoken for a year. And I have limited contact with her, as she is also a narcist and can turn nasty from one minute to the next.
My mum is the most narcistic person I’ve ever met and manged to destroy our family after my father passed. He is in a relationship with another narcisist who controls her and the family finances. me and my siblings dont know whats going on and my mother refuses to talk about it.
To cut the story short, I left home after my father died and moved abroad and married and divorced twice, Im now single with two young kids and back in my home country// and feel very lonely and a mess. I feel like a failure, fat, ugly, lonely…
Im in therapy trying to shake off this burden but Im findining it really difficult. Its like Im programmed to fail and feel like an outsider wherever I go. Im aware I AM GOOD, but the scars are not healed and Im 44yrs old!
I suffered much abuse by Narcissistic mother starting about 60 years ago, long before the internet and maybe even the Narc classification. It became apparent when I was young that I lived in a crazy house, and I went through some terrible years. I was labeled as the problem and the identified patient. I was full of resentment and came very close to an abbreviated life. More on that another time.
I fled that environment and was married at 21. Thankfully, mother in law steered me into a good career, from which I retired. My golden brother never got his act together, and was a serial borrower (from mommy, of course). Although he ended up with the family treasure, I am confident that he will burn through the easy money. He is still making bad decisions at 60.
You almost can’t help but notice that boards of education are pushing all sorts of sensitivity-type classes on students. I don’t believe that there is any effort to educate children about the types of abuse that they can suffer at the hands of Narcissistic parents, which can be more damaging than abuse from outsiders. Because there is apparently little public awareness of parental abuse, lawmakers realize that there is little chance they will profit by passing laws that incorporate student awareness into curriculums. But maybe it’s time to start making some noise for the sake of children.
HELP! This is literally me! The golden child! I don’t know how to change.
1. So high on narcissism
2. Tries to be perfect- if I don’t I’ve failed – i can’t mess up anything cause I have never been properly taught forgiveness + tht I DON’t have to try to be perfect/ppl please
3. DON’T Know How To Be Authentic- ppl can sense I want something out of them as I should get since I’ve been praised my whole life- “you should see me as good rt away and praise me even tho I haven’t done anything to deserve it”. Just like me already cause I Deserve It! I was “nice” to you even if I just met you and spoke for 5 mins . Then I get annoyed and lash/snap cause they are not giving me tht feeling!😡
4. People please even with comments I don’t mean but I need everyone to approve/like me- that’s how you get that “good feeling” your parents gave you
– dont know how to explain feelings/set healthy boundaries rt away or argue w/out using bad character
– Once get fustrated true colors come, my mask falls, and I finally lash
– How do I just show someone right away or even later on I don’t like them or say something “mean/criticism/something tht might hurt” w/out using bad character????
– Stop ppl pleasing and say something even tho it “hurts” but is the truth! without using bad character
5. If ppl like me I should get special treatment, but backfires as ppl can sense/see a motive behind it.
6. Ppl can tell I’m not being authentic to my true self as I don’t know to express- feel there’s a motive behind it being so sweet
7. Have 0 character cause it’s rotten! Don’t know how to be genuine
– will finally snap after all tht “kindness” or if u pissed me off + I bottle it up, later on lash- once tht happens done game over- my bad character everyone can see! Clear as crystal!
– You owe me something for all that “kindness” I did – im keeping score Cause I just don’t know how to say no to something
7. Such a fragile ego! If you say one thing about me I’ll freak. Don’t know how to laugh at myself or take jokes cause I’m perfect🥺
“I’m perfect- Don’t hurt me” 🥺 im just a perfect.
8. So much anger! I literally could explode and lash on you right now
JUST SO DAMN FUSTRATED!😡
And at my parents. Finally realizing this dynamic in our family. I’m the completely damaged one!!!
Thank you for explaining this. Golden child and Scapegoat was the exact example of my life. I was the golden child. And only now that my narcissist father changed my role to the scapegoat, can I truly understand that I’d been abused my whole life. It’s an incredible shock to learn that O was never loved, but I was a tool. I see this now as my father is trying to destroy my family with extreme measures, because I was groomed to know he always planned on living in a granny flat with me when he was retired. Thankfully I have identified this and submit proof of the abuse and I have a DVO to help get him Out my life.
I wished I’d learned this early. But better late than never.
I’m happy there is more online resources and discussion boards to break open the well concealed practices of narcissistic parent(s) and the children who suffer well into adulthood due to this. It’s empowering to have classifications as I didn’t have any when I began to research why I didn’t as so messed up inside.
My mother was a covert narcissist, whilst my father was physically abusive, (only to me), and emotionally withdraw. They were co-dependant and trauma bonded. I’m the eldest Scapegoat and my sister is the Golden Child. I experienced my mother despising me to the point that she would manipulate my dad into verbally abusing and beating me. My sister was off-limits as she was my dad favourite, also my sister’s near death experience as a baby gave my mother years of GC narc supply. I was about 7 when things began to change. I was church mobbed/bullied by other narc/bully type memebers, even some teachers were given permission to humiliate me in class. It got worst as I got older since I ended up being good looking, intelligent, talented, and my character was the polar opposite of the monster she wanted other to see. I couldn’t be anything but a burden and garbage to her. I provided a pity-me-my-daughter-is-a-monster victim platform for my mother to get narc supply and flying monkey support from others, especially church people. I was the victim, not her but I decided quite young that if I couldn’t make her happy by trying to be good, then fulfil her wishes: I became wild and defiant. I left home early due to the abuse and landed on my own two feet, healthy, happy-ish, and wealthy. I sought out counseling early in high school and continued well into adulthood, but the scars are there still, the pain can be felt today and my unbelievably good husband was the first one to stand up to my mom and told her she couldn’t possibly take credit for any of my successes, right in front of our family. And crazy enough, my mom fauns my husband as if he’s her GC. Luckily with help, I used that pain and shame to discover my own resilience and acceptance of myself.
My sister and I had a funny frenemy relationship growing up. She was frosty to me unless I could provide her with something she needed, but regardless we were more like dorm room mates than sisters. Triangulation was my narc moms go-to between us. Fast forward, my sister and I are best friends. We began to get closer to each other when she finally got married and had a family. My actions contradicted every lie my mother told her about me, she observed this as I supported and help with my nieces and nephews. My sister experienced and witnessed the truth about me, and the lies about her. Narcs are hardwired to abuse anyone for them to feel superior, my mom went after my sister’s parenting with hyper criticism. It was that very moment I told off my mother and praised my sister after 10 mins of parenting criticism that my sister realized I would let nothing hurt her or hurt her kids, mentally and emotionally, from my narc mom.
I live in another country, and my mom moved in with my sister, and Narcs can’t help but reveal their inability to not treat other people’s kids as SG/GC. My sister and her husband witnessed the sneaky emotional abuse starting with the eldest child beginning punish/praise game. I made sure to end that legacy of mental abuse, sat down with my sister and pointed out the dangers of the punishment/treat game and other red flags, not with just the Narc grandma, but to watch her children’s emotional state and actions keeping in mind that grandma will play these abusive head games among the kids for her need of control and sick pleasure, and the only way to protect her children is to parent them only and make sure the kids communicate without fear of being punished if grandma tried to divide them with favouritism and scolding. I even predicted the Narc grandma would make the kids keep secrets from my sister and her husband, and that they know I will inquire and let my nieces and nephews know they can tell me if they are made afraid to tell them first.
I walked a dark and mostly unloved child/teen hood, but as an adult, I can protect my nieces and nephews ending the abuse with me. I’m grateful thwt there were people who believed and helped shape me into a better adult.
My narc mum died feb 2022
Mixed feelings as we had parted ways due to me being unable to ‘do anything’ for her during lockdown due to having to sheild because of my own numerous health conditions. I had ‘looked after’ her since I promised my stepdad I would ( I never make promises any more) he passed in 2015. I feel he never knew the real ‘Her’. Family secrets never told ( 2 of 3 of her children went into care which he never knew about in 25 years) which ultimately blew up during my care for her. And by care I mean neglecting all other relationships I had. I moved in for 6 month, followed by 6 months of her at my home. I included her in everything to do with my family, friends and events until my bff made me realise she was constantly pulling me down. I asked others and they confirmed this but said they had not wanted to say because she was my mum. Incidents were relived and I realised she was a narcissist so I was already backing off after 5 solid years of looking after her. Her ‘family’ name became gussepi. The puppet strings became the property of my older,healthier sister (GC)
The one who didn’t go into care, and was instrumental in that happening. The whole family tried to help during lockdown,,as gussepi should have been sheilding due to previous lung cancer (which I took her for all treatments for as GC ‘had to work’, I was on disability benefits so was he anyway, her words) and diabetes. She wasn’t sheilding and was seen out by my nice, who had been doing all shopping, collecting meds for us both all through lockdown, as well as working 12 hr shifts in asda to help. She has a hernia and two small children and was a hairdresser unable to do her job during the pandemic. She was too proud to ask for money and I told mother to pay her via PP. (She was an online bingo addict so knew how to transfer money) her granddaughter could I’ll afford to pay for her stuff and stepdad had left mum well off. We found out that she was taking shopping orders for neighbours (cos my grand daughter works at asda) she’ll get u it. So my nice was queueing at other shops after a 12 hrs shift and delivering stuff before going home to her kids. It took its toll and
When she was able to return to her own business she informed us that she would be going just once a wk, fine I said, let me know when and I’ll do a list. I’m on my own so was always less than £20. Mother’s reply was. ‘Oh forget it, I’ll get someone else to do it for me. Heartbroken granddaughter felt used and is still owed £70. Here’s the twist. So.. she died of covid! Guess she wasn’t sheilding then? Out with GC for meals every Sunday, and other stuff. Now we got the will and GC and I are joint executors 🤯 sick or what? Already pushing her own narcisisum and guilt trips onto everyone who hasn’t been there for the past 2 years, including said granddaughter. GC Cleared her house the day she died, has put mum’s car in her name and wants to twirl the will so a trust my stepdad left for his 2 kids ( Who mum fell out with after SD’s death) in his will isn’t included. Has taken all money including an extensive coin collection and will not give me copies of anything., which as joint executor she should have consulted me. I found out I was on ‘new will’ night before her funeral( which she arranged,without consulting me, and was a complete fake glory show) and yes I did go. For my own reasons. Mum and dad had their own wills registered to prevent this happening. I have been to their solicitors and have full legal advise and great family & friends support from people who know and love me. But now i have to deal with this toxic B. Everyone thinks mum’s great for leaving me in will, they don’t realise that there is equity owing, due to mum’s gambling and if there’s anything left we’ll be lucky. So the strings have passed to GC ,who apparently has grown up with no morals, guess bring in care taught me something different then!? So all saying is..she still a narcissist from the grave, don’t think it ends with that. As for her dying, relief was the 1st feeling. Second, how long before this GC B is out of my life again. Oh yeah, not about the money, if there is any left, cos that’ll go to people I know need it. Pause for thought guys
That should be Geppello ,not guissepe. Thanks predictive txt.
This is the best explanation I have ever heard of all this crap I’ve had to deal with. Thank you so much! Every. Single. Point… was everything I’ve experienced.
I miss having family, but I have to remind myself that the abuse just isn’t worth it.
They chose her and her lies. I’ll choose to just be alone. I can’t mentally handle it anymore. I am seeing a therapist. I hope I can help myself in a healthy way. Sometimes, I feel I may never recover.
I came across this website, as I was trying to find ways to deal with my 94 yr old narcissistic Father, as today was the final straw with his behaviour!
Reading so many off shoots on the webpage, TRULY opened my eyes, not just to my Father but to also my dead Mother; ANOTHER extreme narcissist!
It was bad enough being traumatised married to a narcissist for nearly 20 yrs BUT having one as (what I thought) was my Boss and friend! I seem to attract them like flies around a cow-pat!!!! 🙈🤯😵💫🤣
Then reading about the Golden child; my older Brother and me, YESSSS the ‘Scapegoat’, explained so much about my childhood: my anxiety and depression from early teenage-hood!
My amazing children, have stated I now need to do the ‘No-contact’ BUT I just know, my Dad will obsessively call, email, write, turn up at my house; call ALL my kids incessantly OR call an ambulance to my house for attention; yes, this man is bat shit crazy!
I had a kidney transplant Feb this year and he’s had no compassion for my need for recovery, recuperation OR for any ongoing health issues, whilst my body stabilises!
‘It’s all about him!!!!’ My stress levels are through the roof and this is now having a major impact on my recovery, thus my kids want me to stay away from him! BUT I know he won’t leave me alone…His extreme antics for attention are beyond and getting worse with age!!!
I could waffle on BUT you all ‘get-it’, so I’ll stop here ❤️
What an awesome article Alexander!
This explains so much!! I was the scapegoat and my older brother was/is the golden child. My mom is now 93 and has dementia and even still, she knows exactly who my brother is and barely remembers who I am most of the time!
Now I completely understand the difficulty between me and my mom as I was growing up, especially from my teen years on up! Reading all the of the responding comments has also helped me tremendously!! So glad to now have a “definition” of my dysfunctional family dynamic.
To follow up on my last comment…
Oh and by the way….I’m my mom’s caregiver and my golden child brother does absolutely nothing for her!
Reading this article was like reading an assessment of my childhood and adulthood. I am one of 5 children and my mom would often triangulate us against each other. It’s easier to manage as an adult, but my mom still has her nails in a few siblings that are unaware of her behavior so they revel in their turn as the “golden child.” Those of us that are aware of the pattern joke that it’s clearly not our turn to be favorite and we are more than happy with that. The scary thing is when everything is going fine, you never know if you’re the next one on her hit list so we just wait until it surfaces that it’s someone else.
I’ve actually made it a habit to check in on whatever sibling my mom is upset with because she has a way of isolating that individual.
I actually escaped from a domestically violent relationship many years ago and it was through therapy that I was able to identify that I had grown comfortable with the behavior of my ex because it was so similar to how I grew up. I am so grateful to be on this end and to be able to provide support for others in similar situations. Breaking a cycle is hard at first, but feels great when the new norm is living a balanced life with healthy coping mechanisms.
Thank you for sharing your article!
My mother said to me when I was middle aged, “I have always seen
in you everything I hate in myself.” At the time I was stunned. My
immediate thought was, “But you are the one who taught me how to
be a person! Of course, I would be like you.” But I just remained
silent. Then I wondered what it was she hated in herself. She never apologized to anyone, she was always in the right. I never heard
her say she was confused or frightened. If I said that I was, she would erupt in verbal and sometimes physical violence. I learned
to never express needs because they were dangerous. It breaks my
heart as a grandmother of 75 years old, that my mother was so
damaged, that she never knew what it felt like to simply love her
child. Resentment was what she verbalized and demonstrated
the most. Much of her family background is a mystery. It would be
easier to forgive her if I understood what had happened to her to
make her the emotionally damaged person I knew. I do forgive her, though. My decades of confusion and anger have turned to pity.
It makes me so sad to realize she was incapable of being the mother I longed for.