Almost every child feels like one of their siblings is their parents’ ‘golden child.’ This refers to the favored child who it feels like can do no wrong. It’s easy to imagine that such a child might become very narcissistic or even develop pathological narcissism. But is that true? Does the ‘golden child’ turn into a narcissist?
The answer is sometimes. Narcissistic parents will often choose a ‘golden child’ and a ‘scapegoat,’ and though they shower the golden child with positive attention, that child usually suffers more trauma than the scapegoat. That trauma can cause them to become a narcissist, but that is not a given.
Read on to learn more about how and why narcissists choose a golden child and a scapegoat child, and how that choice affects each child. It’s also important to understand if healthy parents who choose a golden child can inadvertently create a narcissist.
Can a Golden Child Develop Narcissism?
Many people remember that one child in their family was the favorite, and that child couldn’t do anything wrong. This frequently creates an environment of competition between siblings and can result in lifelong resentment and tension.
While it seems as though the parents adore the golden child, in fact, they can do more damage to that child than the scapegoat in the family. If the parents are narcissistic, they will typically hold the golden child responsible for the family’s success.
While their narcissistic parent or parents may adore them and shower them with praise, that praise creates an enormous burden on the child. The narcissistic parents are overly controlling of this child and expect them to do everything they tell them to do without question.
Any mistakes the child makes provoke a harsh reaction. The child learns that they must be good at everything they do and that they are not allowed to make mistakes. What’s more, they feel obligated to live up to their parents’ often unreasonable expectations.
They are also expected to do with their life what their parents want. They become the example that their siblings must follow, and that doesn’t just put pressure on the other children in the family. It also creates more pressure on the golden child to perform.
In this environment, the golden child can’t feel safe voicing their own opinion, and they certainly can’t go against their parents’ wishes. In fact, their only purpose in life is to satisfy their parents’ needs and bring success and fame to their family from outsiders.
The golden child is not, in effect, allowed to develop their own sense of self, and they are certainly never supported in the development of their own identity. That’s the foundation for becoming a narcissist.
What are the Symptoms of Golden Child Syndrome?
One of the typical symptoms of golden child syndrome is an overwhelming need to please not only their parents but other authority figures as well. When they were growing up, their role in the family was to satisfy all of their parents’ needs, no matter how ridiculous the request might be. To them, this feels like the only way to ensure their parents will love them.
They are also typically forced to grow up faster than other children, even those in the family. They might, for example, be required to get a job earlier than any of their siblings. They might also be given parental responsibilities, something called parentification.
This can turn them into high achievers because they must be extremely studious and responsible. They frequently get the best grades and can achieve many other goals as well. The problem is that all of this is done to get their parents’ approval.
This need to achieve and please generates an intense fear of failure. They become perfectionists who cannot settle for anything less. This typically results from the disappointment they experience from their parents when they fail. They generally will become very frustrated with themselves and self-deprecating if they do fail to please their parents.
How Does Golden Child Syndrome Create a Narcissist?
As you can imagine, this is a stressful way to live, and it’s easy to see how a golden child is never allowed to have their own identity. This is what sidetracks the development of a healthy sense of self. In fact, the golden child may feel an extreme sense of shame and self-loathing, and this is how narcissism is formed.
Because they come to see their true self as flawed – given that they cannot live up to their parents’ unrealistic expectations – they develop a false image and infuse it with superhero kinds of qualities. They envision that they are omnipotent and omniscient. This can happen even if the parents themselves are not pathologically narcissistic, but generally, it involves a strong sense of pressure on the child to succeed.
Once the child has created that false sense of self, they start to not just crave but need approval from their parents. That need for approval soon transfers to other people in their life.
Because the golden child becomes so adept at fulfilling their parents’ wishes, they often get a steady narcissistic supply from them. That props up their self-esteem, but they soon come to need other sources of adoration.
They have often been manipulated by their parents to feel the need to please them, and thus, they learn the various styles of manipulation. As they practice these techniques to get their need for narcissistic supply met, they soon become masters of getting people to give that adulation to them. It’s in this way that a narcissist is created.
How are the Scapegoat Children Affected by Golden Child Syndrome?
While golden child syndrome may hurt the favored child more, that doesn’t mean the other siblings escape the trauma. They are often compared to the golden child, and no matter how hard they try, they usually cannot live up to that high standard set by their parents.
The constant comparison and their inability to please their parents leave them feeling inadequate and even worthless. They can develop inferiority complexes or, even worse, they may become codependent people-pleasers who ignore their own needs in hopes of finally being valued.
It’s not uncommon for these children to feel unloved. That in combination with an almost constant criticism can cause them to develop numerous psychological problems. They often suffer from problems with substance abuse, and they may run away from home at an early age.
They can also have problems with their adult relationships. They frequently are highly sensitive to any criticism, and they have difficulty with trust given that they were never psychologically supported by their parents.
While their siblings often think that the golden child has it made, their typically narcissistic parents are actually doing more damage to their favored child. Golden children often become narcissists themselves. The scapegoat children also develop problems as a result of this unhealthy family dynamic. In short, golden child syndrome can cause problems for everyone in the family.
It’s valuable to realize that not every type of abuse is obvious. This article about whether or not spoiling a child can cause narcissism has more important information for anyone raising a child. You need to know how different types of parental behavior can affect a child’s normal development.
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