This may be the most hated article I will ever write for Narcissism Meets Normalcy. My challenge, if I choose to accept it, is to make you feel empathy for the narcissist’s Golden Child. That’s a tall order as, after reading your comments, I’ve learned that Scapegoated ACONs despise their Golden Child ACON siblings.
Well, I’ve been toying with this topic for weeks and by George! I’m going for it! I think we need to take a second glance at Golden Children and see if, maybe just maybe, being the Golden Child is a special kind of nightmare and they actually deserve our empathy.
Sometimes, understanding a particular dynamic is easier if we reframe it in a different scenario. That’s exactly how we’re going to start examining the Golden Child situation. Let’s imagine that the narcissist’s family isn’t a family, but a cult. I’ve long believed that cults and narcissistic families are essentially the same thing because they operate on exactly the same interpersonal dynamics.
So let’s imagine that the Golden Child is the MVP of the cult. The cult leader praises them and holds them up as objects of admiration, giving them special perks. Is this person to be envied? Absolutely not! The Golden Child of a cult is the cult member most to be pitied. They are utterly brainwashed. They are completely, permanently trapped. They may even be subject to horrific “perks” (aka abuse, especially sexual) from the cult leader. No, no, no! The luckiest member of a cult is the Scapegoat — the person who doesn’t quite believe the cult’s lies and will either get so fed up with the abuse that they escape or are kicked out. In a terrible scenario, they’re still luckier than the Golden Child/MVP because they have hope for escape and freedom.
So it is with Golden Children in a narcissistic family. They may be the favorite child but what price glory!?!
Oh, I know how Scapegoats are treated by their Golden Child sibling! After all, I married a quintessential Scapegoat. Golden Children often “get away with murder,” projecting their own wrongdoing on the Scapegoat who is then punished what the Golden Child did. The GC may vent their rage about the abuse they are enduring at the hands of their narcissistic parent(s) on the Scapegoat, abusing the Scapegoat in exactly the same ways until finally some GC become narcissists themselves! Meanwhile, the GCs parents make sure they have great clothes, cars (plural!), whatever they need during their entire lives, the funds are there. Money is no object, no object whatsoever. The GC never has to become fully independent, although often these monies are really bribes in exchange for their silence about the abuse they endured. A sort-of unspoken, silent blackmail/bribe relationship exists. Meanwhile, the Scapegoat is begrudged food, clothes, medical care and blamed for, well, everything!
As an only child, I see both sides of the coin. Wear both hats. When everything was going well, I was the Golden Child. When things went wrong, I felt scapegoated. After all, Blame: It Must be Assigned.
Strangely enough, I don’t resent being scapegoated as much as I resent being the Golden Child. I know that sounds weird because being scapegoated is cruel and unfair, but it’s also fairly straight-forward, easy to identify, untangle and understand.
As we said in the cult scenario before, I believe scapegoats have it better than Golden Children. They’re usually kicked out or driven out of their homes and families at very early ages. They may be 16, 17, 18 when they leave to build their own lives, outside of their family’s toxic narcissistic web. This limits the number of years their family uses and abuses them, although the abuse during those years is usually severe and they may repeat it in their adult lives.
Is it hard for Scapegoats to get a start in their new “orphan” lives? Absolutely! Without the support of their family as they establish themselves as adults, they struggle to earn money, get post-secondary education, afford a car, get a good start in gainful employment. But by leaving early and building their lives single-handedly, they have tremendous independence, life-skills and valid pride and confidence in themselves.
Now, let’s consider the Golden Children. Without the overt abuse and neglect experienced by the Scapegoat, they don’t have that impetus to leave their family. Does this mean they aren’t experiencing narcissistic abuse? No!!! Their parents are still narcissists, still abusive. But it’s a different kind of abuse, much more veiled and subtle. It may even seem “nice.” For Golden Children, narcissistic abuse is nearly invisible, confusing, warped, false-guilt-inducing and, because of all their narcissist’s so-called kindness and generosity, impossible to escape.
Golden Children are welcome to stay in the bosom of their family. Their educations, extracurricular activities, post-secondary educations, weddings, cars, houses, boats and business endeavors may all be financed by their proud, proud parents. Their lives appear to be easy … the skids greased for them.
Just like narcissists, there are different flavors of Golden Children. Good Golden Children are grateful for the help they’re given, learn all they can and make a successful “go” of their lives with the excellent launch they’ve been given. They grow up to be responsible and hard-working. Too hard-working, often fulfilling their parents dreams, living an inauthentic life they hate so their narcissistic parents’ dreams can be vicariously realized.
Bad Golden Children just take advantage, constantly and chronically. I’ve heard your horror stories. When a Golden Child goes bad, they really go bad! Irresponsible moochers who won’t get a job, can’t keep a job, alcoholics, drug-addicts, spouse-beaters, thieves, criminals. And their narcissistic parents enable everything. These are GCs who never get on their own feet as responsible adults, are never fiscally solvent and successful, seemingly content to live off their enabling, doting and thus sabotaging parents. Irresponsible GCs who promise to pay back loans but never do. Arrogant GCs who, failures as they are, then become narcissists themselves to cover-up their pain at failing to make it as adults on their own. Feigning confidence. Arrogant. How is being enabled to be a failure, a moocher, a blackmailer and perhaps even a criminal a “perk”? Who would want to be a Golden Child if that’s the outcome!?! What price glory?
But even for Good, Responsible Golden Child, there’s still a very dark side to being that Golden Child. It’s summed up perfectly by the lyrics of an old country song:
‘Cause I ain’t never was that kind
Silver threads and golden needles
Cannot mend this heart of mine