October 5, 2022

Golden Child Syndrome: How To Know if you Want to Heal from Narcissistic Parenting

Golden child syndrome

Golden child syndrome is one aspect of the narcissistic family dynamic. The golden child often receives more resources that the family has to offer than the rest of the family. They are the projection of the narcissist parents grandiose personality and are likely to develop narcissistic qualities themselves, if not full blown (NPD) Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Being the golden child of the family means you group up with more than the rest of your family, and this can cause a number of traumatic experiences for you and your siblings as well as personality traits that might hinder or imbalance you as an adult.

Let’s get deeper into it. Remember: if you want to seek help for living as any of these narcissistic family roles OR want help in general, you can at online-therapy.com OR MyWellBeing.

What is golden child syndrome?

Golden child syndrome is one or many of the psychological effects that can occur when children are raised by narcissistic parents. They take on the same or the opposite characteristics of their parents’ narcissism/narcissistic personality disorder in order to cope with life because of their inadequate/toxic upbringing.

Is golden child syndrome real?

Yes. Golden child syndrome is as real as the narcissistic parenting that creates it. Narcissistic personality disorder is one of the 10 primary disorders, and an estimated 5% of people have it. Golden child syndrome is the projection of the inflated sense of self worth and buried insecurity within a narcissist’s psyche.

What does it mean to be the golden child?

The real meaning of golden child syndrome is that your caregivers gave you undue praise at birth, and on into your younger years as a child. The parents of the golden child place unreasonable, outlandish expectations and self beliefs within the child causing them to live a life where they expect too much from themselves but don’t necessarily have the capacity to deliver.

You are the child that was destined to be a genius, movie star, politician, or had some type of special destiny even though you hadn’t uet accomplished anything, and could barely dress yourself. In other words, your parents put the blue ribbon, or gold medal on you before you even know who you are or what you’d like to achieve in life.

What is golden child syndrome

Wikipedia’s Definition of Golden child syndrome (summarized)

The golden child of a narcissistic parent becomes the vessel through which that parent lives out their fantasies and insecurities. This causes the child to seek out their parents’ validation almost exclusively, struggle to develop during childhood, develop their own identity, and separate themselves from the validation and absolute control of the parent they are used to seeing as normal.

This Golden child can develop a number of psychological dysfunctions including:

  1. Identity crisis
  2. Developmental arrest
  3. Need for extrinsic motivation and validation
  4. Narcissistic personality disorder
  5. Lack of self confidence and the ability to make logical decisions on their own

What causes golden child syndrome?

Narcissistic parents are possessive about their children because they project their psyche and intellectual space onto them. Because the child unconsciously represents their very self, they are threatened by that child’s independence.

This creates a toxic relationship between the parent and the child which “adversely affects the psychological development of the child in terms of their reasoning, emotional, ethical abilities as well as their societal behaviors and attitudes.

According to Wikipedia, the most common issues with narcissistic parenting are:

  • Lack of appropriate nurturing
  • A child that feels empty, fraudulent and insecure
  • Children develop irrational fears and mistrust
  • Identity conflicts
  • Lack the capacity to exist independent of the parent’s imposed identity

In order to experience the love they desire children learn to meet the parents “needs” in various ways even though their own personal needs are being ignored, denied and repressed in an attempt to gain the parents “love”. This prevents the child from developing as a sovereign individual during several key moments of their lives.

“The Golden Child becomes an extension of the narcissist, who lives vicariously through them.” 

What causes golden child syndrome?

Which is a hugely important point. In fact, you could say it’s the very cause of the golden child existing in the first place. Because the parent lives through their children, any independence on the child’s part is deleted. Narcissistic parents can be very controlling and possessive leaving the child feeling disempowered.

Feeling disempowered as a child leads to them not experiencing life as a child should. When you think of what children are like, you think of a curious, fun loving being with a sense for adventure and imagination. The golden child, however, having been stifled by their toxic parents, seeks out external validation, and external factors become their main source of motivation in life.

The parent’s identification and forced projection of themselves on the child causes a number of things, primarily the child’s largely empty, non-existent self. There is a self there, but without having developed its own identity growing up, the self is merely a shell, and the adult golden child struggles with identity issues. They are not themselves. They are the insecurities and aspirations of their parents. 

The misidentification with their parents can cause the golden child to never have an identity of their own, effectively living out someone else’s life.

Golden Child Syndrome Characteristics & Symptoms

  1. Low self esteem
  2. Feeling insecure and inadequate in general
  3. Struggle to form deep relationships
  4. Feel a sense of emptiness
  5. Insecure in relationships
  6. Irrational fear of being exposed as being completely fraudulent
  7. Distrust others
  8. Identity issues and conflict
  9. Want their own independent existence separate from their parents
  10. Highly sensitive as kids, and full of guilt
  11. Meet their parents needs for acceptance
  12. Not in touch with their feelings
  13. Guilt and shame
  14. Strained relationship with siblings
  15. Disempowered
  16. Struggle with boundaries and sense of self
  17.  Lack of imagination and curiosity
  18. Lack self confidence and control over life
  19. Loneliness
  20. Cannot express themselves
Characteristics of golden child syndrome

Low Self Esteem: The golden child can often be a narcissist with fabricated high sense of self worth and hidden insecurities.

Insecure about their inadequacies: They were often praised for having done nothing, feeling like they should be great, but not sensing any greatness within them

Struggle with relationships: Not having a nurturing relationship with their parents, they struggle to form deep lasting relationships as adults and often experience insecurity.

A sense of emptiness caused by having no real identity of themselves. They are not a sovereign human in the full sense of the term.

Imagined fears: They experience the fear of being exposed as a fraud.

They have trouble trusting others.

Identity crises: They struggle going back and forth between understanding who they are and have serious identity issues, never having developed one of their own.

Attachment issues: They suffer from a desire to separate themselves from their parents existence but can’t

They may experience tremendous guilt as children and be highly sensitive.

Focus on the parents needs: They focus on the desires of their caregivers in order to receive acceptance and validation.

A Lack of emotional awareness due to a damaged psyche along with ignored and repressed feelings having constantly put themselves aside to cater to the will of their parents.

Arrested Development: A strong sense of guilt and shame make them incapable of developing as they need to

Sibling Rivalry: They may have a strained relationship with their “scapegoat” sibling and if the scapegoat child breaks free from the toxicity of their parents the golden child may feel jealousy or resentment toward them.

Disempowerment: They’re overly possessive and controlling parents see the child as merely a projection of themselves. The child has no sovereignty and my struggle with boundaries and sense of self.

Lack of imagination and curiosity: The golden child is a repressed being and they can struggle making logical decisions on their own, causing them to lack self confidence or have any control over their life in adulthood.

They’re condition can cause identity crises and struggle with self expression.

It’s possible for the golden child, or any child raised by narcissistic parents to never possess an identity of their own. Studies also show that they, more than others, suffer from:

  1. Depression
  2. Lower self esteem
  3. Low emotional well being

It’s also likely that the child will have very few memories of good times, or being appreciated by their family during childhood. Many report this as a kind of “blackout” where the only good memories they possess are when they conform to the wishes of the narcissistic parent and receive the corresponding praise for doing so.

Psychological perspective on Golden child syndrome

psychology perspective on golden child syndrome

Is the Golden Child a narcissist?

The golden child, or someone who fits what is called Golden Child Syndrome is not necessarily a narcissist, even though they were raised with a narcissist parent. They do, however, have all the prerequisite conditions present in their childhood to test high for narcissism and even be diagnosed with NPD (Narcissistic personality disorder).

Is Golden Child Syndrome a mental illness

Golden child syndrome itself is not a mental illness, because it only describes a person who was the golden child in their family. However, since the golden child is prone to personality disorders and a number of psychological problems like anxiety, depression, low self esteem etc…it can certainly be  the cause of several forms of mental illness.

Is the Golden Child the victim?

The golden child, and all members of the family with a relationship with the narcissistic family are victims, although for healing as an adult, it is important for the golden child to not get locked in a victim mentality. A narcissistic parent is a problem for all members of the family including: the scapegoat, invisible child and other parent.

What happens to the golden child of a narcissistic mother?

The golden child of the narcissistic mother will suffer through the experiences that all golden children go through. The mothers unique personality and psyche will be projected onto the child. All the good things that happen to the family are the golden child’s blessing and the mother will then soak up that glory. 

Whenever something bad happens to the family or in general, the scapegoat child will bear that burden. Another dynamic that can happen between scapegoat and mother is that when the scapegoat child succeeds or does good, the mother can secretly punish the scapegoat, training the child that whenever they accomplish something bad things tend to happen. This trains to scapegoat children to sabotage themselves all throughout their lives.

The golden child will have a different relationship with the narcissistic mother depending on their temperament. They will either develop some narcissistic qualities themselves, or go the route of shame and guilt for being treated so differently than the rest of the family.

Narcissistic Parenting (Family Roles)

Narcissistic Family roles and golden child syndrome

Scapegoat child 

What is the opposite of golden child syndrome? The scapegoat child is the whipping boy of the family. The dynamic of attention and love is so imbalanced that the golden child receives all of it, where the scapegoat receives none of it. Not only none of it, but punishment instead. The scapegoat child may be blamed for, expected to do and coerced into taking on the responsibility for all negativity the family experiences in some manner.

Invisible Child Syndrome / Middle Child Syndrome

The invisible child of narcissist parents often finds themselves situated in the middle space, safer and protected from the mood swings and imbalanced attention of the narcissist parent. Invisible children are not especially noteworthy because there isn’t any space for them to be within the context of the narcissistic family dynamic. 

They’re often praised for not needing anything at all from the family if they receive any praise what-so-ever.

Being the invisible child of a narcissistic family dynamic is different in that they are the child in the middle of the toxic parents attention. The golden child receives good attention, the scapegoat receives negative attention, and the invisible child is often left alone. 

Middle child syndrome is the idea that the middle child is gray, dull, or lackluster. This belief comes from the idea that the last child is the baby of the family and the oldest child is the one who bears most of the responsibility, leaving the middle child with no position at all.

How do you know whether or not you have Golden Child Syndrome?

Ho do you know if you are the golden child with golden child syndrome?

Golden child syndrome in adulthood

The golden child is a resource for the narcissistic parent and because of the family dynamic between narcissist parent, golden child, invisible child, scapegoat child and other parent, the golden child will grow into a life that represents a few possible scenarios.

Golden Children in adulthood experience the following predicaments:

  1. They turn into “World class entitled jerks” or narcissists themselves
  2. They suffer tremendous guilt watching what their siblings and other parent have to go through
  3. May try to distance themselves from their parents
  4. Fail and are stuck with the narcissist caregiver
  5. Completely transmute their upbringing and make their resources available to their family

According to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, “The golden child is a fantastic source of narcissistic supply for the parent”, either because the child is seen as a reflection for the parent, or they relish the attention the child gets from the world.

The favoritism the golden child experiences growing up can be significant and as a result they can easily grow up to be “world class jerks”. She says “they may get to go to private school, receive brand new clothes and their own room whereas the other children won’t”.

The golden child may also grow up to feel guilty. This happens when they are particularly empathic and feel some inner turmoil being able to see the preferential treatment they receive and how their siblings and other parents suffer because of it. “Being the chosen one is uncomfortable for them, leading them to feel estranged and isolated from the rest of their family”.

Later i life, they may try to distance themselves from their narcissistic parent, which normally ends in one of two ways: they’ll succeed and place the burden of taking care of the parent on their scapegoat sibling, or they fall prey to the trappings of the relationship with that parent, which can be all the resources they are continually showered with like wealth, etc…

In the case where they distance themselves, Ramani says the scapegoat child will live out their life never hearing the end of the glorious golden child sibling, even though that sibling abandoned the parent, placing pressure back on the scapegoat child once again.

Bottom line: if golden children are to live a balanced life they must consider the following:

  • They grew up with more resources than everyone else in the family
  • They had better access to the “love” of the narcissistic parent
  • Their task is to have a well informed sense of self >
  • > keep that sense of self realistic >
  • > not be too grandiose >
  • > and not buckle under the guilt if siblings were involved in the toxic parenting.

Ramani says that in rare cases the golden child achieves “the gold standard of golden children”. In other words, they live the greatest life a golden child could, considering their upbringing. 

“Sometimes, not often, but sometimes gold children may receive the last laugh. They achieve what I call “the gold standard of golden children ”. The golden child is raised like a thoroughbred, with every resource poured into them, and then may actually succeed, and then may understand the toxicity of their narcissistic parent, and then may use their success to also be there for their siblings and foster them.”

Her final notes in the Golden child as an adult were It becomes crucial that the child not enable their toxic parent or gaslight their sibling or other parent who all have different lives from the golden child. It doesn’t matter what your role is, having a narcissistic parent takes a toll on a person.”

Golden child syndrome quizzes and tests

Self diagnoses are never a substitute for professional help, but here are some quizzes to help you assess whether or not golden child syndrome is a part of your life or not.

Golden Child Syndrome and Narcissism quizzes:

  1. PsychCentral
  2. Psycom
  3. Open Psychometrics
  4. Mind Diagnostics
  5. Idrlabs

Ask yourself these questions to find out whether you want to pursue seeking help with Golden child syndrome, anything else mentioned in this post, or narcissism.

  1. Do you have an undue amount of respect for authority figures?
  2. Do you have a fear of failing, that you think is tied to being exposed as a fraud?
  3. Is it difficult for you to appreciate the achievements of other people?
  4. Are you a perfectionist?
  5. Do you think you can handle activities or situations that are often seen as difficult or specialized without requiring the expertise to do so?
  6. Do you believe there is something inherently special about you that is not possessed by others?
  7. Do people often tell you that you have a sense of entitlement? Do you expect to receive recognition and reward simply for being you?
  8. Do you have a history of troubling romantic relationships?

How to heal from Golden Child Syndrome & Narcissistic Parenting

How to heal from golden child syndrome

1. Self Awareness & Acceptance

Getting past denial, and being courageous enough to accept these facets of your psyche need to be in place before any healing can be achieved. It’s the first step to anything, because no healing can be done if the thing itself does not exist. Sit with yourself and some trusted resources that explain what it means to grow up a golden child, and examine your life through the eyes of an expert.

2. Establish appropriate boundaries

In order for you to establish and maintain a sense of self that desires healing, you could benefit from some distance from the toxic parent, siblings or anyone involved in your golden child upbringing. That distance can help you understand things through your own eyes, and the eyes of your professional help, rather than reverting back into your childhood programming.

Narcissistic parents are highly manipulative and can affect the advice you get from professionals, and the feelings you receive internally examining your internal experience of life. It’s important to have the guidance be unaffected by the condition itself.

3. Understand and manage guilt

If in your case you took on the opposite characteristics of your narcissistic parent, you might feel tremendous shame or guilt for the suffering of your other family members and the augmented attention and resources you receive even now.

If this is the case you’ll want to manage those feelings so that you:

  1.  Feel worthy of healing and transformation
  2. Can clearly move ahead with changing things for yourself and family

4. Mindfulness to work through shame

In order to effectively manage any shame you might feel as an adult you’ll need to be mindful of what triggers the shame, when its likely to surface, and snap yourself into a moment of clarity as early as possible without letting it take up too much of your attention.

Ways to increase your levels of mindfulness are:

  1. Keeping records whenever you notice it
  2. Observing what it does to you internally
  3. Describing that in detail and fleshing it out as you see fit

5. Find systems that support your healing

Your choice of in person professional help or online help is just that – your choice. A simple google search could match you up with someone who could help you break the ice to your issues in an introductory way, but if you want more specialized help you’ll need to do a more specialized search.

You could look for people who are world renowned online, or you could go to https://mentalhealthmatch.com/ and see how they match you up with a therapist.

There are also applications that you can use to help you get through what you’re going through. The best one that comes to mind is online-therapy.com 

Just remember, with psychological issues, the best help often comes from a specialist, so its important to find someone with tremendous experience in narcissistic relationships to guide you through this.

6. Repair relationships with Family

If you think you were/are the golden child in your family, there was undoubtedly strain in the relationships you have with your other parents and siblings.

The non-toxic parent of the golden child can feel a range of emotions toward the narcissistic parent, and your siblings might have repressed emotions in the case of the invisible child and scapegoat, or stronger feelings about you disguised as anger.

You’ll want to come up with an effective plan for approaching your family and healing your relationships with them.

7. Decision time: How much contact with a Narcissist Caregiver?

Remember the part about them being a narcissist? Once you decide to “betray” them they’ll give you the same treatment they’ve been giving to everyone else their entire lives because now, you’ve decided to no longer go along with their narrative.

When interacting with them, remember:

  1. Choose your words carefully
  2. Tip toe around the narcissist ego to avoid problems
  3. Do not give in to endless question from them
  4. Don’t be too excitable. 
  5. Don’t be a victim and,
  6. Do not side step all the accusations they throw your way

8. New strategy for life

Now that you’re aware that you’re the golden child you can come up with a new strategy for living the life you want rather than a life projected on you by your family.

You want a combination of grasping a firm sense of self that is uniquely yours, not becoming overwhelmed by a grandiose vision of yourself, repairing relationships with members of your family who suffered living with your narcissistic parent, coming up with a way to forgive yourself for everything, not indulging your toxic parent and keeping your siblings and other parent safe.

9. Seek out professional therapy

This part is in your hands. I’m not a professional in this field so seeking out professional therapy is on you. I do know that there are several options online for getting help with these issues, and therapy in general. You can check out online-therapy.com for that OR MyWellBeing.

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Brian Wright

I read a lot of books. I learn from a lot of experts. I learn stuff and package it all up for you.

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