When you are young you tend to believe and accept daily life as normal, it is your reality and all you’ve ever known. As you get older you begin to notice and question poor behaviour and become aware of the negative effect it is having on you. Welcome to The Scapegoat & The Golden Child.
Adult children of a narcissist typically suffer from anxiety and depression, unacknowledged anger and feelings of inadequacy. They know something is wrong but can’t identify what it is or what’s causing it. This is because the narcissistic household is ripe with denial. The norm becomes, “Don’t tell anyone anything, just pretend everything is fine and what ever you do never tarnish the family image.” Just a word on this; the family unit is meant to glorify God, not itself.
The “scapegoat” is typically assigned blame for all the family woes. Whatever is amiss, whatever goes wrong or is wrong, it’s their fault. Sadly the narcissistic parent projects their own feelings of inadequacy and self loathing onto the child. They are out of touch with their own feelings and therefore not able to process them in honest healthy ways, they ooze out and stick like glue to the scapegoat. You might be tempted to think that this poor soul is getting a raw deal, dealt a bad hand, don’t kid yourself. While it’s easy to think that the life of the “golden child” is one to be envied, nothing could be farther from the truth. In the formidable years they seem to have it all but this false persona quickly fades as they enter adulthood. No member of a narcissistic family emerges unscathed.
The golden child functions as the apple of their eye, proudly displayed for all to see. Their successes are celebrated with much pomp and any failures are either ignored or assigned to the scapegoat through the twisted reality of the narcissist. The problem is that the child’s individuality suffers, their own thoughts and emotions are overlooked as the narcissist attempts to live out their dreams through another. They are just as needed and used as the scapegoat in feeding the narcissist’s false self and are valued for what they do, not for who they are. For example, a narcissistic parent who loves sports and didn’t achieve the desired level of excellence they had hoped for may now try to do so through their child, even if the child is not interested. Love is conditional on how they perform and even the golden child endures judgment and criticism when they fall short of expectations.
In healthy families siblings are taught to love and respect each other, to support and protect the others hopes and dreams through caring words and actions. This usually leads to (not guaranteed) a strong emotional connection with each other that lasts for a lifetime. Children in narcissistic families rarely share this connection as they are constantly compared to each other and unhealthy competition is encouraged. Tensions rise and mistrust is fostered through a lack of effective communication referred to as “triangulation.” One person passes information (thoughts or feelings) on to another in the hopes that the intended target will get the message. Family members don’t confront each other directly and when they do, anger usually follows and matters are worse.
The life of a spouse under narcissistic control revolves around the narcissist in order to keep the marriage together. They may very well have positive traits and life lessons to teach their children but are kept so busy meeting the needs of the narcissist they are unable to take the time. A narcissistic parent can be extremely possessive. They may want the golden child to permanently dwell under their influence and roof. Any indication that the child might be gaining their own independence can be met with strong opposition. The young adult may move to another city only to have frequent visits by the jealous parent in an effort to guilt or shame them into returning home. “How can you do this to me, don’t you care?”
Sadly, the child is not loved for who they are, the way they are but simply a means to an end. They become emotionally and spiritually stunted, unable to formulate their own opinions and feelings without having first checked with the controlling parent. They are often taught the same superiority complex and sense of entitlement that is so masterfully faked by the narcissist. They willingly forfeit the plan God has for their lives and pursue the superficial trappings of wealth and ego. I say “willingly” because they do have a choice. They can align themselves with the truth, decide who they want to be and take a stand or they can accept the false persona and risk becoming a narcissist themselves. Some narcissistic parents expect their children to look after them for the rest of their days and will manipulate circumstances to that end. Of course it’s commendable to do so but there is a natural order to things.
The first book of the Bible says, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24. If you choose to take a wife, two become one and a new life begins. If God blesses you with children, they are to be raised in the knowledge and love of Him and then released to follow their own path. Hopefully they will have learned to seek God’s will for their lives and walk in such a way that is both pleasing and productive. I remember the day I released my children to God in faith that He knows what’s best for them and trusted Him for that. We don’t stop loving them and are always there for them when they need us. We are so blessed to be able to see our kids and grandchildren often as they all live fairly close.
Coercing a child to remain under your control is suffocating and prevents them from experiencing LIFE as God intended. The failures and successes, the joy and sadness, the happy times and the tough times; these are the experiences where their own individual faith in God will grow and a trusting relationship with Christ is forged. Then, after getting a life of their own, they are better prepared to care for their aging parents. This is also what God intended from the beginning. The appearance of a potential spouse can be viewed as a threat by the narcissist and met with criticism and rejection. What are you prepared to do?
The knowledge that a narcissist may not be capable of understanding or even recognizing the pain they inflict on others has made it a little less personal for me. I have no professional training in psychology but I was very curious as to whether or not someone can be born a narcissist. I have found the concusses to be, no. It’s true that our DNA can contain information that makes us more susceptible to certain behaviours like alcohol and drug addiction but nobody is born a narcissist, they become one. Usually the behaviour begins as a defence mechanism against some form of early childhood trauma. If the person is a deep pool of secrets and never shares any information about their life or the pain they may have endured, then you will never know the root cause.
You won’t find the word “narcissist” in the Bible. Instead it labels this type of behaviour as “insolent pride.” In the time of Jesus the religious leaders, the Chief Priest, Scribes and Pharisees were referred to as “scoffers.” According to Proverbs 21:24, scoffers is one of the names for those filled with insolent pride. I wrote about the dangers of pride in my post “Enemies of Peace.”
A scoffer minimizes or does not want to even acknowledge their own flaws, while at the same time sets themselves up as a superior judge over others’ flaws. They project onto others the very things they themselves are doing. Romans 2:1.
Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive & negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.
By the same measure that we judge others, it will be measured unto us. Matthew 7:1-5. Jesus had already identified the Scribes & Pharisees as being under the influence of Satan when He said to them, “You are of your father the devil…” John 8:44.
It is a very difficult thing to view members of your own family as enemies and yet, it can happen. Matthew 10: 34-36 gives this sad example. It is important to note that we are told to love our enemies and pray for them in Matthew 5:44. Even if we are persecuted and abandoned we can still pray for our loved ones. Just remember that God does not expect you to stay in an abusive relationship. Toxic people can have an extremely negative effect on your physical, mental and spiritual well being. Your relationship to God must come first and if you have taken all the steps toward healing the relationship that He wants you to, then you may have to move on for your own sake. Sometimes the most loving act that we can do for a loved one is to give them over to God.
Although I am referring to the “scapegoat” and the “golden child” as different children in this post, it’s worth mentioning that they can also be the same child… just not at the same time. If the golden child begins to develop their own identity and cuts off the supply of narcissistic food to the controlling parent then they can quickly become the scapegoat. This is all part of the twisted reality of the narcissist.
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Image – Pixabay Collage – Mark Webb
gotquestions.org – How should a Christian view borderline personality disorder (BPD)?
Wikipedia – Psychological Projection.