Both the golden child and scapegoat grow up in dysfunctional narcissistic families. Someone can also be a mix of both, a golden child/scapegoat at different times, to various degrees.
The scapegoat is never good enough, suffer from a low sense of worth, constantly put down, even if the scapegoat perform better both in school and work, even better than the golden child. The scapegoat is unfairly relegated this role of the designated garbage bin for all the irresponsible behaviour of others, especially the narcissistic parent and also the golden child's lack of responsibility too. The golden child is lavished with praise and attention, put on a pedestal, can do no wrong. Their flaws ignored, their achievements exaggerated. Both are false identities and both are damaging in their own ways. Overturning any of these roles will result in the shattering of the illusory narcissistic self, an ego so fragile that only falsehoods exist, any truth is dismissed.
According to Child psychologist Gaynor Sbuttoni, even the favoured child suffers in the long run: "As soon as children become aware of the favouritism, sibling rivalry is intensified to an almost intolerable level. On top of that, the preferred child's own sense of worth is undermined by praise which is not individual, but tailored to be an odious comparison."
The scapegoat is often the emotional support of the family, the mediator and peace maker, the person with most empathy and compassion. The golden child doesn't suffer from the additional abuse often heaped onto the scapegoat but also suffer from the abuse. It's hard for the golden child to understand the scapegoat unless there's open communication without the involvement of parents. The golden child might even want to hold onto the unique position by putting the scapegoat down as being self-indulgent and having a victim mentality. Often, both are gaslighted so the confusion is multiplied between them as well. When they sort through their own abuse, recognise these roles cast on them, healing can begin and the connection can be rebuilt.
The narcissist will paint a negative picture of the scapegoat through lies and unfounded accusations. "How ungrateful, she never helps me, she's so lazy". The scapegoat's achievements are often dismissed and offered no credit of their contributions at home or otherwise. By acknowledging the true self of the scapegoat, the illusion of the perfect family will the shattered. When the scapegoat becomes mentally ill or exhausted, it becomes even worse, now there's one more excuse to pile on the guilt, shame and blame. "See how crazy and incapable she is". Being mentally ill and exhausted IS the effect of abuse. This is indeed abuse. Emotional, mental and sometimes escalating into physical abuse.
Narcissistic parents often pit the golden child, and the scapegoat against each other either overtly, or covertly through displays of extreme favouritism. By dangling a carrot in front of the scapegoat, the underlying message is "if you want to be loved like the golden child, you do what I tell you, when I tell you." Also by dangling a different carrot in front of the golden child, "to keep my love, you keep up the facade of perfection, never show your vulnerability. This is also done using the stick, with similar underlying messages. The narcissistic parent may even manipulate their children to inflict abuse upon the scapegoat by proxy. This is another way the narcissistic parent escapes accountability for his/her actions. At the end of the day, no real security is available for either roles, both feel unsafe, constantly caught up in stressful fight or flight mode. The vulnerabilities of both the golden child and scapegoat are promptly ignored, their need for guidance remains unfulfilled.
The false identity of the golden child is shattered when others outside the home do not see them as such, they get a rude reality check. The only way to fall from a pedestal is down, this often means grappling with their identity at home, their realistic and very human limitations with others.
The golden child and other enablers often want the scapegoat to remain a scapegoat so they can live in self-denial. When the scapegoat decides to draw boundaries, these parents no longer have an emotional garbage dump, now the projected toxicity will fall onto the golden child, causing a see saw mixture of golden child one minute and scapegoat next. The scapegoat might even be offered the golden child position as a last ditch attempt to salvage the relationship. This usually is part of love bombing and doesn't last.
Essentially narcissists see their children as functions, not for their unique authentic selves. The golden child as their perfect illusory false front to the world, they are elevated by association in the eyes of others. The message they are sending is "I won't be accepted for who I am, I must be perfect to be loved." Scapegoat as the vulnerabilities they feel they cannot face, by feeling superior by association, what they're expressing is learned helplessness. The message is "I am helpless, I cannot heal my pain". Both dynamics fills up the emptiness inside narcissistic parents, often triggering their own wounded inner child in different ways.
The abuse of the scapegoat is much worse than the golden child, being put on a pedestal involves a certain amount of care and affection, even if the love doesn't stem from a place of healthy connection. In the event of a child starving for affection, false temporary love is better than no love at all. If the golden child and scapegoat have both come to a realisation, he/she will no longer buy into the dynamics of triangulation.
Triangulation in the context of narcissistic abuse is the act of bringing another person or a group of people into the dynamic of a relationship or interaction to belittle the victim and make the victim vie for the attention of the narcissist.
Instead, the scapegoat will acknowledge how damaging the abuse has been and start drawing healthy necessary boundaries. The golden child will develop more empathy towards the scapegoat, start believing that the scapegoat has valid reasons to be struggling, they have both been hoodwinked in their own ways. In return, the scapegoat also extends empathy towards the golden child. When they both start seeing the light, standing in the light, rightful ownership is returned to the parents, who then can start healing their own wounds.
Bethany Webster, a transformational coach, specialising in helping women heal the mother wound writes about relationships with mothers,
For many women, one of THE hardest things is allowing your mother to have her own painful lessons and her own healing process. This is about releasing the need to display a false self to please your mother and instead being your authentic self in her presence, even if she expresses disapproval. It involves allowing your mother to express displeasure about your truth without allowing it to dis-orient you and without getting pulled into a battle with her.
Children of narcissistic parents often carry a huge amount of guilt, blame and shame. When they wake up and recognise the parent for who she really are, it's jarring that the person she pretends to be doesn't exist. What ??? Then who are they? The answer is they're no one, as in they do not have a concrete identity, they morph into the person they're around, wearing different masks. This is why they treat others like nonentities, they feel like nonentities themselves.
Returning ownership is healthy for all parties involved, only when we have the courage to own our stories, our roles in it, true healing can happen.
Love, light and peace,
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