Abuse & Neglect Abuse Effects Healing

Golden Child and Scapegoat: Signs, Effects, & How to Heal

Golden Child and Black Sheep (Scapegoat) | Hopeful Panda

I grew up with a narcissistic mother who would blame everything on me. Meanwhile, she would shower my younger sibling with praises and affection. I used to believe that maybe everything was my fault; maybe I’m the problem. That was until I learned about what the golden child and scapegoat were.

Once I started learning about narcissistic parents and abuse, I realized that I was the scapegoat of the family and that my sibling was the golden child. It was a hard pill to swallow but all the pieces fell into place.

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The Golden Child vs. Scapegoat

If you’re familiar with the narcissistic family system, you are probably aware that there is typically a golden child and a scapegoat of the family, both of which are projections of the narcissistic parent.

*Please note that the golden child and scapegoat dynamic does not necessarily apply to every narcissistic family.

If a narcissist has multiple children, one (or more) may be considered the golden child – the parent’s favorite child who can do no wrong.

They are the ones the narcissistic parent identifies with that they shower with privileges, attention, and praise. They receive projections from the parent as being superior and better than others, including the other children within the family.

Meanwhile, the other child(ren) is the family’s scapegoat or black sheep – the one who is always at fault.

They are blamed for all the issues and dysfunction in the family. The narcissistic parent projects their own self-hatred, frustrations, anger, and disappointment on them.

The nature and intensity of the abuse on either child vary from family to family. It depends on the narcissistic parent and how severe their abuse and narcissism are.

However, below is an example of the different treatments the scapegoat and golden child may get from their narcissistic parent for the same behavior.

Golden Child vs Scapegoat | Hopeful Panda

Why is There a Golden Child and Scapegoat?

Narcissists enjoy splitting people apart into groups. This is to isolate and weakens certain individuals, giving the narcissist a sense of power and control. Therefore, narcissistic parents love to play favorites and pit their children against one another.

Picking a golden child and scapegoat of the family allows the narcissist to divide and conquer. They will widen this division with lies and very obvious unfair and favoriting behavior.

By assigning these roles to their children, the narcissist successfully has a child that will jump to their defense and indirectly or directly perpetuate their abuse on one hand. And on the other, they have a child that they can unload and blame all their unhappiness and problems on.

On top of all that, the narcissistic parent continues to thrive off of the drama they manufacture within the family.

Signs You Were the Golden Child of the Family

The golden child might be determined based on their characteristics. Oftentimes, they may identify more with the narcissistic parent.

For example, my mother used to go on and on about how much easier and cuter my sibling was. So I think that made it easy for my mother to determine who’s her “favorite”. Meanwhile, I was such a pain who always cried and rebelled (her words). I was also ugly and fat. Of course, I wasn’t her favorite. She found no issue saying all of this out loud by the way.

While the roles in some families do switch depending on circumstances and who’s involved, here are some common signs of the golden child of the family.

  • Always excused
  • Can do no wrong
  • Showered with privileges, affection, attention, gifts, and praises
  • Gets the best of everything
  • Adored and doted on
  • Minor achievements are celebrated and admired
  • Misbehaviors are glossed over or ignored
  • Failures are dismissed or blamed on the scapegoat
  • Encouraged to bully the scapegoat
  • Serve as an extension of the narcissistic parent

Signs You Were the Scapegoat of the Family

While the golden child lives in what appears to be glory from their parents, the scapegoat deals with the exact opposite. The scapegoat of the family often suffers more overt types of emotional, and sometimes physical, abuse.

  • Often belittled, shamed, or ridiculed
  • Often ignored or dismissed
  • Can do no right
  • Blamed for everything wrong or problematic in the family
  • Blamed for the golden child’s failures or misbehaviors
  • Failures and vulnerabilities are magnified and picked on
  • Accomplishments are dismissed, ignored, discredited, or criticized
  • Often portrayed in a negative light to others
  • Isolated from others
Golden Child and Scapegoat Signs | Hopeful Panda

Effects of Being the Golden Child and Scapegoat

Please note that it is possible to experience the effects of both the golden child and scapegoat even if you’re considered one or the other in your family dynamic. Even though the treatment may be different, many children of narcissistic parents are affected similarly.

Related: 25 Narcissistic Abuse Tactics by Parents and Its Effects

Effects of Being the Golden Child

It’s easier to see how the scapegoat is harmed in this narcissistic family dynamic. It’s a bit more difficult to notice the damage done to the golden child.

Like the scapegoat, the golden child is also a pawn of the narcissist. They have no real identity or boundaries of their own.

The biggest difference between the golden child and the scapegoat is that the golden child is more likely to become narcissistic like their parent. And when you think about it, that’s not surprising.

The golden child was showered with praises and privileges, even when they’ve done nothing specifically to deserve it. And when a child is constantly told they’re special or better than others, they’ll develop this feeling of entitlement and superiority over others.

That plus the lack of genuine love or affection from their parents creates a child who thinks they’re better than other people and will do whatever they can to continue feeding that mindset.

Other effects of being the golden child include:

  • Low self-esteem and insecurity
  • Lack of an identity
  • The need to people-please
  • Insecure attachment
  • Relationship issues
  • Tendency to work compulsively
  • Perfectionism
  • Indecisiveness
  • Trouble with constructive criticism
  • Feelings of entitlement or superiority
  • Unhealthy bond or enmeshment with parent

Effects of Being the Scapegoat

With all the abuse the scapegoat endured, it’s not surprising that there are a lot of long-lasting effects they have to deal with. Some of them are:

  • Negative self-image and self-talk
  • Low self-esteem
  • Crippling self-doubt
  • Self-loathe
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Tendency to give up before trying
  • Self-sabotaging behaviors
  • Eating disorders
  • Addiction issues
  • Anger issues
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • CPTSD or PTSD

Despite the differing treatment they might have received from their narcissistic parent, what the golden child and scapegoat both dealt with is still abuse. So both of them will have many similar effects of abuse.

The Relationship Between the Golden Child and Scapegoat

It’s not surprising that the golden child and scapegoat’s relationship is strained. That was the narcissistic parent’s intention all along.

Expectedly, the scapegoat oftentimes feels very jealous of the golden child. And the golden child is usually so enmeshed with their parent that they can’t see anything wrong with the parent-child relationship they’re in. They’ll jump in to defend their parent and might even think they have the best parent in the world.

So even if the scapegoat wants to mend their relationship with the golden child or help them break free from their parent’s grasp, it’s difficult to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

I have heard many stories of scapegoats trying to help their golden child siblings only to be met with ungratefulness or even further abuse.

However, this doesn’t mean that the scapegoat and golden child’s relationship is for sure doomed. Sometimes, the family dynamic might change giving the golden child the opportunity to realize how unhealthy their situation is.

For instance, when my mother left the family, the family’s dynamic changed. It gave me and my sibling (as well as my father and I) the opportunity to mend our relationship. While things would go back to how they were whenever my mother returned (as in, I’m the scapegoat once again), her absence did give us a chance to break free from the roles she assigned us.

And it’s because of this change that we were able to eventually come together to try to help my youngest sister break free from our mother’s abuse. You can read about how I gained custody of my siblings in this post.

Is Being One Worse Than the Other?

First off, abuse negatively affects anyone involved regardless of how severe it is. And that goes for both scapegoats and golden children. It’s also possible for someone to alternate between both roles and experience the effects of both.

The only reason I am writing this is because I come across this topic fairly often among online support communities and discussions about whether it is worse being the scapegoat or the golden child.

On the surface, it’s easy to say that being a scapegoat is “worse” because they are experiencing more obvious and overt abuse. However, the golden child also suffers from abuse that is harder to identify.

When lurking in communities of adult children of narcissistic parents, many seem to think that being the golden child might be “worse.” And surprisingly, most of this is coming from scapegoats.

Personally, I do think being the scapegoat turned out “better” for me than being the golden child despite how it felt growing up. While I still struggle with many effects of the abuse, I am more independent and have better coping methods than my sibling who still has trouble with decision-making and autonomy. But of course, that’s my personal experience and opinion.

It often seems like the grass is greener for the golden child, but all those privileges and praises come with a price. Many scapegoats mentioned how they were able to eventually break free from the abuse despite its effects while their golden siblings remained stuck in their parents’ grasp.

The golden child is also often the one who becomes a narcissist, thus continuing the intergenerational cycle of abuse. Meanwhile, the scapegoat usually has enough left in them to break the cycle.

The enmeshment between the narcissistic parent and the golden child can also last forever (or at least a really long time). Growing up, the golden child’s autonomy remains suppressed by the parent. This allows the narcissistic parent to continue controlling and exploiting them, even well into adulthood.

I’ve come across (presumably) many golden children who are still living lives fully dictated by their parents. Those who are successful on paper seem to struggle internally, discontent with life but not understanding why. Then it’s revealed that their job, partner, relationships, and such weren’t chosen by themselves but by their parents.

And those who aren’t so successful depend heavily on their parents to support them and make their day-to-day decisions. But successful or not, many golden children struggle with many of the same effects as scapegoats do.

It is oftentimes more difficult and more painful for them to break free because of the enmeshment. And perhaps what they have “worst” of all is that they often don’t recognize the abuse happening to them or are in huge denial about it.

Meanwhile, scapegoats often better recognize their toxic upbringing. They’re often the ones who are driven to seek answers, learn about their narcissistic parents, and do their best to heal. Of course, scapegoats still have to deal with many of the effects the abuse left them. But they aren’t usually in the dark about where these effects originate from, unlike the golden child.

However, at the end of the day, discussing whether being one is worse than the other doesn’t change the fact that both the golden child and scapegoat are traumatized and affected by narcissistic abuse. And whether someone has it “worse” really depends on the family dynamics, the type of abuse involved, the individual’s disposition, and a bunch of other factors.

On paper, the abuse I endured appears objectively worse than my siblings. For instance, I experienced physical abuse; my siblings did not. But when you look at how we turned out, you wouldn’t be able to tell. In other words, it’s hard to gauge what’s “worse”.

In the end, abuse is abuse. The bottom line is that having a narcissistic mother affected all of us in similar ways. We all struggle with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, PTSD symptoms, and more. So while we all received different treatments from our mother for the most part, we have a lot of overlapping effects.

How to Heal for the Golden Child and Scapegoat

All members of the narcissistic family have their own separate and painful experiences. The scapegoat, golden child, and even the enabling parent are all considered victims despite the differences in the treatment they received.

However, because of the difference in treatments, healing looks different for each person.

For instance, the scapegoat’s healing process might focus more on self-care. Whereas, the golden child’s process would focus more on separating their identities from their parent to discover their true selves.

Reject your assigned roles

Think about the identity your narcissistic parent assigned you. Recognize that all the things they claimed you were or were not are NOT who you are. It was who THEY wanted you to be.

If you’re the scapegoat, recognize that whoever or whatever your parent claimed you are is just a narrative they created to convince themselves that you’re the problem. That way, they don’t have to look at themselves in the mirror. Realize that you are not bad, crazy, weird, or difficult. That’s just what they wanted you to believe.

If you’re the golden child, tell yourself that who they said you were is just a projection of who they think they are or who they think you should be. But you are your own person. You have your likes, dislikes, interests, beliefs, and values that are separate from them. It’s up to you to discover what they are and learn to be true to yourself.

Mend your relationship with your siblings if possible

It’s not surprising if your relationship with your siblings is strained, distant, or straight-up awful. So it makes sense if this is hard for you to do. However, if the relationship isn’t that bad, perhaps it can be mended.

You know your situation best. You know whether this is even virtually possible. But if you see any possibility or hope of getting along with your siblings, consider it. Being able to come together after years of the narcissist trying to tear you apart can be empowering.

If you are the scapegoat, part of you might resent your sibling (I know I did) because they played a role in abusing you. Depending on how severe that was, remind yourself that they were also a victim. Your narcissistic parent manipulated them to do their bidding. They were a child just like you were.

If you find it difficult to move past it, it’s okay. You don’t have to get along with them. However, if you can find it in yourself to move past it, perhaps you can consider it.

If you were the golden child, while it’s not your fault in the end, I hope you can recognize the role you played in hurting your sibling. Once you feel that you’ve broken free from the narcissist’s grasp, you can make amends with the scapegoat(s) of the family.

Express your realization of the abuse you both endured at the hands of your parent. Apologize for any wrongdoings you’ve done.

If your siblings aren’t receptive to your apology, leave them be. Remind them that they can reach out to you when they’re ready, but don’t expect them to. Recognize what they had to endure growing up and try to understand their perspective. Know that you’ve tried and done everything you can.

Consider very low or no contact

Unfortunately, the scapegoat or golden child’s role in the family will likely continue until the child establishes very low or no contact with the parent. (Learn how to in this post)

Even when the child moves out and/or grows up, their role as the scapegoat or golden child will likely continue as long as their narcissistic parent is still in their life.

Even after I moved out, my mother still had ways to blame me for any issue she encountered. It’s my fault that she wasn’t happy. It’s my fault that she’s alone with no one in her life. And it’s my fault that my “golden child” sibling (whom I live with and am a guardian of now) seems depressed or lost in life because they were “oh so happy” when they were still with her.

In the end, as long as I remain in contact with her, she will find a way to pin every problem she has (or doesn’t have) on me. I will forever remain the scapegoat in her life and unfortunately, the only way to deal with that is to stop engaging with her altogether.

Conclusion

Although this post is about the golden child and scapegoat, everything isn’t so black-and-white. So take everything written here with some discretion.

Recognize that the roles in narcissistic families aren’t always fixed. They can be interchangeable. For instance, the narcissist may favor one child for some time, and then switch to another child.

The bottom line is that no one comes out of a narcissistic family unaffected. The type of abuse each sibling experiences may be different, but it’s nonetheless still abuse. They still have to struggle with the long-lasting effects of their upbringing.

It may take a while depending on your role and how severe the abuse you endured was, but healing IS possible. Take all the time you need. Be patient and kind to yourself as you go through this process.

Seek professional help and/or refer to this post to learn more about healing from narcissistic abuse.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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