Generally speaking, narcissists are created by an unhealthy/abusive upbringing. There are many different theories about the specifics of this upbringing but it’s very clear that being exposed to narcissistic behavior patterns is detrimental to a child’s cognitive development. It’s for this reason that the importance of having a comprehensive grasp of how narcissists treat their children is immeasurable. 

Narcissists use their children as a repository for their suppressed negative emotions. This can manifest in many different ways but the relationship that a narcissist has with their children is just as, if not more, superficial, manipulative, and abusive as the relationship they have with others.

When trying to understand this sickening aspect of narcissistic abuse, it is important to acknowledge how skilled narcissists are at disguising their abusive behavior. The reason being that there are five different types of abuse that narcissists subject their children to that manifest in very different ways. 

The 5 Ways That Narcissists Treat Their Children

There are five different roles that the children of narcissists embody: the scapegoat, the golden child, the invisible child, the truth teller, and the helper child. 

When learning about the different types of relationships narcissists have with their children it is important to remember how superficial narcissists are. The reason being that the relationships you’re about to learn about are interchangeable.

Another thing to keep in mind is that all of the following types of children will experience the narcissistic behavior patterns commonly seen in narcissistic relationships either directly or indirectly. However, there are certainly different roles that narcissists give out to their children that we all need to be aware of. 

Whether you share a child with a narcissist and are concerned for their well-being, currently experiencing narcissistic abuse from a parent, or survived a narcissistic parent, the information below will shed light on the hidden aspects of growing up in a narcissistic environment. 

The Scapegoat

A scapegoat is by far the most lucid manifestation of the way a narcissist will use their children as a repository for their negative emotions. A scapegoat is a person that gets the worst version of the narcissist. They’re subjected to a disproportionate level of abuse when compared to the other people in the narcissist’s life. 

As horrifying as scapegoating is, it’s an incredibly insightful aspect of narcissistic abuse. The reason being that narcissists spend their entire lives hiding their true identity, which is insecure and vulnerable, behind a falsified identity that they’ve built based on their perception of what society values. 

Unfortunately, a narcissist’s unhealthy/abusive upbringing has made them so emotionally immature that they’re incapable of looking past society’s superficial exterior which causes them to gravitate towards very materialistic and trivial aspects of life when building their falsified identity. 

What does this have to do with scapegoating? 

Well, this emotional immaturity that narcissists have makes them incapable of regulating their own suppressed negative emotions which is why they rely so heavily on scapegoats. But what makes scapegoating so insightful is the fact that scapegoats are not randomly chosen. 

A narcissistic father choosing one of his kids to be a scapegoat

The reason that a narcissist chooses a scapegoat is because the scapegoat antagonizes the narcissist in a way that reminds them that they’re living behind a falsified identity. For example, a narcissistic parent could be really insecure about his/her lack of athletic ability and target his/her child, who happens to be very athletic, to be the family scapegoat. 

Why does this happen? 

If you remember, narcissist’s build their falsified identity out of very materialistic and trivial aspects of life like social status, money, appearances and so on. This causes them to develop a very fragile sense of self, even though they present themselves as confident, grandiose, and arrogant. 

When a narcissist crosses paths with someone who excels at one of their insecurities or vulnerabilities, it punches crater sized holes in their falsified identity which causes their psyche to be flooded with all of the negative emotions they’ve been working so hard to suppress their entire lives. 

This causes them to experience a narcissistic injury which is essentially an ego injury to a narcissist. What differentiates the two is that when non-narcissistic people experience an ego injury, they get embarrassed, maybe a little angry, and sometimes ashamed. 

When a narcissist experiences a narcissistic injury, they fly into an uncontrollable rage to try to protect their fragile egos.

The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit all of these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury—these are features which are characteristics for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all of its forms and which set it apart from all other forms of aggression. – Heinz Kohut

This quote from Heinz Kohut is such an important quote to memorize because it explains why a narcissist’s defense of their falsified identity is so ferocious, especially when it comes to scapegoats. Even though it is not, nor will it ever be, the scapegoat’s fault, their demeanor antagonizes the narcissist so severely that they feel a need for revenge, righting a wrong, and undoing a hurt by whatever means necessary. 

17 symptoms of PTSD

The Golden Child

The golden child is the polar opposite of the scapegoat. The golden child is the child that the narcissist favors the most. It would be nice if a narcissist’s kindness towards their golden child came from a place of empathy and compassion, but it doesn’t. Golden children are really children who provide the narcissist with the most narcissistic supply and best suits the narcissists needs.

How? 

The golden child is very much an extension of the narcissist. More often than not, the golden child excels at something that matters to the narcissist. 

For example, the golden child could be a great athlete, student, musician and so on. The narcissist uses the golden child’s positive attributes to position themselves in the limelight of validation, admiration and reassurance that said attributes bring. 

The validation and admiration often manifests in the form of the narcissist taking credit for the child’s talents but the reassurance manifests in the form of the narcissist truly believing that the golden child’s greatness is a reflection of their own parenting. 

The golden child gets all of the commodities in life that the other family members could only dream of, however, the title of the golden child is not set in stone. Meaning that the moment that the golden child loses whatever makes them special in the narcissist’s eyes, they fall off their pedestal of misleading privilege. 

While on a surface level the golden child seems like a cushy position to be in, there are a significant amount of consequences the child will have to face in the future with the most obvious being the risk they have for becoming narcissistic themselves.

Children are so impressionable. Years of being placed on a pedestal by a narcissist can cause children to develop an unrealistic perception of themselves, emotional immaturity, and insecure need for power and control.

Another really terrible side-effect of being a golden child is having to watch the rest of the family experience the wrath of the narcissist. Golden children who naturally have high levels of empathy and compassion often experience a tremendous amount of guilt when they realize how privileged their life has been compared to the other family members. 

The role of a golden child has a significant amount of repercussions that almost always need to be addressed with the guidance of a qualified medical professional.

The Invisible Child

The egocentricity, sense of entitlement, grandiosity, and need for narcissistic supply that all narcissists possess drives them to neglect the well-being of their own children. This manifests in different ways but none more clear than the relationship that a narcissist has with the invisible child.

Simply put, the invisible child is the child that is overlooked by the narcissist at every turn. Their interests, emotions, needs, thoughts, and feelings are often devalued and discarded by the narcissist’s neglect.  

It’s a really common role for the children of a narcissist to fall into because narcissists feel entitled to having their needs come first, even when they have children. 

In fact, covert narcissists and/or narcissists with covert traits even go as far as being incredibly jealous, competitive, and spiteful of their children simply because they feel as if everyone’s attention should be on them at all times. 

Without qualified medical guidance, the invisible child will often fall under the assumption in adulthood that keeping their emotions, interests, thoughts, needs, and/or concerns bottled up inside is the only way that they’ll be desirable, wanted, or loved because of the years of neglect that they experienced from their narcissistic parent. 

From the outside looking in, invisible children are often labeled as pathologically shy or socially anxious/awkward which is why it’s important for these invisible children to seek qualified medical guidance as soon as possible so they themselves can realize that the problems they have stem from neglect and that being seen isn’t risky. 

The Truth Teller Child

The truth teller child is the narcissist’s arch nemesis. They’re the child that is extremely mature for their age and sees straight through the narcissist’s falsified identity. At a quick glance, the truth teller child seems like the best position to be in but it is actually shockingly isolating. 

How?

As the truth teller child, they’re going to feel that it is their responsibility to tell the other family members what they see. The only problem is that as victims of narcissistic abuse themselves, the other family members are often not ready to hear it. 

Without a comprehensive grasp of narcissistic behavior, the truth teller could find themselves in a hurricane of ruminating thoughts that plague their minds with self-doubt and/or self-blame. 

Why?

As the truth teller, they don’t need the validation, admiration, and/or reassurance that others do. While others are exhausting themselves seeking the good graces of the narcissist, the truth teller will be much more reserved and aware of what’s really going on. 

Much like how they do with the scapegoat, the narcissist will condemn the truth teller to an outcast role in the family. Even though the truth teller is much less likely to experience the psychological trauma that the scapegoat does, they’re not out of the clear, that’s for sure. 

The biggest obstacle they’ll face is growing up in an environment where everyone is blind to reality except for them. Especially with younger children and/or adults, this type of upbringing makes them incredibly vulnerable to self-doubt and gaslighting both from the narcissist and themselves. 

The Helper Child

The helper child is exactly what it sounds like, it is the child who helps the narcissist. A child could fall into this role because they’re naturally drawn to it but what’s more likely is that their narcissistic parent manipulated them into it. 

How? 

The abusive behavior of the narcissist causes some children to resort to people-pleasing behaviors, like neglecting one’s own well-being to help an abuser, to regain a sense of power and control over themselves. 

This is NOT a narcissistic trait. The levels of abuse that the helper child is experiencing is so traumatizing they rely on their ability to do things for the narcissist in a desperate attempt to stay safe. 

Narcissistic parents abuse these types of children by placing an irresponsible amount of responsibility onto them. Helper children have been known to help raise the other children, drive the drunken narcissistic parent around, cook for the family, cater to the narcissistic parent’s every need and so on.

A son catering to his narcissistic father's every need.

Being a helper child is a really dangerous way to grow up. Without the proper guidance, helper children will keep their unhealthy belief that they have to do things for other people in order to be treated with even the slightest amount of respect, making them extremely vulnerable to abusive relationships in the future. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

One of the biggest reasons that people find themselves in either emotionally or physically abusive environments in adulthood is an unhealthy/abusive upbringing. When a child is forced to be a scapegoat, invisible child, helper child, golden child, or even the truth teller, their perception of a healthy relationship gets severly corrupted. 

There are many aspects of narcissistic abuse that knowledge alone can help the victim heal, but this isn’t one of them. The trauma one accumulates, even if it isn’t visibly noticeable, from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing is not to be trifled with.  

Failing to seek out qualified medical guidance to address the trauma one gets from these types of environments is detrimental. Without help victims and survivors of childhood narcissistic abuse could find themselves jumping from abusive environment to abusive environment for eternity.  

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Mandeville, Rebecca C. Rejected, shamed, and blamed: Help and hope for adults in the family scapegoat role. Rebecca C. Mandeville, 2021.

Brown, Nina W. Children of the self-absorbed: A grown-up’s guide to getting over narcissistic parents. New Harbinger Publications, 2008.

Donald G. Dutton, Matthew K. Denny-Keys & Joanna R. Sells (2011) Parental Personality Disorder and Its Effects on Children: A Review of Current Literature, Journal of Child Custody, 8:4, 268-283