At a quick glance it often seems like the golden child is not abused by the narcissistic parent while the scapegoat gets all of the narcissistic parent’s abuse. Upon closer look, it becomes clear that the golden child is in fact abused by the narcissistic parent as well. Since narcissism can be passed down to children, many are left wondering who is more likely to become a narcissist, the scapegoat or the golden child?

The golden child is more likely to become a narcissist because their narcissistic parent views and treats them as a positive extension of themselves, which means that it is more probable that the golden child will adopt the characteristics and personality traits of their narcissistic parent. 

This article is going to guide you through the life of the scapegoat and golden child because while it’s more probable that the golden child becomes a narcissist, there’s a very realistic chance that the scapegoat can develop a narcissistic personality as well so it is important to understand both sides of the story. 

We’ve also created a short video below about psychiatrist Alexander Lowen’s theory about how narcissism can be passed down. The information in this video will help you grasp a better understanding of how a narcissist can pass their narcissism down to their children, especially the scapegoat.

A Short Video That Covers Psychiatrist Alexander Lowen’s Theory About How Narcissism Can Be Passed Down

How Does a Child Become a Narcissist?

There’s a ton of research about the origin of narcissism that we guide readers through in our article How Are Narcissists Made but it is believed by many qualified professionals that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive childhood with primary caregivers who are unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. 

This type of upbringing is really dangerous because the primary caregivers are unable to mirror their child’s emotions which means that the child won’t get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self. When this happens the child is forced to search their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self. 

A simple example of this would be a child of unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers constructing their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they receive for being a really good soccer player.

When a child doesn’t receive a healthy amount of validation, admiration, and reassurance from their primary caregivers but receives it in their external environment, it causes them to develop a belief that their true identity isn’t good enough to be loved and acknowledged so they end up developing a deeply rooted hatred for it and prioritizing their external environment over their internal environment. This is the moment they start to develop a narcissistic personality. 

They have a grandiose sense of self-importance, a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love, a sense of specialness/uniqueness, an excessive need for validation, admiration, and reassurance, a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, arrogance, envy of others and/or a belief that others are envious of them, and display many interpersonally exploitative behaviors. All of this happens because of the neglect of their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers. 

They’re unable to develop a realistic sense of self, they have an unhealthy cognitive development, and they develop a deeply rooted hatred for themselves that causes them to experience a lot of negative emotions that they suppress behind a falsified identity that is built out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance they accumulate from their external environment.

How Could the Way a Narcissistic Parent Treats the Scapegoat Turn Them Into a Narcissist?

In comparison to the rest of the narcissistic family structure, the scapegoat receives the highest levels of abuse from the narcissist. They are humiliated, ridiculed, mocked, and punished for the shortcomings of the narcissist and the narcissistic family structure. A scapegoat is a repository for all of the narcissist’s negative emotions. 

The reason that the narcissistic parent targets the scapegoat is because they view the scapegoat as a negative extension of themselves. In the previous section we spoke about how the upbringing narcissists have caused them to develop a lot of negative emotions that are tied to their deeply rooted hatred for themselves. 

They spend their entire lives suppressing all of their negative emotions with their falsified identity but something about the scapegoat’s identity contradicts the falsified identity that they’ve built for themselves and triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions. 

A simple example of this would be a narcissistic father targeting one of his sons because his son’s sensitivity and good-heartedness reminds the narcissistic father that his father made him feel weak for having those qualities. Instead of acknowledging his own internal struggle and developing healthy trauma responses, he targets his son and projects all of his negative emotions onto him.

Another simple example of this would be a narcissistic mother who grew up being told that she was ugly and “unladylike” by her mother so she targets her daughter because her appearance reminds the narcissistic mother of all of the suppressed negative emotions she has about the abuse she received as a child for her appearance.

Scapegoating is a form of projection, a defense mechanism that a narcissist uses to take aspects of their own identity that they find unacceptable and project them onto someone else. A simple example of this would be a narcissist who feels bad that she cheated on her husband, not because it is wrong but because it hurts her public image, so instead of taking responsibility for her betrayal she just claims that her husband is the one cheating instead.

Scapegoating takes projection one step further because the narcissist will take all of the aspects of their identity that they find unacceptable and project them onto their scapegoat but then they will emotionally and/or physically attack the scapegoat for “having” the the characteristics and personality traits that the narcissist finds unacceptable.

To the scapegoat, the narcissistic parent is unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. The scapegoat does not get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. Without the guidance of a qualified professional, the scapegoat could develop a narcissistic personality, specifically a covert narcissistic personality.

The Characteristics of a Covert Narcissist

  • They victimize themselves
  • They are vulnerable and needy
  • They are socially inadequate and anxious
  • They have difficulties managing their emotions
  • They are resentful, irritable, and hostile
  • They come off as depressed
  • They are passive aggressive, hypersensitive to criticism, and argumentative

How Could the Way a Narcissistic Parent Treat the Golden Child Turn Them Into a Narcissist?

The golden child is the child that the narcissistic parent sees as a positive extension of themselves. It’s a very strange role in a narcissistic family structure because from the outside looking in, the narcissistic parent has a very tight bond with the golden child. But the truth is that the narcissistic parent is just living vicariously through the golden child. 

This has a lot to do with a narcissist’s preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. Their tendency to fantasize is often thought about as something that happens in the future. For example, it is easy to imagine a narcissist fantasizing about being rich, successful, and famous one day. 

But they also fantasize about the past as well, specifically about going back and showing people how great they are, showing people how much of a failure that they were for not seeing how great the narcissist is.

This fantasy almost always gets played out through the golden child. You see, the golden child is often the child who excels at something the narcissist values and it is very common for a narcissistic parent to live vicariously through their golden child to soak up the validation, admiration, and reassurance that the child’s skills bring. 

For example, imagine that there was a narcissistic father who wanted to be a professional boxer but was never good enough. He doesn’t acknowledge or accept that he wasn’t good enough, he has always blamed it on a coach not liking him or his parents not trying hard enough. 

However, the son of this narcissistic father happens to be a really good boxer. He is getting a lot of recognition and has been labeled as the next best thing. Instead of being proud of his son, the narcissistic father attempts to fulfill his fantasies of being a professional boxer that the whole world knew by living vicariously through his son.

From the outside looking in, it looks like the narcissistic father really cares about his son. He is constantly helping him train, watching films with him, going to every match, cheering him on, and any other positive thing that you could imagine.

But the truth is that the narcissistic father doesn’t care about his son at all, he cares about how good of a boxer his son is and all of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that it brings. The health of his relationship with his son, the golden child, is dependent on the son’s performance while boxing. 

If the son does really well, then his father “loves” him and wants to spend all of his time with him. If his son doesn’t do well or even decides that he wants to hang up his gloves, the narcissistic father will take it personally because he is living vicariously through his son. 

His son’s failure or lack of interest triggers many deeply rooted negative emotions the narcissistic father has about himself so the narcissistic father could start to view the golden child as the scapegoat instead. Being the golden child of a narcissist is very dangerous and conditional.

The narcissistic parent will be physically available, responsive, and at times, consistent. But emotionally the narcissistic parent will be unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. This means that the golden child doesn’t get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self. This could lead to them becoming a narcissist themselves because their narcissistic parent viewed and treated them as an extension of themselves.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

The golden child is more likely to develop a narcissistic personality but that doesn’t mean that the scapegoat can’t develop a narcissistic personality as well. An upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers causes nothing but trauma and can lead a child into developing a narcissistic personality and many other mental health struggles.


This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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References

Costin, Alina. “SOCIAL AND EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS REGARDING THE RAISING OF CHILDREN IN NARCISSISTIC FAMILIES. THEORETICAL APPROACH.” Educația Plus 27.2 (2020): 50-62.

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