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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Dimitrion, LCSW, CST

Peeling Back the Layers of Narcissism Part 7: Children of Narcissistic Parents

Updated: May 14

Growing up in a household with narcissistic parents can have profound effects on a child's development and well-being. As children we must rely on our caregivers for safety and survival. Because of this, there is an inherent drive to stay attached and connected to them at any cost. For children of narcissistic parents, the cost of staying connected is the disavowing of certain aspects of our selves. This includes dismissing—and often shaming—our own thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires in an effort to conform to the expectations of our narcissistic parent.

The effects of such upbringing can manifest in various ways, shaping our sense of self, connections with others, and ways we navigate the world around us. Below, we explore the different roles children often find themselves in when raised by narcissistic parents:

The Golden Child: One of these roles is that of the Golden Child, the one who seemingly can do no wrong in the eyes of the parent. While this may seem like a privileged position, it comes with its own set of challenges. The pressure to maintain this facade of perfection can lead to anxiety, self-judgment, and guilt. Some Golden Children may even internalize the narcissistic traits of the parent, developing a sense of entitlement and self-involvement.

The Chosen Child: On the other hand, the Chosen Child is tasked with meeting the emotional needs of the parent. Their worth is often tied to what they can do for others, rather than their inherent value as a person. This can lead to perfectionism, anxiety, and a tendency to people-please. If they fail to meet their parent's expectations or seek independence, they may face criticism and shame.

The Scapegoat: Then there is the Scapegoat, the child who bears the brunt of the parent's insecurities and blames. Often unfairly blamed for family dysfunction, they are made to feel ashamed simply for existing. Depression, anger, and insecurity are common, leading some to engage in self-protective behaviors such as isolating themselves or acting out.

The Invisible Child: Finally, the Invisible Child receives little attention, positive or negative, from the parent. While this may seem like a relief, it can be just as damaging. The Invisible Child may carry feelings of anxiety and shame, seeking attention in vain from a parent who is emotionally unavailable.

These roles can shape the child's sense of self-worth, affecting their relationships, choices, and mental health. Many children in these situations find solace outside the family. After-school activities, caring teachers, close friendships, or chosen families can provide the relational support that is lacking at home.

Growing up with a narcissistic parent can have lasting effects on a child's mental and emotional well-being. Understanding these roles within the family dynamic can be the first step toward healing and breaking the cycle of dysfunction.

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