Narcissistic parents hold their dysfunctional family together with fear and manipulation. They allot specific roles to individual children that best portray their perfection to both themselves and to the outside world. A golden child will be an extension of the parent’s goodness, while the scapegoat’s role is to endure the blame whenever things go wrong.
Growing up with a narcissistic mother, which I wrote about here, put enormous pressure on everyone. When the cracks started to appear in the perfection and school suggested something was amiss, the martyr quickly focussed all the blame on me.
“It’s nothing we ever did… we’ve tried everything… his sister turned out okay…”
I was five years old when I first noticed my sister was the golden child. While it’s impossible to make sense of the dynamics at this age, the difference was evident where punishments and presents were concerned.
“We give you both the same… there’s no pleasing you…”
One Christmas when I was eight years old, I wanted a radio badly. Maybe I was a little too young, but I harped on and just before Christmas, I knew I had finally cracked it when mum responded with a cheeky smirk, “Oh well, we’ll just need to wait and see…”
It was usually a rather dull time of year, but this particular Christmas Eve I could barely sleep for excitement. I shared a bedroom with my sister and presents were by our bedside in the morning.
I was awake first but when I rummaged through my little pile of goodies, my heart sank to the floor. The only exciting items were two Christmas comic annuals and a chocolate box.
My sister was still asleep and her pile of presents lay undisturbed, as I looked to see what the golden child got, I caught sight of a large white box, ‘Radio with disco lights’. I lay back on my pillow gutted, but this kind of scenario was nothing new.
“You’re too young for a radio… you break everything, anyway… your sister does well in school, you’re just the class dunce…”
There was a heavy price to pay for what the martyred mother perceived as “bad behaviour,” but I also carried the blame for the secretive family dysfunction and even some of the arguments that regularly erupted between my parents.
“We had a good marriage until you came along… we only ever argue about you… we’re thinking of putting you in a home for bad boys.”
While my sister secured the role of golden child by excelling in school, my overall experience was a nightmare from day one. It had something to do with the environment that subsequently influenced my behaviour and those dreaded annual report cards.
Anyone would have thought I was a lowlife criminal, “You’re the dunce of the entire school… everyone will be laughing at you… you bring shame on us… you will not amount to much in life… look how well your sister’s doing.”
I quickly assumed the role of the troubled-underachiever, while they denied I was ever the black sheep and maybe there was an unconscious effort on my part to succumb to the role.
After years of pleading, dad finally agreed I could have a new bike for my 15th birthday and my shiny green racer became my pride and joy. Meanwhile, life at home continued on a collision course with the narcissistic mother until I finally escaped just after my 17th birthday. When I returned a few months later to collect my bike, the twisted mother had already given it away.
“Och, you weren’t using it, my friend’s son didn’t have a bike… he’ll appreciate it more than you… it wasn’t yours, anyway, we bought it with our own money.”
I never once considered changing my ways to please them, but spent a lifetime rebelling against their toxicity, and usually in a self-destructive style. It has taken me years to finally identify their behaviour as textbook narcissistic, but unfortunately, I had already internalised their disparaging messages.
I’ve learned that scapegoats typically grow up with a deep sense of guilt and shame. We will blame ourselves for things that are out of our control and feel responsible for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s clearly someone else’s baggage. We strongly believe in our own selfishness and harbour a feeling that we are never enough. This can fuel a need to become a people-pleaser, sometimes against our better judgement and often to our own detriment.
For me, knowledge is the catalyst of healing.