”One of the hardest realities to come to terms with for the adult child of a narcissist is that their entire childhood was a lie; and all they were to their parent was narcissistic supply. An object to be toyed with, manipulated, goaded, and provoked.”
The wisdom of fairy tales
I often wonder if the author’s of ‘Snow White,’ ‘Hansel and Gretal’ and ‘Cinderella’ had once been victims’ of narcissism. As children, we are warned through folk tales, and fairy tales alike, about the cruelty of parents. What I have recently come to realise is that the simple children’s fairy tale, is actually many a child’s normal.
I applaud the author of ‘Snow White’ for planting a seed in the minds of our children, and forewarning little children about the cruelty of the world, and the most malignant of hoovers. ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is an eye opener for children with an enabling parent, and ‘Cinderella’s’ story describes a typical narcissistic setup – where siblings sell each other down the river for their narcissistic parent’s approval. Luckily for the reader, all fairytales have a happy ending.
However, for the child of the narcissist, there is no happy ending. Their parent cannot change, and will always play mind games with their child.
The malignant hoover as a unique design – and mental damage to a child’s psyche
A Child of a narcissist does not have the ability to realise that they are being love bombed, idealised, devalued and discarded over and over again. A little child gives their narcissistic parent all of their trust willingly, and with love – only to endure the most horrific psychological abuse one can suffer from. Kids don’t have the ability to comprehend why their narcissistic parent is kind, caring , loving, giving and supportive one minute – only to punish them moments later for reasons which don’t make sense.
Children living out the cycle of idealise, devalue, discard, come out of their childhoods believing that they are inherently bad, and deserve to be punished, discarded, and denounced over and over again. This pattern of abuse most likely will not be understood by the child of a narcissist until adulthood, if they make the choice to go in search of answers. The scapegoat will most likely be the first child to endeavour to look behind their parent’s false self.
The most mistreated child, the scapegoat, will most definitely be the first of the children to put two and two together.
The three stage phase
Common discards for children of narcissists
What does it mean to be hoovered?
The ‘hoover’ is a well- known tactic utilised by the narcissist after they have worked their way through each phase of a three stage process; idealisation, devalue and discard. After the discard stage has been utilised, and the victim retreats, the narcissist will than exercise a hoover of sorts to draw the person back into their life.
Idealisation, devaluation, and the discard are not phases of the three stage process just limited to adults. Small children go through these stages daily, only to be hoovered again shortly after.
Example hoovers for children
Discarding a small child – how is it done?
The narcissistic parent will deploy a number of techniques to distress their small children. Children as young as four will be idealised, devalued and discarded, as well as love bombed, all in a matter of hours.
Scenario: A child decides to go shopping with mummy instead of spending time with daddy and the other siblings. Daddy decides to buy the child that went with him, a toy – and deliberately decides not to buy the other child a toy. When the child comes home, they ask if daddy bought them a toy too. The narcissistic father informs the child that it is in fact their fault that they did not receive a toy, because they refused to spend time with their father.
The child will become momentarily dumbfounded and confused as they blubber away in the corner. However, the confusion will soon subside when the narcissist hoovers the child with a cupcake hours later.
Buying a child’s love
Narcissists’ love to buy children gifts, and to use their artistic talents, and abilities, to love bomb and hoover small children. To receive a gift from a narcissist, a home cooked meal, a batch of cookies, or a hand drawn get well card, signifies to the victim that they they have the narcissist’s approval. Children, in particular begin to think that these manipulative tactics are gestures of love, an apology, and an expression of accountability. The confusion is exhausting for the child, because their narcissistic parent is hot, cold, and calculating. They could lash out and initiate a mentally damaging payback at the smallest slight.
The wisdom of fairytales:
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately (I am yet to come to either conclusion) I now know that fairytales are not tales about fortune; but rather misfortune, and the harsh realities about the cruelty of both parents, and step parents. Fairy tales are confirmation for small children that not all parents can be trusted, and not all parent’s will protect their children from abusive behaviour.
Narcissism brings out the worst in people, and shows the true colours of everybody around the narcissist. Siblings readily sell out the family scapegoat to stay in good rapport with the narcissistic mother or father, or to ensure their human right to a tidy sum once the narcissist dies. Enablers’ often choose the narcissist over the children a million times over; and the list of offences towards good human beings and small children goes on.
Lets take a look at poor Hansel and Gretel, shall we? Hansel and Gretel’s own father took Hansel and Gretel out into the woods, only to discard his children at the step mother’s request. Cinderella’s stepsisters sold her down the river, and triangulated against her time and time again to keep in favour of their vile mother, Cinderella’s stepmother – and Snow White was nearly murdered by her stepmother in the name of jealousy. Fairytales can teach us a lot about narcissism.
Triangulation is defined as indirect communication where one person (usually the narcissist) acts as a messenger between two others, often fabricating the message to suit the talebearer’s objective. Triangulation is commonly used by narcissists’, and it ties in with gas lighting and projection. In narcissistic families the narcissist will avoid discussing any issues they have with a targeted individual in the family unit. Instead, they will communicate with a third family member, or a few family members at one time, in regard to a problem, which normal healthy adults would be able to resolve by themselves without involving other people. The narcissist’s minions often feel compelled to become a part of the triangle in a bid to resolve the narcissist’s problems with targeted individuals. Usually, this solution to the problem ends in triangulation, anger and passive aggression.
The personality disordered mother or father is without an interpersonal tool box. They do not know how to resolve conflict, do not want to resolve conflict, enjoy drama, and will often create drama by deliberately becoming upset over trivial things which normal people simply do not become upset about. Vengeance will often be taken out against a target (which is usually one of the narcissist’s children) for trivial slights, via triangulation.
In normal families the parents act as leaders. They do not involve other people in their problems, and they deal with any problems they have with their children directly. Healthy parents do not discuss issues they have with one child, with the other children in the family. Healthy parents want their children to grow into assertive, authentic human beings who know how to handle problems head on without involving friends or family in their issues with other people.
How does the narcissistic family handle conflict?
The narcissist is no stranger to divide and conquer. With this strategy, the narcissist will sow seeds of instability between the family members, in the hope of creating havoc, and to eventually turn the entire family against a target of choice (usually the scapegoat). For this strategy to work, the narcissist must share information, or mean spirited comments (real or not), that the target has mentioned in confidence to the narcissist about their siblings. The narcissist thrives on telling each sibling how unhappy their other siblings are with them.
The narcissist uses divide and conquer day in, day out to create conflict. The narcissist is constantly twisting the words of their allies around to suit their own agenda, in the hope of emotionally harming their target. There is always a slither of truth added to the lies the narcissist tells each individual party that the other party has said about them.
Question: What happens in family situations where there is divide and conquer?
Answer: If all of the siblings feel offended by the target’s mean words, they will feel more compelled to triangulate against the target, in the hope of resolving what is now a family problem with the target.
In the narcissist’s mind, they honestly believe that if they can secure allies’ against another family member, than this family member will have no choice but to become submissive to the narcissist, and behave as the narcissist would like them to.
The narcissist doesn’t want to solve their problems directly with the many people they have a problem with. To do so would be to resolve the problem, and narcissist’s do not want to resolve problems. Instead, a narcissist will often create a problem with one of their children, the next door neighbour, or the enabling parent, just to gain attention, adoration, and sympathy from their many allies’. The narcissist feigns victimhood so well, and the narcissist’s allies’ (who are under the spell of mind control, and honestly believe they are helping) often take the problem on as though its their own, and try to fix the problem for the narcissist.
If one sibling can make the other sibling behave appropriately, (usually through aggression or anger) than the narcissist will be happy. However, all that happens here is that the attacked sibling, or enabling parent simply becomes resentful of the narcissist’s ally (usually a brother or sister, or son or daughter) because they have become involved in something that has absolutely nothing to do with them.
The narcissist’s children learn from the narcissist first hand, that the only way to handle a problem with a sibling, or parent is to gossip about this person to another family member, and to try to draw this person into the triangle.
Over time, the gossip spread about each family member behind their backs, is fed back to them through another family member. This becomes the family’s pattern of communication. Confrontation becomes something to be afraid of, which of course, results in a fear based system of communication. This fear based system of communication becomes the catalyst for passive aggressive communication which results in rage.
Where does the problem lie?
The narcissist has the emotional capacity of a three year old, which means that the leader in this family leads the children down the garden path, and ends up passing skills down to their children which will destroy the children’s future relationships. The ‘leader’ in this family is nothing more than a perpetrator, which is why this family often falls apart.
What is the problem with indirectness? Tools of the unskilled
Indirect communication between family members often leads to resentment and discontent in the narcissist’s children. When siblings find out indirectly about a problem another family member has with them through a ‘Chinese whispers’ type style of communication, the affected family member feels hurt, which is often the reason why relationships between siblings often fizzle out. Triangulation makes the narcissistic family unit an unpredictable, and frightening place to be.
Many adult children of narcissist’s eventually grow tired of the chaos that triangulation causes. They eventually realise that they cannot solve the narcissist’s problems, become tired of their own part in the dysfunction, and often walk away from an entire family, deciding that they will no longer have triangulation in their lives.
The narcissistic family’s values and belief systems are topsy turvy. In the narcissistic family set up, the children quickly learn that it is not ok to put up boundaries, behave assertively, or to resolve a problem through direct communication. Yet it is ok triangulate against loved ones, including friends and family.
It is very likely that at least one of the narcissist’s children will take on some of the trouble making behaviours passed down from the narcissist.
Venting or triangulation?
Venting to a trusted friend about an issue with another person can be very helpful, if the intent is to gain advice about resolving the problem. This is a very effective way of handling conflict resolution, and will often lead to the person enquiring, to take their friends advice, and to use it to help to resolve an ongoing problem.
However, involving other people in your problem with another person in the hope that this person will take on the problem and try to resolve it for you is called triangulation, and is one of the narcissist’s favourite tactics.
Confrontation in the narcissistic family
Confrontation is a big no no in the narcissistic family system. The narcissist’s anxiety ridden, petrified children become immune to triangulation, and will often resort to this learned behaviour through fear of confrontation. However, instead of resolving the problem, this fear of confrontation perpetuates the problem and exacerbates the issue even further.
When confronted, narcissist’s can become verbally or physically aggressive, may turn against the victim by implementing allies, and will most likely use the silent treatment to pay the victim back.
The assertive child, teenager, or adult child of the narcissist who dares to assert their needs, says no to the narcissist about an agreed upon arrangement, or challenges the narcissist’s poor behaviour will most definitely be shamed. Authentic children who speak their mind are the narcissist’s biggest fear. Hence, the reason why authentic children are almost always scapegoated, and emotionally crushed beyond belief.
The rule of thumb in this family is that you never ever confront anybody in this family unit. Children in the narcissistic family do not come out unscathed, and often suffer with some big emotional issues of their own. After all, these children have spent their entire childhoods with a narcissistic parent who exhibits a complete lack of accountability, a sense of entitlement, and who refuses at all costs to be wrong. Often the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the narcissist’s non-narcissistic children often struggle with some of these issues in adulthood themselves.
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t
Children of narcissist’s often hand over their power, back down, and accept mistreatment, in order to stay safe from potentially harmful caregivers, or an angry, aggressive golden child.
However, the problem with backing down, and forgoing the right to assert ones needs is that this ‘child like survival mechanism’ is merely a temporary solution to a very big problem. Not discussing problems with the person concerned, and turning on them instead through triangulation is like stepping on a grenade. Inappropriate aggression, venting, and resentment from the narcissist’s minions towards those triangulated against, is the consequence of an innate fear of confrontation.
Adult children of narcissist’s often refuse to assert themselves around their peers through fear that the people they associate with will react to their assertiveness with the same outrageous response the narcissistic parent once did.
Emotionally healthy families
In emotionally healthy families, parent’s do not recruit third parties (the other siblings), or use messengers to help to settle their differences with their children. Instead, they have face to face discussions with their child, teenager, or adult child.
Emotionally healthy parent’s encourage their children to discuss their issues with one another openly and honestly. These parent’s do not gossip about their children behind their backs with the other children. Instead, they guide their children in conflict resolution.
The two prominent and most vile roles assigned to children in the narcissistic family are the ”scapegoat” and ”the golden child”. Both roles are projections of how the parent honestly feels about them-self. The scapegoat represents the false self, the bad part of the parent that can do no right. This is the part of them that this parent abandoned during childhood, and replaced with a false self – a grandiose self that can do no wrong. This false self is the part of the narcissist that the golden – child represents.
For example: In a family of four, there may be two golden – children and two scapegoats. Or, there may be a superior golden child, and a golden child whom is picked to participate in both roles; scapegoat, and golden child (The mother may not have known which choice to make with this child).
The golden child is lavished with praise and attention. They can do no wrong in the eyes of the parent, and they are given the best of everything. They often come out the other side of narcissistic abuse feeling entitled, special, and better than their scapegoated sibling; whom of course, in their eyes, is the crazy one who will never be as good as they are.
The narcissistic mother projects onto the child all of their supposed wonderfulness, which means that for a time the child believes that they are truly wonderful.
This child’s misdeeds are always overlooked and projected onto the scapegoat/ or scapegoats. They are almost never disciplined for causing mental or physical harm to the scapegoat. In fact, none of the children are ever to blame for any mistreatment of the scapegoated children. If the scapegoat is mistreated by the favourite child, it always somehow becomes the scapegoat’s fault.
Some golden children see through the narcissistic parent at a very young age, and will decide to forfeit the role of golden child in an effort to preserve their relationship with their scapegoated sibling in adult – hood. However, a lot of them don’t, and often end up forming a nasty alliance with the narcissistic mother to bully and shame the scapegoat.
The child who plays both roles
When there are two golden children, sometimes the less favourable golden child will play both roles – the scapegoat and the golden – child.
I was informed about this one particular situation where a child playing both roles was played off against the scapegoat in a competition formulated by the parent designed to see who was ”good’‘ one week, and who was ”bad” the next week. This abuse played out weekly, and sometimes daily for the children’s entire lives.
The parent would literally sit down a couple of times a week and talk about how bad their children were. One week they would carry on that ‘Jane was such a bad child.’
The next week, the same parent would sit down and talk about how ‘Jane was such a good child, and Lisa was such a bad child.’ The abuse was always done in front of the children – and to this day the two adult siblings hate each – other.
The child playing both roles became so competitive with the scapegoat, and did everything they could to align with the narcissistic parent against the scapegoat in the hope of gaining the narcissistic parent’s approval. It did the trick.
The behaviour of the narcissistic parent towards their favourite child is parasitic. Friends, life long partners, and a life outside of the narcissist is often beyond reach for this child, who becomes so enmeshed by the narcissistic parent that they will often suffer from severe panic attacks and anxiety disorders.
It is highly likely that if this child marries, the narcissistic parent will get involved in the marriage – become jealous of the husband or wife, triangulate between the husband and wife, and could very likely become aggressive when they begin to lose the attention.
The most important fact for children to remember is that the narcissistic mother doesn’t really love any of the children, golden – child nor scapegoat. They aren’t capable. And when one scapegoat leaves, a new one must be found. Safety for the favourite child is subject to change.
Golden child as investment
The golden child is groomed and hoovered into a role that they never asked for. The narcissistic parent literally buys the child with the best gifts and schools that money can buy. They shower them with praise and attention in an effort to hoover the child into their toxic world.
The scapegoat shops at Kmart, and the golden child shops at Myer. The favourite child is eagerly given a huge wad of cash to go shopping with, while scapegoat can barely convince the narcissist to even give them fifty dollars.
The cost for the golden child is huge. Like a fly stuck in a spider’s web this child becomes engulfed by the narcissistic parent.
Narcissists are very calculating individuals. They never do something for nothing. There are always strings attached, and they always want something in return for their efforts. They usually love and hoover the favourite child in the hope of having their complete loyalty and adoration for the rest of their life.
What must be understood about the narcissistic parent is that they know exactly what they are doing, and the golden child has endured years of hoovering, love bombing and undue praise. They have done this so as they can manipulate, and play with this child’s emotions, in the hope that they never lose them. They have projected their own false self onto the golden child in the hope of owning them. And own them, they do.
The narcissist has just bought them- self a life time of narcissistic supply. The golden child will now walk on eggshells for the rest of their life.
Grooming is a very dangerous way to break down an abuse victim’s defences.
Grooming and hoovering are two very dangerous abuse tactics because they often keep a victim stuck in their role, stuck in a state of confusion and a complete FOG (fear, obligation and guilt). The false kindness presented to the victim means that when red flags arise – the victim looks the other way. It becomes a case of:
‘well, they do all of these kind things for me, sing my praises almost all of the time. So that terrible thing they just said about me to me, must have been a slip of the tongue.’
FOG – Fear, Obligation and guilt
Fear: The golden child is afraid of the narcissistic parent and tries to make concrete a bond with their abuser in the hope of staying safe, and continuing on in golden child status.
Obligation: Golden children often feel a sense of obligation to the narcissistic parent who is suffocating them emotionally, often because of the narcissistic parents hoovering, buying of the golden and the continued praise .
Guilt: The golden child doesn’t understand why they have this special position. However, how can one possibly think of leaving their suicidle, and now incapable parent (who drives them crazy, won’t allow them to have an identity, or life of their own) when this person adores them so much.
‘It would break their heart.’
Buying a child, and holding a child in such a high regard is a very manipulative, emotionally dangerous action. This is an abuse of power, and can ultimately backfire when the child reaches adult hood.
So what happens to the child?
The golden child, just like the scapegoat often feels suffocated and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This child often feels as though they have no real identity. After all, to remain the golden child, they have had to refrain from having an opinion, and feelings or emotions.
Golden child syndrome leaves individual’s feeling anything but an individual because psychologically and developmentally the child has never had the opportunity to grow into a healthy individual. Instead, they have had conform to an identity chosen for them by the narcissistic parent in order to stay psychologically safe.
Golden children who make the decision to hold onto the role of golden child, often walk out into the world with a sense of entitlement, which makes survival in the real world difficult. Instead, they may become lost and confused when the people around them refuse to see the golden child as special, don’t take well to their rudeness, and don’t intend to buy their affections.
Like a mouse in the wilderness, the golden child is now vulnerable to the hoovering and love-bombing of future dangerous partners. In an effort to be praised and held in such high regard, instead of normal regard, they may go for what they know, and become entrenched in other dangerous relationships.
Like a child whom has come out of a fantasy world, they don’t know who they are, they don’t know how to be, and in all honesty, their toolbox is pretty much empty.
Adult golden children:
Both the golden – child and the scapegoat have had their identities stolen from themselves at a very young age. These two adult children would fare better if they refused the role given to them, and went in search of themselves; not whom they were brainwashed into believing they were.