Some years ago, I wrote about the concept of the golden child in a family. Succinctly put, this is a child who is asked to maintain the self esteem of a narcissist parent by being everything that he or she was not, being the child that is put forward in the community as special. The downside of this is that the parent is the one who takes any success that the child has and the child is conditioned to put the needs of the parent before their own. In effect, everything they do is to make the parent look good or to make them happy. In extreme cases, the child is subjected to an emotional caretaking role and is often involved in conversations and discussions about the parent’s life that no child should be involved in. It obligates the child to be codependent with the parent and the parent sucks the child dry. The last point especially can be extremely damaging and that is where the term emotional incest can be applied.

When the child becomes an adult, this obligation continues and the child will continue to run their lives around the needs of the parent who becomes the focal point of their lives. They will often sacrifice other healthier relationships to maintain the dysfunctional cycle with the parent. Often the golden child is seen as narcissist themselves towards anyone but the parent and it is extremely difficult for them to have normal, healthy relationships. Often the parent interferes and makes it clear that they disapprove if they feel they are losing control. I have known situations where a parent emotionally distances themselves and uses silent treatment until the child falls into line.

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This situation is bad enough. However, it can get far worse once the golden child has a child themselves. The narcissist parent is ready and more than willing to crown a new golden child in the family. If this situation is not recognised and stopped, then the cycle will repeat itself. Only this time, the original golden child becomes a manipulation tool and is brushed aside for the grandparent to take over. The grandchild becomes the new beacon of the family and another vehicle for the narcissist grandparent to fill the self esteem void. There is no end to the lengths they will go to maintain this hold over the new addition, especially if they feel that someone is wrestling control from their hands. They will break marriages, relationships, use financial and emotional manipulation to meet their ends. The original golden child will, of course, be very sensitive to this manipulation and will, without intervention, eventually fall into line fearing the loss of the relationship.

As a child of a narcissist parent, you can guarantee one thing. That they will attempt to take over using any time that they have with your child to move their own agenda forward. Before you know it, the same dysfunctional parenting style that you were subjected to is at play again. However, as they may not have the same direct influence as they had over their child, more covert tactics might be used.

It is important that a child is protected from any negative influence in his or her life and while it is always positive for children to have a functional relationship with the grandparents, the frequency and type of contact should be firmly set by the parents. It is important that the mother and father are on the same page with this so an awareness of the damage done is needed and recognised. Essentially, grandparents are only entitled to the rights afforded them by the parents. If they are narcissistic, then they need to be kept away from your children or at least extremely strong boundaries set. As a child of a narcissist parent, you have been taught that your needs are less important than theirs. That you are just the vehicle to make them feel better about themselves. Don’t put your child through the same.

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This Post Has 10 Comments

    1. ELLE

      Dear Dr. You mentioned to reach out to you, I am at my complete wits end of how to get my son and I out of the grip of my mother’s codependent control and manipulation, she has set my son to fear me, and I have fallen apart with calling off a marriage due to my mother’s influence by her fear of losing control. It has taken me this long to reach out, please help.

  1. Jamma

    This situation sounds very like my own. Except I have never felt like a golden child-as the grandchild. My grandmother did this to my mom and now my mom is passed away and I’m the only family member left to live with her. I don’t know how to exit this situation due to the extreme guilt I feel for leaving her alone. My social life and self esteem are suffering. I can’t talk to her about anything and the few times I was brave enough to say I wanted to move out she always says something like. She wishes she was dead. I also worry that even if I move out it won’t be any better for me that I will feel more guilty, she will be more depressed, and I’ll be driving back and forth to drive her around all the time. That’s all she needs me for really. Sometimes I think I’m overreacting and she isn’t that bad, but it’s cyclical. So I am the bad guy when shes not acting out. I can’t get my head around it and therapy hasn’t shown me any thing new.

  2. Robii McCann

    A child is 10 months old when the father passes away. The man was the second oldest out of five children but the only child that maintained a career and that never went to jail. So he is her “star” child. Once he is pronounced dead, as any mother would be, his mother is instantly hit hard with grief. He leaves behind three kids: female age 14 male age 5 female age 10 months. After the funeral has passed and a few weeks go by, the mans mother begins to disregard the also grieving mother of his youngest child with whom he was in a relationship with at the time of his death, and attempts to cling to her grandbaby saying “she all I have left of him” even though he has two other kids. Also before the death, she wouldn’t take time to sit with the baby for more than twenty minutes so the baby would always cry when the grandmother tried to the baby. Fast forward and now the baby is 9 yrs old. The grandmother has convinced herself no one but her need to the child, spoils the child like it’s her own child and disregards her other 9 grandkids. The child has become convinced that if she don’t live with her grandmother, her grandmother will be sad all the time because the grandmother misses her so much even thought the child’s mom must allow the child two weekends a month court ordered grandparents privilege. Can covert incest apply between a grandparent and grandchild? I’m at my wits end to say the least.

  3. C W Wade

    I think the article is catnip to the narcissist. In my experience, they have very poor insight so they’re most likely to think it’s about someone else who may be thwarting their ability to control. Blame a grandparent! Project it onto your spouses parents to alienate them. Controlling your spouse and children is easier if they’re isolated. I could go on, but they do a lot of damage.

    1. Dr. Nicholas Jenner

      Thank you for the comment. The article covers a very specific set of circumstances where a narcissist parent who treated their child as a golden child attempts to transfer that concept onto grandchildren. The original golden child, who is often obligated and has been taught to meet the needs of the narcissistic parent, allows access to the grandchildren and by doing so makes the abuse generational., Not all grandparents are warm and fuzzy !

  4. Amanda Leonard

    Dr. Jenner
    I have researched this topic and have not found much more information about how to stop this kind of abuse within my own family. My husband is the original abuse victim and to this day doesn’t see or want to see his mother’s actions toward himself or now our two daughters. Where can I find more information and what else can I do to keep this from happening to my children? My husband refuses to limit contact and I have been unofficially outcast from visits to his parents with the girls. What can I do? I’ve tried therapy with my husband but he always ends up right back to jumping at her every word. It there something or someway I can teach or protect my children from their grandmother’s insists on making my children responsible for her own happiness?

    Thank you for you work and I look forward to gaining my insight.
    Amanda Leonard