Scapegoat, Golden Child & More: How to Identify & Heal from Narcissistic Family Roles

Did you grow up with a narcissist?

A clinical narcissist goes far beyond self-absorbed. A person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has no ability to empathize with others. They don’t have an awareness of the impact of their behavior and can be needy, indifferent, hostile and even cruel.

How do you begin to heal from the invisible wounds of being raised by someone like that?

I’ve been diving deep into family systems, roles and dysfunctional behavior patterns for a few weeks now on the blog, because getting clear and gaining understanding about your family of origin is one of the most important things you can do to transform your life.

So much of the time, this stuff is unconscious and covert. How do you know what’s normal if what you’ve experienced is all you’ve known?

I want to give you some hope…because as difficult as your childhood may have been, you can recover from growing up in a dysfunctional or narcissistic family system.

That’s why in this episode, I’m sharing the common traits and roles within a narcissistic family system so that you can start to identify, understand and honor your own experience…because that’s the first step to healing. Click HERE to see my video on this episode.


All dysfunctional families have an unspoken set of rules that drives behaviors and interactions. Narcissistic family systems are a really specific type of dysfunction, and so there are some common traits or “rules” that usually apply.

Here is a list of some of the patterns at work in a narcissistic family dynamic:


Within a narc family system, there is pressure for things to look “good”. There is more interest in how the family is perceived by the outside world than what is happening inside. This requires secrecy around anything negative or “shameful,” so no one is allowed to talk about what is actually going on to outsiders.

Compare and Despair Mindset

There’s often negative messaging given to the children about who they are and what they are. The narcissist might continuously compare them to other people or to each other and give the kids the feeling that they will never measure up. This is all about the deep insecurity of the narcissist because the underbelly of someone with this personality disorder is an extremely fragile sense of self and low self-esteem. This insecurity gets projected onto the other family members.

Lack of Empathy

The narc parent is incapable of having empathy or sympathy in any real way, and growing up in this system means not getting emotional needs met because a narcissist cannot understand the nuances of their children or others. Children do not feel and are not important within this system. Their role is to provide the narcissist with what they need (narcissistic supply), as in they are there to be used and to draw validation from.

Communication Issues

There is often no direct communication. No one is allowed to talk about what is real or about feelings that don’t align with the narc’s ego or agenda. Narcissists are often characterized by exaggeration or aggrandizement of themselves, and all the other family members must dial into that reality (or else). There’s usually all kinds of passive aggression and triangulating of family members. Siblings are often pitted against one another.

Blurred Boundaries

In a narc family, there is no right to privacy. The narcissist feels entitled and like they have a right to everything and everyone. Example: If they want to know something, they feel like they have every right to read your journal or listen in on a phone call or search your room. Identity is often blurred as well because a narc parent will claim any success or accomplishment their children have as their own.

Now that we’ve established what can go on within the narcissistic home, let’s move into…


As Julia Hall, author and mentor for sufferers of narcissistic abuse, says

“The narcissistic family can be understood as a play with characters that serve the lead – the narcissist (usually a parent)…Narcissistic families have uncannily similar patterns from one to the next, with the actors playing pretty much the same roles.”

I find her analogy particularly useful and potentially even freeing for those who are unaware that these roles were or are in place.

The Narcissist

This person is the center of the system, with everything and everyone else revolving around him or her. The narcissist could be considered the tyrant of the family and they hold onto that position with dysfunctional, manipulative and hurtful behavior. They blame, shame, guilt, compete and criticize. They tend to gaslight or deny the reality of others.

Drama, pain, and suffering of others, sadly, is often what they need to fulfill their distorted perception of themselves and get their narcissistic supply met.

The Enabler

This person is killing themselves to support the narcissist’s belief of who they are. It can be the spouse or other parent, but sometimes could be one of the children. The enabler accepts the narc’s reality without question and perpetuates the cycle by making excuses for them and/or apologizing for them. Unfortunately, this behavior can be fueled by a codependent cycle of abuse and can be addictive, as the narcissist often manipulates this person with special treatment or rewards.

Flying Monkeys

These are the kids in the family system who are carrying out the needs and the wants of the narcissist. This can include bullying of other family members to stay in line with the narc. They are usually the easiest for the narcissist to manipulate in the system. Often they can grow up to display narcissistic behavior themselves.

The Golden Child

This person is seen as an extension of the narcissistic parent and it is their role (much like the Hero Child I talked about in last week’s episode here) to succeed and bring positive attention to the family. The narcissistic parent chooses a child to be the favorite and may give them special status, attention, and praise, yet will also take credit in some way for their accomplishments. The cost to the child in this role can be overfunctioning, compulsive overachieving, loss of identity, perfectionism and low self-esteem.

The Scapegoat

This is the person whom the narc has chosen to basically be the punching bag of the family. They are the target for abuse. All the family problems or anything that is incongruent with the “reality” of the narcissist is blamed on this person.

The Scapegoat can turn out to be the most vocal in the system. They tend to be the ones who are telling the truth about what’s actually going on…which in turn makes them even more of a target. Just like the same role within an addicted family system, the Scapegoat acts out the veiled frustration, anger, and feelings of the entire group.

Again, I don’t want you to lose hope that if this was (or is) your experience, that there is a way to recover and heal from this. But you have to take the first step.

What’s that step? Self-awareness. The good news is if you’re here and you’re reading this, you are already on your way;). I created a little cheat sheet for you with a checklist with this information, and you can download it right here.

Everything I teach is based on my 5 Pillars of Transformation, and the first pillar is self-awareness. It all starts with you learning and understanding what your experience actually was. Only then can you start the healing process.

I hope this episode helped you take that first step to raise your awareness. If you got value from this, and you think it could help someone else in your world, please share it.

Remember, if there’s a topic you want me to cover, please comment below and let me know! Everything I create is for YOU because you are it for me, and I read everything you send me so that I can best serve your needs and keep on my mission to help as many people as I can create better, healthier and more vibrant lives through improved mental health!

I hope you have an amazing week deep diving into this topic and as always take care of you.

Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.

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The post Scapegoat, Golden Child & More: How to Identify & Heal from Narcissistic Family Roles appeared first on Positively Positive.

Would I Be a Disappointment to My Teenage Self?

Recently, I was invited to a Facebook group for my ten-year high school reunion.

I graduated in 2010. When I got the invite, I almost couldn’t believe that it has been long enough since high school for a ten-year reunion to start being planned.

When I was a teenager, ten years seemed like an impossibly long time. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be creeping up on 30; that seemed like a distant future of maturity, wisdom, and being, like, really old. Now when I look back to ten years ago, it doesn’t feel like any time at all.

This reminder of how long it’s been since high school has caused me to start asking myself: What would teenage me think of my life now?

Reflecting on what we wanted when we were younger can, I think, be a helpful way for us to evaluate if we are going in the right direction and to appreciate how far we’ve come.

It’s also a little uncomfortable.

My life doesn’t look like I thought it would when I was seventeen.

If you had asked me at seventeen what I thought my life would look like in ten years, I would have probably started by listing all the things I thought I would have accomplished by then: graduated college, published a book (or a few), traveled extensively and lived or studied abroad. Gotten married (I would have said this, but I don’t think I would have really believed it — more on that later). Made a lot of money. Be well established in a successful career.

I had a sense that I was waiting for my life to “start.” I think I had this idea that after I finished college, started a career, and settled down my life would truly begin and I would just coast along happily until I died.

Seventeen-year-old me might have been a little out of touch with reality.

This is the reality: I graduated from college. I traveled abroad once, but I haven’t lived or studied abroad. I’m not married, but I’m in a long-term, happy relationship. I haven’t published a book, but I share my writing in other ways. I don’t have a lot of money (exactly the opposite). I have a job that I don’t love but that more or less covers my basic necessities and gives me a lot of flexibility. I’m still figuring out what my career plans are long-term.

Not exactly the glamorous future I envisioned at seventeen, but by no means a bad life, either.

Would I be disappointed in myself?

Seventeen-year-old me had unrealistically high expectations and was very judgmental. (Twenty-seven-year-old me is also inclined to be judgmental, but I try hard not to be). I think there is a good chance that she would look at my life and not like what she saw.

What about all of your plans!? She would say. You were supposed to move to Paris! You were supposed to publish a best-selling novel! You were supposed to have everything figured out by now and be a career success! And also be married and have a kid!

Clearly, I had no concept back then of the true expenses of travel, or immigration policies (Did you know it’s not easy to just pack up and move to Paris?). I didn’t understand how much career success can be out of your control, and I didn’t quite grasp how much real work, years of it, go into becoming a successful writer. And I definitely didn’t know the first thing about how romantic relationships actually work.

The high expectations I had for myself at seventeen probably never could have been met. And what’s more, I don’t know if anything I did would have satisfied that younger version of me; I have always been very hard on myself, but it’s only recently that I’ve recognized it as “being hard on myself” and not “holding myself to perfectly reasonable expectations that I fail to meet because I am a failing failure.”

There are also some aspects of my life that young me would be proud of.

At seventeen my mental health was in the toilet. I was depressed and anxious but didn’t recognize these things as depression and anxiety. I didn’t like myself very much. When I said before that I wouldn’t have truly believed deep-down I would ever get married, it was because I thought I was a garbage person that no one could ever really love if they really knew me.

Thankfully, I don’t feel even half so bad anymore. I still deal with anxiety and depression, but they are much better managed. I don’t think I am a garbage person. I know that someone can really know me and still love me.

My life isn’t perfect. But I can handle things a lot better now, and in general am more content with myself.

Seventeen-year-old me would not have thought any of that was possible.

Reflecting on what we wanted in the past vs. what we have now can be enlightening.

When we think about what past versions of ourselves would think of us now it can help put our life into perspective. It can show us how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It can remind us of the things that are really important to us, the things that have always been important to us.

Looking back, certain things stick out to me: I’ve always wanted to travel, I’ve always wanted to write. I’m reminded that these are still things I should make a priority in my life. I’m also reminded that I’ve always been inclined to a “the grass is greener” mentality. Back then I had an idealized version in my head of how good my life would be in 10 years after I had accomplished everything on my list; these days I still sometimes find myself slipping into thoughts of “things would be better if I just made more money/published a book/accomplished some other goal.”

That’s when I have to remind myself that I can’t wait for my life to start after some arbitrary point in the future. It’s already happening now.

So maybe I haven’t yet accomplished all the “to-do’s” on my teenaged wish list. Maybe I never will. But I know something that that version of me didn’t know: That life goes on and it can get better. It can be good in ways you never even imagined were possible. Things change, goals evolve. There will always be more work to do, so there’s no sense putting pressure on yourself to “get it all together” by a certain time. It takes as long as it takes.

Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and the occasional poem. She also publishes articles on travel, mental health, and writing. Visit her blog, A Passport And A Pencil, or follow her on Instagram.

Image courtesy of Blake Barlow.

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  2. A Letter I Would Send to My Teenage Self
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The post Would I Be a Disappointment to My Teenage Self? appeared first on Positively Positive.

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