First things first however ... some narc parents turn their most successful child into a golden child because it makes them look good. The narcissist longs to hear: "You did a great job raising him. What a nice young man, and so successful!" This is to say that not all narcs reject children who are successful. Indeed they can become just the opposite of rejecting parents, turning into helicopter parents instead (i.e. too "glommy").
But the opposite can also happen where the parent props up the least successful (with rewards, money and gifts) and deprives the most successful (ignores, scapegoats and rejects). In this situation, the parent hopes that by propping up a chosen golden to lavish attention on, then the child will be successful, and by rejecting the scapegoat, it will help the scapegoat to be a failure.
Even with all of the extremely manipulative "propping" and scapegoating, scapegoats can be successful anyway, despite what Mom or Dad want for them, and often are. One reason many become more successful than goldens is because they are left alone, left out of the family, left out of family get-togethers, slandered, excommunicated, etc. What does the scapegoat have left? Work, of course. There may be therapy for a couple of years, which helps them to learn they were abused, but after that there is work, and before-hours work, and after-hours work. Scapegoats have been known to work too much, too hard, to the detriment of other things in their lives (becoming work-a-holics -- I'll discuss this in another post). Although not all driven-to-succeed work-a-holics become successful, many of them do. The other reason why scapegoats often become the most successful is because Mom and Dad have sacrificed them and they can no longer go home to ask for help, so they HAVE TO SUCCEED. This goes against what the parent wants, of course, but narcs are known for short term cruel, devastating impacts rather than long term devious thinking. Also, many narcs want their scapegoats to be in role so much that they really believe that deprivation will keep them in role (i./e. forever gang-bullied by the family).
In almost all cases I have seen, the parent tells or shows the child that the child is not good enough through a barrage of criticizing, insults and rejections. See my post on perfection in abusive relationships.
Following are three examples of real people who are successful, but still scapegoated by their parent. What I think is going on in the minds of the narcissists come after these examples. Narcs are usually fairly predictable and obtusely unaware when it comes to relationships, so I think what I say will make sense to you. Challenges are welcome, of course.
A MEDICAL DOCTOR'S STORY:
This story is about a doctor that I know. He is not the type of person who you would find at a forum, so I am telling his story first:
This doctor's mother let him go 30 years ago. She avoided his graduations, she avoided his expertise when she was ill, she mostly avoided him at family events. He described the expression on her face as disappointing and disapproving. For the most part, he has not been a part of her life for those 30 years until recently. When he did see her at family events, she either criticized him, or ignored him or told him that he was always her problem child, a child who wouldn't behave properly (as if being a doctor isn't behaving, but that's what narcissists do!). Meanwhile he has a brother who has spent his entire life in and out of prison. His mother spends all of her holidays and free time with this brother.
There came a time, however, when the brother was released from prison and noticed his mother wasn't quite well (beginning of Alzheimer's), so he put her in a nursing home. The son with the prison record lives at her house and lives off of her money via power of attorney. In the meantime, the doctor sees the mother at the nursing home more than the coddled brother even though he has to drive 530 miles to do so. Since he doesn't have power of attorney or health care proxy, he cannot move her closer to him to look in on her more often to make sure her medical needs are met.
So, here he is, a medical doctor, but her ne'er do well son is in charge of her medical care!
The doctor knows about narcissism and feels that his mother is a classic narcissist with a golden child and a scapegoat, but beyond that, he hasn't thought about her very much, preferring to concentrate on his patients, new medical breakthroughs and the family he built with his wife.
When I asked questions, he laughed nervously and shook his head as if he has always been embarrassed by his mother.
One of the questions I asked was how he dealt with self esteem issues. I phrased it something like this: "We all know that narcissists want to cut you down. It's what they do: criticize, insult, punish, and treat you like a little child who needs lectures when you're 50."
He laughed at that, and rolled his eyes as if embarassed by having a parent like that, and then said something like, "I had a father who was supportive of me. He was a typical enabler when it came to her, but it was a wink-wink-nod-nod kind of thing where he let me get my science projects and homework done and follow my dreams by taking over the demands she put on me. He would also deal with the criticisms and abuse that were meant for me by pretending that they were directed at him instead, even if it meant that he had to argue endlessly with her. It was his way of saving us. He died just before my highschool graduation. Her narcissism got so much worse after that, but by then I was out of the house and in college. My brother was still at home, so he took the brunt of her demands and abuse until he dropped out of highschool and left. After many years, he went back. She made a decision shortly after his return that I was her problem child, and he was her good child, and that my wife and I were no longer welcome to be in her presence unless we twisted our lives inside-out for her. I mean, she wanted me to give up my practice. Can you imagine?" and he laughed again, shaking his head in disagreement with her demand. "So okay, I accepted that she didn't want us in her life. It was her choice. Once we had children we didn't want her around anyway. It would have been bad for the kids. Her insults weren't something my wife wanted the kids to be around. Our kids are great members of society mainly because we didn't expose them to abusive family members."
He minimally advises patients who confide in him about abusive parents. He also tries to comfort teenagers who are being put in foster homes because of drug-addicted or abusive parents. He told me that his advice to all of these patients is the same: to live their own lives as autonomously as possible from the offending parent, and to study narcissism as much as possible. He said it was important to study narcissism and abuse because studying it makes it very clear that abuse is not the fault of the target, ever. It is due to a personality disorder and the cruel mindset in the perpetrator, period.
See my post on what abuse is and who it is perpetrated by.
And by the way, I agree with the doctor. It is always best to figure out why Mom (or Dad) act sadistic, or betraying, rather than why Mom (or Dad) "doesn't love me". As long as you are stuck on "Mom (or Dad) doesn't love me and why don't they care about me?" you will not be able to transcend the problem, or the pain, or the attraction to give up your whole life and your voice to please the impossible-to-please intermittently rejecting parent.
A LAWYER'S STORY:
This next story is about an adopted daughter:
She was welcomed into her new family as an equal to "the other siblings", but soon realized she was not equal.
She had high ambitions unlike her other siblings. She was pushed into many of the arts in terms of extracurricular "lessons", but excelled in science much to the disappointment of her adoptive mother. She received an undergraduate degree in engineering and a graduate degree in law.
She has two children.
Most of the other girls in the family became mothers and home-makers and never went to college.
She is rarely invited to family events, and when she is, she is often criticized, lectured to, and made to feel outside of the family unit, i.e. like "not one of them." She also feels that she will never be "good enough" for the family. A child or children "not feeling good enough" is typical for narcissistic and alcoholic homes, but rare for other kinds of homes.
She was in the forum one day asking why her mother can't love her, and her children, and why, even with all of those degrees, she is lectured at as though she is still a little girl who can't tie her shoes right. She was asking why her adoptive mother couldn't accept her and see that she was a good person. Why did this mother treat her as an outsider, not deserving of the same respect and love as the birth siblings?
Note here: narcissistic mothers even reject their birth children, and they reject them A LOT, so it is unlikely that it has anything to do with being adopted. See my post on favoritism in the family.
A RADIO AND TELEVISION PERSONALITY'S STORY:
The next story is about someone I know from the forum of survivors that I belong to. She rarely comes to get advice; she more often gives advice. She is one of its senior members.
But she does talk about the circumstances of her life sometimes.
Here is her story:
She was deemed "not to amount to much" as a child by her mother. In most of her stories, it is obvious that she is the scapegoat of the family. She describes herself as an extrovert, and hated by her mother for being one. She describes her mother as neglectful, cruel, judgmental, domineering and publicly demure. The mother was also described as nice to people, but endlessly critical behind their backs in private. She describes her mother as "one jealous narc!"
She spent her childhood trying to please her mother, but when she realized that she never could, she started being the family clown to help take the pressure off. She was very unpopular with her mother, who punished her and isolated her for her comedic transgressions, but popular with her siblings, particularly her sisters who felt their lives were going to be endless drudgery and micro-managing by their mother.
After so much punishment and isolation from being the family comedian, she learned to do it more privately, clandestinely, comforting her "punished" siblings and getting them to laugh and dream.
However, it didn't all go smoothly as narcissistic mothers usually try to pit their children against each other. They were told: "Don't listen to her; she's not going to amount to anything, while you will," and "Why would you want to listen to her? She's always in trouble. Is that what you want? To always be in trouble and locked in your room?" and "She's no one you should be following. She isn't worthy of your attention. Snub her, for yourself, and for me. Being in trouble is not a good example to follow." Note: she was only in trouble in her mother's eyes.
One of the reasons she feels she got into radio and television was because she was rewarded overwhelmingly for being quick-witted and funny, in spite of her mother. While she was only rewarded for it at home minimally (in the way I have described), she was rewarded for it from her friends at school. She also excelled in acting in highschool and college. She won scholarships, she graduated with honors. She was also praised for her interviewing.
She dealt with her mother's rejection until she was 28 years old. After awhile, during those years, she gave up on "the thought of a mother's love", learning not to care. By the time she had accepted her fate as "the permanent rejected daughter" she was doing comedies about her mother, and of dysfunctional-walking-on-eggshells type of family situations, using things her mother said to her during her life.
This catapulted her to higher success (the funniest comedy is often what you've lived through), and of course, made her even more popular with her siblings to the point where they were avoiding the mother, or laughing when the mother would try to lecture them about their clothes, or cooking, or child-rearing. She also made enough money to help out any other siblings who were being scapegoated or expected to give up their lives to be mom's plaything.
This put "jealous narc Mom" on the outside of her entire family.
This is when the mother tried to get back into her comedian daughter's life, without much initial success.
But narc-y Mom was persistent, constantly showing up at her daughter's work, at her shows, at her house, in the audience, trying to laugh through the comedies. It took a lot of "suspending disbelief" and "benefit of the doubt" to let her mother back into her life at all.
The daughter insisted on a year of therapy, but the mother balked and left.
The daughter then began writing skits of a "perfect mother" not needing therapy (a gag).
However after six months, the mother finally capitulated especially since her other daughters were challenging her to go to therapy too.
At the time, the therapy seemed to help. But from all I have witnessed, therapy with narc parents does not work unless it is ongoing. It is too easy for the narc parent to slip back into lying, gaslighting, betraying, slandering, backstabbing, silent treatments and other nefarious activities that make them horrific and terrible parents. It is like an AA program in that they need something to help them stay on track, to keep the ultimate goal in mind, i.e,. replacing a despotic authoritarian relationship (with power struggles) with a relationship that is mutually loving and caring.
The other tell-tale sign of the mother only wanting a relationship with her daughter based on how much she could control her daughter, was that the mother wanted to be a "stage Mom". The daughter didn't catch on that this was about control at first and let her mother's advice influence her too much: what she would wear, what kinds of jokes she would tell (to keep the comedy off of Mommy-dearest, of course), what kinds of jobs she should apply for, and so on.
Anyway most narc-y Moms end up trying to be stage-Mom in situations where a rejected daughter's success happens to be in the public eye.
Then the daughter got cancer. She wasn't expected to survive. She had to give up her work and cancel guest appearances.
At the same time her brother moved in with her mother because he fell on hard times financially.
How did narc-y Mom react to her daughter's cancer? She went to travel throughout Europe for six weeks with the brother (the excuse given was to cheer him up). Okay, but narc-y Mom never once called to see how her daughter was faring with cancer treatments, or even whether she was alive or dead. And, yes, this is more common among narcs than anyone would like to believe. See my post on why narcissistic abusers pick the worst times of your life to inflict pain and do damage.
When the daughter unexpectedly survived the cancer, and the mother returned, the damage to the relationship had been done. The mother voiced many, many excuses, of course, but they fell on deaf ears.
She occasionally sees her mother, but only at big family gatherings, about once a year or so. Even then, the mother pretends she is sick and has been forsaken by her "terrible daughter" (note the hypocrisy here, as well as the projection and pretending to be the real victim: all not-so-lovable narcissistic traits). With the exception of her one son, her other daughters and the rest of the family are on to the mother now.
There are some gray areas to this story obviously, but not enough to warrant the excuse of her mother sacrificing her daughter in this way, and to this extent.
MY OWN IDEAS ABOUT WHY NARCISSISTS REJECT THEIR MOST SUCCESSFUL CHILD:
The most obvious answer to this issue is that narcissists want to feel higher in stature than their child. Narcissists are competitive "game players" and if they don't feel higher in stature or feel like they are winning, they don't want to play. They walk away "from the game" that they set up. The only other way for them to feel higher in stature is to tell a child who is successful that they are still not good enough (gambling on a child believing it despite the child's high achievements).
The other obvious answer is that they love bullying and putting people down. Yes, they love it, otherwise they wouldn't do it. They feel that they can't bully as effectively, or manipulate children without the wild swings that they are known for: "help" followed by "withdrawl of help", "love" followed by "withdrawl of love", "accepting" followed by "rejection", "praising success" followed by "hyper-criticisms and reprimanding". If their children are autonomous, successful and don't care what their parent thinks then these swings, these manipulations fail to work any more for the narc, and since manipulation is about the only thing they care about and live for (literally), they don't know what else to do. Their profession (the profession of manipulating) has been taken away from them. It is null and void, ineffective, a broken toy.
Like a child, they can be depressed that it no longer works.
About the only thing they can do at a family function is snarl at the child who they rejected, the child who is not "manipulate-able". Sometimes they "pretend-praise" an estranged child just for show.
One of the less obvious explanations for why they would reject a successful child has to do with mirroring and what they grew up with.
If they did not make as big a splash in their career as their child did, this makes them feel very insecure because they are status addicts. Besides flattery and bullying, status is their "be all" and "end all" in terms of how they build up their self esteem. Because of these superficial main building blocks for their self confidence, they can also fall really, really hard (which I will discuss in another post -- in the meantime, the point I will make is that most people are disgusted by these "ambitions" of theirs, so they can, and often find themselves, isolated from people with integrity).
Narcissists also use money as a weapon with their children, and if a child is successful financially, they cannot use that weapon very well either.
Like most people, they are also attracted to what they know. If your parent grew up with bully parents or addicted parents, they will gravitate the most towards children who are most like the bully or addict parents, and give up on children who are successful, sober and team-players. It depends on whether they were hurt by their parents or treated with reverence and how their minds dealt with seeing bullying and/or addiction. If they liked what they saw, they will use it and be attracted to children who use it too. If they were sought after for being a snitch, and a backstabber, they will try to be a snitch and backstabber between their children (i.e. supporting the bully child by snitching and backstabbing the child who is being bullied). If they saw that bullying and abuse "works", they will assume that bullying and abuse will work for them too once they become parents. Mostly, they do all of this blindly, without much thought, without any long term reflection, without any immediate care about what it is doing to their reputations.
Narcissists are known for being the least reflective (including self-reflection): they tend to act on impulse.
It is very common for narcissists to be treated in old age the way they were treated as children because of this blind attraction to toxic "parent-like figures" that remind them of their bully parent. Narcs not only want to be around people who are familiar to them, but they are also known to choose to be taken care of by them when they are sick, old and dying. If the golden child is not a bully, and was primarily groomed to parent and take care of Mom or Dad (i.e. the child who is a live-in caretaker most of their lives or who constantly checks up on Mom or Dad to see if they need anything at the store), then the parent isn't so likely to be abused or neglected by the child. But for children who were rewarded for bullying as children and adults, or deeply favoritized by the parent (not treating children as equals, or excluding the other children from the family, for instance), or children who became domestic violence offenders with a spouse, the risks for the elderly parent being abused or neglected is very, very high. Very few narc parents go to therapy for the sake of themselves and their children, or are willing to go, so they really don't know what they are doing when it comes to their relationships.
Therapy with an insightful therapist is one of the only situations where enlightenment about your upbringing and how it shaped you can occur. Otherwise, if you are a narc or the victim of a narc, your decisions and attractions can be to your detriment (victims tend to be attracted to narcs because that is what is familiar, and they figure that out in therapy, thus transcending it, and narcs tend to be attracted to people they feel they can easily victimize plus to narcs and sociopaths who will help them bully, and they rarely figure out anything). So the narc will either be blindly mimicing what they saw as a child, or they will gravitate to people who seem very, very familiar to what they grew up with. They often favoritize children who seem most like their parent, whether that concentration of attention be on the care-taking variety of child or the bullying variety of child (note: most narcs usually are attracted to a child who bullies; they also groom one child to bully -- I will have a post up soon about why some golden children are bullies and others are not -- in short, it has to do with how the parent groomed them and rewarded them as children).
See my post on the movie, Good Will Hunting about how transforming your life and attitudes about relationships is likely to take place in therapy (note: this is my only post that comes close to what I am discussing here ... hopefully there will be more appropriate ones to this discussion, so check back for another link if interested).
Some of the other things your narcissistic parent may want from their relationships:
* If your narcissistic parent grew up in an authoritarian family, where children were expected to adhere to what Mom or Dad wanted at all times, where discipline was about punishments instead of guidance, or where their own parent was treated as royalty, they may want that for themselves from their own children (thus keeping the tradition of the authoritarian family alive). However, in this day and age, it is harder to arm-twist children into authoritarianism because most adult children no longer live with Mom or Dad at the manor; they are out on their own, influenced by many others, and often in distant locations, with their own careers and family. There are always up-sides and down-sides to styles of families. The upside of the authoritarian family are members who pledge loyalty to the family and parents, and the various hierarchies within it, and are rewarded for it by their parents. The down-side is that authoritarian families can easily slip into toxic abusive families who have a lot of estranged children and grandchildren. They can take back-stabbing to an extreme, and it is all too common besides. Authoritarian families typically are not families who listen to children or take children seriously, no matter what age the children are (they tend to be formal, giving much more advice than most people want to tolerate). They are families who pressure members to adhere to a maternal or paternal life prescription, which unfortunately can include child scapegoating (i.e. gang bullying by family members towards one singular member). A lot of abusers, addicts, shut-ins, ultra-quiet-to-themselves-rebels and family rejects come from authoritarian families. There are also a lot of lawyers, politicians and get-rich-schemers who come from authoritarian families as well. What is least present in these families are children who choose co-operative professions: orchestra musicians, support dancers (non-principal dancers), theater actors, common soldiers, Navy Seals, team script writers, mediation experts, equal business partners, a family business where each member has an equal share, working in the construction trade with a lot of workers who are equals, and so on. If you chose these kinds of professions, you are likely the scapegoat of the family. Being "head of something" is always pushed on members from authoritarian families.
* If your narc parent saw a lot of irrational punishments, betrayal, emotional terrorizing, the silent treatment, insults flying about, extraordinary isolation of children so that they are unable to form strong familial attachments, erroneous blaming based on erroneous perfectionism, snitching and extreme ultimatums levied at children from their own upbringing, they may feel it is their right, duty and privilege to do that to their own children as well. Be aware that most of these are categorized as abuse, so what they show they want is to retain the family tradition of child abuse. This doesn't mean that you are obligated to indulge them in keeping the child abuse family custom, and the more you fight against this programming, the more likely it is that you, and the better people of your family, will break the tendency for child abuse to keep happening in the present, or to be passed down through the generations. Also, the more that your siblings can agree that abuse should not be tolerated or allowed to continue, the less likely that abuse of any other family members will happen as well.
Beware: if your parent likes abuse and wants to keep using it, they will try to reward siblings who share their vision, and reject the ones who don't. Most abusers love pitting siblings against each other and comparing you to your siblings in a negative way to keep themselves from being accountable for bullying, or cleaning up their bullying. They will also try to do just about anything to keep using bullying, betrayals and triangulation, even to their own detriment (some narcs do commit suicide, even though their victims run a much higher suicide rate).
A QUESTION I ASKED FROM MY FELLOW SURVIVORS AND FORUM MEMBERS:
Note: because the following is a casual question, it is not a scientific study. I asked it to get some insights into writing this article.
The question was: "Does your Narcissistic mother get more abusive, cause drama, or get rejecting the more successful you become? Or does she try to make you her golden child, be a "stage Mom", get dripping sweet?"
The great majority of these members (36 of them at time of writing) said that their narc mothers vacillated wildly between both. If they didn't vacillate, they were flat-out rejected by their mother. None had experienced the full time "stage Mom phenomenon" without "the rage Mom phenomenon", i.e. some major rejections along the way.
Why the Narcissist Hates You for Achieving Success -- from the UK site, "Living with a Psychopath -- When the Mask Slips"
The Scapegoating Narcissistic Mother -- by Gail Meyers. She tells how her own mother would miss her graduations on purpose.
Here is an excerpt of her post:
... narcissistic mother needs a bad scapegoat in order to support the denial and facade. So when you start to excel it actually makes narcissistic mother uncomfortable because it threatens her assessment of you. She may very well also become jealous of any success you have.
The Narcissist Hates You -- by Alexander Burgemeester, PhD
The Narcissist and Children -- also by Alexander Burgemeester, PhD
Wealthy Selfies: How Being Rich Increases Narcissism -- A Time Magazine article by Maia Szalavitz
The Narcissist Hates You -- by Alexander Burgemeester, PhD
The Narcissist and Children -- also by Alexander Burgemeester, PhD
Wealthy Selfies: How Being Rich Increases Narcissism -- A Time Magazine article by Maia Szalavitz
The Inevitability of Fractured Sibling Relationships in Dysfunctional Families -- by Marcia Serota, M.D.
Step Out Of The Scapegoat Role -- from the "Claim Your Treasure" website
Why family scapegoats become lifelong victims -- by Lucky Otters Haven