A narcissistic mother encourages hero child narcissism when it’s to her benefit.
From a narcissistic parent’s point of view, the golden or hero child’s purpose is to keep the family intact and make everything look good on the outside. It’s his or her job to bring esteem and pride to the narcissistic parent. They often do very well in school, are star athletes, popular, and achieve high awards in what they do. Their job is to be a perfect representative of the family as a creation of the narcissistic mother.
The hero child role allows narcissistic parents to be reassured they’re doing well. This makes the narcissistic mother feel that she’s doing a good job raising her kids when in reality she’s done little good for her family. Sadly, all she has done is cause major dysfunction, emotional damage, and dependency when perpetrating narcissistic abuse.
Many of my coaching clients ask about troublesome sibling and benefit when they learn to identify the pattern of hero child narcissism. Some of my coaching clients have been treated as a golden child or hero child and fear they will become or already are narcissists.
All hero or golden children, of course, don’t become narcissists. If you were a hero or golden child and are bothering to read this, it’s highly unlikely you have pathological narcissism. Those who are thoroughly narcissistic may be reading other posts, like “why don’t others adore me as much as mom did?”
Some hero children, however, develop narcissistic tendencies or personality disorders partly because of being placed in that role by the narcissistic mother. The narcissistic mother uses the hero role to put her child on a pedestal to serve as a passing narcissistic supply.
Because if she decides the child is a “good” reflection of herself, she can boost her ego. She’ll use flattery, bragging, money, gifts, and a disproportionate amount of her attention to reward the hero child for acting in a way that makes her feel good. The younger a child is, the less developed their sense of having a seperate self. Thus the child is an easy target for manipulation by a narcissistic parent.
Passing moments of being put in a role such as a hero or golden child will usually leave the child’s self esteem intact, but repetitive treatment of this manner is costly to the child. It robs the child of the ability to feel an internal sense of accomplishment and confidence in the world in favor of the immediate gratification the narcissistic mother provides at her whim, impairing the development of a healthy ego and self esteem.
A healthy mother helps you to grow up with a sense of confidence in your own ability to interpret and respond to the world by encouraging the child to make age appropriate decisions on their own and providing realistic information about the world.
A narcissistic parent does the opposite, filtering and distorting information about the world to her benefit but to the child’s expense, bending the truth and violating the child’s sense of reality.
For the child placed in hero or golden role, the narcissistic mother drips approval continuously and excessively to manipulate the hero child to solve her problems, take care of her other children and household chores, as well as look good to the outside world so she gets plenty of compliments for her parenting.
In other words, the mother acts in a way that sets up an addictive, enmeshed relationship between she and the hero child. Through this emotional abuse, the child becomes dependent on her approval. Enmeshment can be so pervasive that the child goes into the adulthood still seeing the world through his or her narcissistic mother’s eyes.
Being forever dependent on the mother makes the child vulnerable to craving “other esteem,” or adoration solely from the world outside of oneself.
The child develops an unrealistic expectation that others will treat him or her with the same over-attentiveness that mother manufactured out of her own narcissistic needs. Sometimes, the hero child merely gets assigned to looking good and the other siblings are put in different roles to get the narcissistic parent’s work done.
In addition, fellow siblings of the hero child may suffer through the years, watching the hero or golden child favored with–what may look like–their narcissistic mother’s love. Unfortunately, the narcissistic parent is happy to pit her kids against one another to fight to be the golden or hero child. It’s a primitive way for her to feel a sense of control or power.
Too often, the narcissistic mother’s corrosive effect on sibling relationships will last long after she’s gone because she plays out her favoritism in her will, commonly placing most of her net worth with the child who had the hero or golden child role at the time it was written.
As painful as it is to watch a hero or golden child get most of the praise from mother as a child, it is also excruciating to have a sibling throughout your adulthood who is stuck in a narcissistic pattern you’ve already endured in your parent.
If placed in the hero or golden child position often enough, the child is at risk to exhibit narcissistic behavior throughout adulthood. When forever exalted in this role by the mother, the child is falsely empowered. False empowerment by the mother creates the desire for “other esteem” instead of self esteem.
On the other hand, the hero or golden child can be dethroned according to the narcissistic mother’s whim. When she needs someone to blame for things in her life, she may dump her unwanted feelings on the child. A hero child can then be ignored, scapegoated or put in another role that suits the narcissistic mother’s ever thirsty ego.
This on again off again adoration can cause a trauma bond between the narcissistic mother and child. A trauma bond is when a negative attachment is formed between abuser and victim.
The child kicked out of the hero role is left to wonder why the very same behavior that made mom gush one day is demonized on another. The toll this takes on one’s sense of reality can also make the child vulnerable to compensating with narcissism, feeling one-up or conversely, suffering great anxiety, depression, and guilt, feeling one-down.
If you have been a discarded hero or golden child, you may have experienced intense negative feelings such as unworthiness. It is the hero child’s job to make sure the outside world does not see how dysfunctional the family really is and yet it is an impossible, exhausting task. He or she works incredibly hard for the approval of others, trying to be perfect as possible.
If the hero child becomes narcissistic, he or she likely defaults to a falsely empowered “one-up” state where, when threatened, defends the fragile “other esteem” ego by adopting a belief they are superior to you, thus objectifying themselfves, losing their sense of humanity which is to be perfectly imperfect as all humans are.
For those who have been in the hero or golden child role, your recovery from narcissistic abuse will be aided by considering times you go “one-up,” “better than” or its opposite “not good enough” or “worthless” as a defense. If you notice this, realize old patterns from the chidhood you’ve worked hard to leave behind, and be kind to yourself.
One technique my coaching clients have used effectively is to practice being grateful when you notice those thoughts and either bring yourself down from the “I’m better than you” feeling, or up from the “not good enough” feeling so you can better relate to those you care about. Think of the two extremes of thought as ditches on either side of a road and try to recorrect yourself to the middle. I’m always struck by the self awareness and bravery of commentors on this blog and am curious to hear of your journey.
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