The Codependent And The Narcissistic Sibling: Why Are They Different?

I often asked myself why I am so different from my brother who grew up to be a copy of my narcissistic mother.

What did I do right to avoid being dragged into the narcissist’s dog-eat-dog world? Why was I dying to fit in and fulfill everyone’s expectations of me while my brother was dying to make everyone feel small and insignificant?

In this article, I’ll try to make sense of the narcissistic family’s conundrum: why do siblings in a narcissistic family system grow up to either be codependents or narcissists?

The narcissist’s behaviour in the first months of the child’ life

I believe the narcissistic mother starts treating her children differently from birth. Because a narcissist doesn’t procreate to better the world and give someone a chance to experience life on earth, it’s easy to understand that she looks at childbirth as a mission.

For a narcissistic mother, her mission is to give birth to little caretakers who will, in time, provide her with the emotional comfort, safety, and confidence she lacks.

Narcissistic mothers have to put their own needs first thus, childbirth and child-rearing are methods of soothing their internal distress.

Food and narcissistic abuse

Dr. Judy Rosenberg talks about the link between feeding and the emotional health of the child. She says that narcissistic mothers use breastfeeding and meal times to boost their egos.

When they breastfeed the child, they feel superior to them, as if no one can do what they do. The child is a ‘hostage’ in the mother’s world and, she is aware of that.

This feeling gives a surge of adrenaline to the mother who, up until then, never truly felt loved, needed, and important.

If the mother has several children, it will be more challenging for her to cope with the physical demands of child-rearing. This is, however, normal for any parent out there who chooses to have several children.

The narcissistic mother, however, has more than one child to secure a life-long and solid source of narcissistic supply.

If one child gets sick and dies, there is still one left to “provide” for her. But let’s get back to breastfeeding.

Dr. Judy talks about a narcissistic mother using breastfeeding to teach the child that she is and will always be in control of their needs. When the child grows, the mother uses food to control and manipulate the child’s mind by either giving them too little or too much food.

Food is the means through which a narcissistic mother can control the child, thus, it’s easy to see how nutrition is being used to the disadvantage of the child.

Now, there are no studies done on why a narcissistic mother chooses one child to be the golden child and the other to be either the scapegoat or the lost child. It just happens.

However, from personal experience and other people’s stories, I know that a narcissistic mother will project all her wonderful qualities on this chosen, golden kid.

Everything that she aspires to be, everything that she loves and admires will be thrown on him, causing a rift between him and the other sibling.

The other child will either become the scapegoat or the lost/invisible child. This position is a better and more advantageous position to be in as a child.

That’s because when you’re a scapegoat and your mother sees you as a mean, bad, unpleasant, or ill-mannered child (she projects her negative qualities on this child to feel better about herself), you’re less likely to be lost in the “FOG” (fear, obligation, and guilt).

A life lived in the ‘fear, obligation and guilt’ universe can be very unpleasant. If you’re not careful, you’ll be spending all your time here.

The scapegoat can often peak outside this ‘foggy’ environment and see the narcissistic family as they are: hateful, mean, selfish, and self-serving.

I know many scapegoats who managed to cut ties with their narcissistic families and are now living prosperous lives.

However, the scapegoat grows up lonely and unloved and ends up hating themselves. Scapegoats often sabotage their own life experiences because deep down they don’t believe they deserve good things to happen to them.

It takes years to undo the narcissistic family’s limiting beliefs but it’s worth it.

The scapegoat has a great capacity for change because, although he/she is codependent and has a negative outlook on life, they can accept the truth that they were never loved. That they were raised by parents who had only mean things to say about them.

On the other hand, the golden child will rarely peak outside the land of “FOG” and they often drown in the land of ‘smoke and mirrors’.

Unfortunately, they cannot see this place for what it truly is: an arid, toxic and sterile place where nothing fruitful can grow.

Instead, they convince themselves that where they live is the best place to be. Their parents did their best and they should continue to enable their abusive behaviour because it’s their “job”.

Why does a golden child become narcissistic?

I often wondered this myself and after a lot of research, I haven’t found a definite answer. One of the explanations would be the convenience factor.

My brother who is the golden child had everything he needed from my parents. Attention, care, money, help, and sometimes, even empathy. (I may be wrong about the empathy part)

At the moment, he lives a peaceful, carefree life doing what he loves, travelling, and spending time with friends.

However, ever since I remember him as a child he seemed lost and afraid. He was always afraid and he’d often confess to me about his anxieties.

Like all the adult children of narcissists, he too grew up without a self.

His mother stole his right to develop a self and become an individual with a unique personality. On top of this overwhelming loss, he is in denial that his family is harmful to his mental health.

He has also introjected his narcissistic mother’s coping strategy: using people and treating them as if they’re there to serve him.

If you’ve watched Sam Vaknin’s YouTube videos, you must remember that narcissistic behaviours are coping strategies for trauma and loss.

When someone is behaving in an abusive manner, they are trying to protect themselves from getting hurt. Thus, if someone abuses you it is only because they are trying to stave off emotional pain.

Now, going back to the reasons why a sibling may become narcissistic in spite of them living with a non-narcissistic sibling.

Reason no. 1

Some psychologists believe that children who imitate their narcissistic parents and end up narcissists, do so because they want to be safe. When you try to fight an abusive parent as a child, the best strategy for handling the fight is to agree with them. Correct?

Imagine what would happen to a child whose narcissistic parent demanded to not be argued against. That’s right, the child would either be abused, mistreated, or shamed.

Children who think like their narcissistic mothers receive more validation and are often absolved from the abuse.

Golden children want to survive in a toxic household and, in order to do that, they need to imitate their abusive parent(s).

However, not all become abusive. I know at least one golden child who escaped their family and adopted healthier ways of living.

Reason no. 2

Another reason the golden child may become a narcissist is due to guilt or obligation. (see FOG)

Remember that a golden child has been given all the love, admiration, and validation that the ‘other’ sibling didn’t get. In a way, he feels obligated to maintain a “narcissistic worldview” to show gratitude for the “special treatment” he received.

Feeling obliged to behave in one way in a narcissistic family system is so common. The narcissistic mother assigns specific roles to her children and, she expects them to fulfil these roles for the entirety of their lives.

Terrible things may happen if you exit these roles and choose to live differently. It may be possible that the narcissistic mother painted a picture of what would happen if their children had the nerve to refuse catering to her needs early on.

Sickness, violent crimes, evil, poverty and failures would await them if they left their childhood homes.

Reason no. 3

There is also a convenience to becoming a narcissistic individual.

Staying in a pattern of narcissistic defences (shame, blame, projection) requires no effort. Confronting your past is, however, extremely painful. It’s like picking at an open wound. It hurts like hell!

Someone who is used to denying the reality around them, who gets all their emotional needs met from their toxic parents and has no problem using others, will have trouble looking at their wounds.

However, I believe golden children who are narcissists can face their pain and open themselves up to being vulnerable. Change implies dropping the destructive defence mechanisms and adopting healthier ones.

Accepting that life is challenging, people are not to be used as objects, failure is healthy, and being in relationships means being vulnerable, are important steps to recovery.

But first, one needs to want to change.

As for me, I am trying my best to observe where I am a codependent and how can I be more vulnerable in relationships to grow more as a person.

In a family where abuse is normalized, accepting that life can break you down, and people can suffer extreme emotional pain are impossible realities to accept. (remember that the narcissist wants others to think they and their children are perfect)

To let go of the fantasy that life is there to highlight how special you are and the only joy is to get what you want by using others, you need to confront your past and accept that it has fucked you up.

That your narcissistic mother broke you and there’s nothing anyone can do to change what happened.

I’m sure that it’s possible to get better and live healthy, prosperous lives but, until then, we need to deal with the reality of having been harmed as children.

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Marlena Bontas

Marlena Bontas

Content writer, tea drinker, English-Romanian girl living abroad. Writes about NPD, relationships, health, finances and business.