The Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim
Episode 15 - Golden Child
In this episode, Shaun goes into detail how one is assigned as their family’s golden child, what that means, all of the learned behaviors that are detrimental as this child gets older, and what this person can do to get out of it.
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How's it going, everybody? Welcome to the Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim, part of the Mental Health News Radio Network. New episodes are available every Wednesday on your favorite podcast platform.
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We’ve talked a lot about the different personalities and attributes of people when you’re in a relationship with them, whether that be familial or romantic. We’ve touched quite a bit on the different levels of narcissism and toxicity. Today we’re going to do something a little bit different, but I think it’s just as interesting and important, if not moreso.
When you’ve grown up in a toxic family environment, where your primary caregivers didn’t do a good job at putting you in an environment where you felt safe so you could grow and thrive, and while growing up you were put in a position essentially to fail, all of that leaves very little room for you to be yourself. Instead, you’re given a role, essentially, to play for others’ benefit.
So with that, today’s episode topic is the “Golden Child.”
I think, or hope, we can all admit that it’s normal, and even expected, for parents to wish the best for their child. They want them to achieve big things, whatever that may be; they want them to be in relationships with good people, and for their child to have a good family dynamic.
But what happens when things go beyond the norm? Not when the parent wants their child to be a doctor, or lawyer, or president of the United States. I’m talking about when that child is put in an environment that isn’t safe and healthy, where they can’t grow and thrive. I’m talking about an environment where the child has to be perfect in every way, and the family’s hopes and aspirations all ride on that.
It’s the child who is the single product of an unhealthy, confusing, and broken family dynamic. Perfection? That’s not just some word. It’s the expectation. Perfect at school, getting all A’s all the time no matter what the school environment is like. Perfect at sports no matter what physical limitations the child might have. Perfect at being the child that the parents think a child should be to them. Perfect at attaining the job that the parents want for them. Perfect at providing for the entire family because that’s what they were tasked to do.
I’ve talked before about how important it is for a child to be in a nurturing environment where they are taught to read and react, learn, understand, accept, respectfully challenge, think; to be loved and looked after. All of that sets the foundation for this child to grow into their teenage years, into adulthood, so they can learn what they want, set and achieve the goals they want, and to build honest, trusting, loving, harmonious relationships with people, including family.
So when one of those things doesn’t take place, what happens to that foundation? There’s a crack in it. Maybe not so big, but it’s there. But what about when two of those things don’t happen? What if a lot of that, or even all of it, doesn’t take place for this child? That foundation gets obliterated every time you try to build something on top of it.
Now part of this is because the parent isn’t confident, aware, or intelligent enough to put these pieces in place in their child’s environment. I think we understand all of that. But does that make it OK? Does all of the trauma and suffering suddenly go away because we understand the parent’s shortcomings? No, of course not. This isn’t La La Land. This is the real world where there are consequences, and these are the types of things that stay with a person for their entire life; and they can even inflict similar damage to their own children if these issues aren’t addressed.
So this isn’t a space where we’re giving the parent slack, telling them that it’s OK that they did things a certain way, whatever. If they’re looking for that, this isn’t the place to find it.
Why? Because the golden child was dealing with a master manipulator. It may not appear that way, and a lot of people may even disagree, but it’s the truth. If you can identify yourself as a golden child, you need to understand that you were given the responsibility for your family’s success.
You didn’t ask for it. You probably didn’t even want it. So the “love and adoration” that you received from this parent reinforced the idea that if you continued to give them what they wanted, they would continue to treat you that way.
Not that you could, because you learned not to have your own voice or opinion, but God forbid that you start thinking for yourself, that you have your own life goals that you want to achieve–whatever they are. That’s not the example they want you to be. The example you’re supposed to portray is you do whatever they want, and only do that; nothing else. Even if this golden child has siblings, those siblings are different examples used against the golden child to further push the parent’s agenda.
Do you like what your narcissistic parents have set out for you to accomplish? No, scratch that. It doesn’t matter what you like or don’t like. For them, your purpose is to do everything they want, be whatever they think is successful so they can showboat to everyone within and outside of the family, and if you’re lucky, you get to be put on this pedestal of superiority.
So all of this damage has been done. Intentionally or not, it doesn’t matter. You’ve been put through the wringer. You’ve been criticized to death. You’ve been controlled more than anyone could ever fathom. The stress that was put on you, that weight, most likely brought you down; and if it didn’t, it’s not like you’re standing tall. You have all the reasons in the world to be jaded, to not want to be around anyone, to isolate yourself from society.
Instead, you’ve been taught some things. One of them is to never say no, to always say yes, to do whatever you can to please the people in your life who hold some kind of authority. So you go to the extreme, needlessly, to please your parents. The same people who jacked things up for you in the first place, but you don’t know that because you think all of this is normal.
Another thing here is you, as the golden child, were forced to grow up. It’s not the circumstances you were in; it was the position that you were put in. You were forced to be the flag bearer for your family because you were the one who was supposed to be the savior. You were going to bring your entire family to new heights, but not by your own doing; you were assigned this goal, and all of the tasks leading up to it as well. So those things you enjoyed, like hobbies or whatever, as a child, were either diminished or eliminated completely because that’s what they made you do. So whether that was getting a job because you had to contribute to your family’s finances or taking care of your siblings as if you were a parent yourself, it was all by design.
You might even be unhealthily an overachiever. Not just a high achiever; that’s normal. But an overachiever? That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but when the result of it brings anxiety, stress, depression, and self doubt, does that sound healthy to you? Does that even LOOK like someone who is healthy? No matter how good you are at reading people, you can see when someone is in the shit. So your narcissistic parents certainly could, but they definitely didn’t acknowledge it. To do that would mean they have to fix what’s wrong, and why would they want to change the identity they’ve given you?
Add to that the fear of failure. Not just someone who doesn’t want to fail, but someone who is so afraid that they could stop progressing toward whatever the goal is because what happens if they don’t achieve it? That’s the burden placed on the golden child. What happens if you fail is you’ve let your family down, you completely changed the trajectory of the success of the family that was assigned to you, and you could even be shunned because of that. So that “support” you were receiving was really manipulation to push you in a direction they wanted you to go toward; their criticisms showed that, and that’s exactly the way it was supposed to be.
Eventually, this golden child grows up, right? What happens when this golden child is an adult?
For one, there is a huge likelihood that attachment issues develop. We talked about people-pleasing, but as an adult, this becomes so harmful because other people will, knowingly or not, take advantage of you, so that just compounds itself by default. That insecurity becomes part of the golden child’s identity, and you can trace that back to how you were raised. So now you’re not just clingy, but too clingy. Unhealthily clingy. But all you want is love because you never truly received it.
You never received validation from your parents. They may have even trained other authorities in your life to do the same thing. So now as an adult, that’s all you want, but you potentially go through unbelievable lengths to get that from SOMEONE.
The weird thing, or unfortunate thing, about that is your ability to truly connect with people is so low, and it’s apparent to people who interact with you. And then your emotional availability? That’s probably non-existent.
What about your self worth? What is that like? It’s not like your self esteem is high. I understand that esteem comes from self; whatever. Most people need to start somewhere, and it all starts with their primary caregivers; so if those primary caregivers did a shit job of helping you establish that, then how you see yourself is going to be abnormally low; so you aim for perfection in everything you do. You don’t know who you are because you’re a character that someone else created. So that loneliness, that emptiness that you have inside of you is something that was doomed to happen to you.
So… how do you overcome all of this? Can you even? Well, it’s not all doom and gloom. You can come out of this dysfunction, this terrible place, and with true intention, you can be a happy, healthy adult who sets and achieves goals, has great relationships, who is content, and thriving in life.
The first thing you have to do is acknowledge all of the bullshit you went through, and understand that you weren’t raised and treated the way you should have been. Your worth, which your parents controlled in part to make you their golden child, was tied to your accomplishments and whatever success you made; that’s not right. Of course we want achievements and whatnot, but you’re going to fall short sometimes; does that mean you deserve less love, affection, and support?
Because guess what–those mistakes you made, whatever they were? You’re allowed to make them. I make mistakes all the time. What do I do with them? I learn from them–just like everyone else should, including you. Mistakes aren’t bad; I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true that they’re learning opportunities. The broken identity that was formed for you that robbed your inner peace that you had to be perfect–you need to let that go. That doesn’t belong to anyone, and certainly not you.
The next piece here is therapy. I can’t begin to tell you how much this will help. A professional isn’t going to tell you that you need to work on XYZ; all of the questions that you need answered, the cheat sheet that is going to help you get out of this situation and put together your actual identity is all inside of you. It’s all there. They’re going to help bring that out of you. Trust me on this one. Don’t be weary, ashamed, whatever about speaking to someone about your life; it’s their job to help get you through this. You owe it to yourself–no one else–to release all of that trauma and be the person you should have been all along.
I mentioned before about how you essentially gave too much of yourself to other people and not nearly enough to yourself. That ends now. As difficult as it probably will be, you have to set up boundaries so that it doesn't continue. It’s OK if you want to be there for other people, to take care of other people in your life; that’s an honorable thing. However, you MUST take care of yourself first; because if you don’t, you can’t do anything else nearly as well as you could or should.
Finally–and I know this is going to sound a bit strange–forgive yourself. All of that shame, people-pleasing, aiming for perfection–those are not attributes of a healthy human being. It’s OK. You didn’t know. You learned that, or worse yet all of that was forced on you. It’s normal for a child to believe that their parents know everything; how to take care of them, love them, set them up for success. That’s not always the case, and it wasn’t in yours. Release all of that, and know that the person you are meant to be is inside of you; it’s your job to discover who that is and introduce that person to the world.
So you were put in an unfortunate position. The people who put you there probably had no idea what they were doing, and I’m willing to bet they don’t know what they’re doing now. You, on the other hand, are armed with information–enough to know what you need to do, but do you have the strength to start? Maybe you don’t know that answer.
But let me tell you something–no one is looking out for you the way you need to look out for yourself. That’s not me being offensive and saying that the people in your life who care for you aren’t looking out for you; of course they are, but no one knows better than you what you’re dealing with right now.
Don’t count on the people who created this trauma for you; they weren’t capable of taking care of you then, and if you asked them to truly be there for you now, they wouldn’t know what to do anyway.
Maybe you’re down in the dumps. Maybe you don’t know what tomorrow will bring–but you’re still here. You’re here right now, and that’s a start.
So take the next step. I know it sounds easier than it is; you need to have the faith to take that first step on this journey. You may not know what the next step is, and maybe that’s giving you some analysis paralysis. I get it; I’ve been there. But the world has an interesting way of working.
The name of this podcast is Intentionally Emotive. That’s not by accident. You can set your intention on something that brings you the most positive, vibrant, louder-than-hell emotions to get on that journey to a better life. So have the faith in taking that first step, and trust that the next ones will reveal themselves at the right time.
All right, guys. Thanks for listening to the Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to spread the word on social media and check out www.shaunkarim.com.