A golden child syndrome is often the product of being raised in a “faulty” family dynamic where the child is expected to be very good at everything, never make mistakes, and feel highly obliged to meet the aspirations of their parents, according to board-certified psychiatrist Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, M.D.
“To be clearer, a golden child is held responsible for the family’s success. Parents appreciate and adore them and, in a way, reinforces them to become better in whatever they are doing,” she tells mbg. “A golden child is an example for others to follow. Even the siblings of the golden child are compared with them to create continuous pressure on their performance; to ensure that they shouldn’t fail or fall short in their good behavior and accomplishments.”
Children who possess the characteristics of a golden child are typically raised by narcissistic parents who are controlling and authoritarian, she adds. Because of how strict their parents are, these children are unlikely to feel safe enough to voice their own opinions or go against the rules of the home.
“Their main purpose in life is to satisfy their parents’ needs and procure success, name, and fame for their family from outsiders. Parents consider [them] an asset to the family and always make them appear superior in front of others. The parents exert discipline and action and force the child to reinforce their desires. The child feels dutiful to satisfy what the parents want them to do, even if they do not like it,” she says.
One of the main signs of golden child syndrome is the overwhelming need to please parents and/or other authority figures. “They make an extreme effort to appease their parents and satisfy all of their needs,” explains Sanam Hafeez, M.D., neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind. “They will often obey their parents’ ridiculous requests because they feel it’s the only way to receive love from them.”
Gonzalez-Berrios says golden children are usually the ones who end up having to step into a more mature role earlier in life. This could include getting a job earlier than their siblings and making the decision to contribute to the family finances and running of the household. They may also shun activities they consider childish and opt for more productive hobbies.
Often golden children are parentified and help raise other children. For the most part, their parents act entitled to these actions, and the child is conditioned to not dissent,” licensed therapist Billy Roberts, LISW, adds.
“Golden children are often extraordinarily studious and love the competitive environment at school. These children work to receive the best grades possible with the purpose of showing their parents. Since the parents are narcissistic, they will go out of their way to brag about their golden child’s academic achievements,” Hafeez says.
Hafeez goes on to say that since these children constantly seek perfection, starting from a very young age, there might be a fear of failure. When golden children fail to uphold their unrealistic expectations, they will become highly frustrated with themselves.
How the concept can be harmful & have effects later in life.
Being a golden child can have harmful effects later in life. For one, it often affects relationships in terms of connection and boundaries, Roberts says.
“On the one hand, the grown-up golden child might become excessively attached to another person, not knowing where they begin and end. For example, they might display excessive people-pleasing, seeking the validation they never received as a child. On the other hand, they might truly struggle with connection in relationships, seeking validation from outside sources like work and never becoming emotionally available to a partner,” he explains.
This is a result of having an insecure attachment style with their parents, so they struggle to connect with others and either become too clingy because they strongly desire the love their parents failed to provide or completely withdrawn and aloof.
Another negative effect of this syndrome is growing up with low self-esteem. Since a golden child’s sense of self-worth is directly linked to their ability to please and their external achievements, as an adult, “they are likely to feel that they must present a perfect image of themselves to earn others’ approval and love. These adults also lack a sense of identity because the only identity they formed during their childhood was through appeasing their parents, so they report feeling empty and unsure of themselves,” Hafeez explains.