10 signs of the golden child syndrome (+ what to do about it)

Golden child syndrome isn’t understood very well, but it’s vital to know what it is and how to deal with it.

When perfectionist parents raise their child to be successful and put all the burden on him to live up to their image, it creates enormous pressure and can lead to golden child syndrome.

Golden child syndrome may sound trivial, but it’s anything but a joke. It can cripple someone for life and leave a trail of toxic waste in its wake if left untreated.

Here’s how to face it head-on.

10 signs of the golden child syndrome (+ what to do about it)

1) A worship of authority

Because of growing up in an environment where you always had to follow the rules and live up to a strict ideal, the golden child tends to worship authority.

Whether it’s a new government rule or whatever the mainstream consensus is, the golden child is there enforcing and supporting it.

Authority figures often find this very useful in workplaces and other situations, where they can use the golden child individual to exert their will and push others into conformity.

That’s not always a good thing.

As Stephanie Barnes explains:

“One of the main signs of golden child syndrome is the overwhelming need to please parents and/or other authority figures.”

2) A crippling fear of failure

The golden child is raised from a young age to believe that their worth is higher than others but is also conditional.

In other words, their skills as a gymnast, a computer whizz or a brilliant child model are what matter, not them as an individual.

This instills the golden child with a crippling fear of failure.

Well into adulthood they are obsessed and plagued by the fear that a life situation could come up which proves they are not good enough.

That’s because their identity is built around accomplishment and recognition.

Without that they don’t know who they are.

And they have been raised as an object, not a person. The idea of failure horrifies the golden child of any age.

3) A harmful approach to romantic relationships

People with golden child syndrome don’t tend to do well in romantic relationships.

As you can imagine, believing that you are on another level and holding yourself to stringent standards can lead to some nasty clashes.

The golden child sees the world as a place to reflect back their own success and achievements, and that often includes in the romantic department.

If that praise and recognition is not forthcoming, they will tend to become despondent, angry or detached…

One of the top signs of the golden child syndrome is a person who’s only learned to relate to the world from a transactional point of view.

They are a brilliant success and the world is there to validate that.

This kind of egotism tends to torch two-sided romantic relationships, as you can imagine.

4) An expectation of endless promotion at work

One of the worst signs of the golden child syndrome is a person who’s almost impossible to work with.

The golden child of any age grows up with the inset belief that they are special, entitled and magnificently talented.

At work, they expect this to translate over into instant recognition and a ladder of constant promotion.

If that doesn’t happen they may begin working very poorly, self-sabotaging, working against the team or losing interest in the job altogether.

When they’re in the closed environment of their parents’ praise and pressure, the golden child thinks they know the rules:

They excel and they get praise and promotion.

When they find out work isn’t all about them, they can often go haywire.

5) A belief in being special or ‘set apart’

All of these behaviors and signs point to the inner belief of the golden child that they are special or “set apart.”

Because they were showered with attention and special treatment from a young age, they expect the world to reciprocate that.

When you go around thinking you’re special, the world tends to hand you many examples of why it’s not true.

The pattern of golden children is that they go looking for validation of their special status:

When they find it, they enter into a pattern of toxic, narcissistic codependency (discussed below).

When they don’t find it they get upset and quit or cause trouble.

6) A pattern of toxic, narcissistic codependence

The pattern I talked about happens when a golden child meets an enabler or group of enablers.

Whether for reasons of one-sided or mutual exploitation or collaboration, the enabler recognizes the talents and abilities of the golden child.

They then enter into a reciprocal relationship:

They shower the golden child with praise, opportunities and attention, and the golden child does what they want and conforms to their expectations.

“The golden child wears a metaphorical set of handcuffs, in that, they are stuck in performance.

They only receive accolades, attention and treated as the ‘good’ one when they do things that are deserving of such by the narcissist,” writes Lynn Nichols.

This can happen across the board, including in romantic relationships, and it’s fairly disturbing to see.

7) An overestimation of their abilities

Another of the top signs of the golden child syndrome is someone who overestimates their own abilities.

Because they have been raised from a young age to believe they are borderline superhuman in at least one respect, golden children can’t see their faults.

While they are terrified of failure, they are also usually very confident that their abilities are better than others.

They dread a “superior” or boss telling them they are falling short.

But the opinions of coworkers, friends or people on a peer level tend to mean less to them.

They are only interested in what those at the top have to say, which can create quite a bizarre feedback loop as they think they are better than they are.

8) A need to do ‘better’ than those around them

The golden child is living in a world of competition where they believe they are great, fear failing the expectations of their parents and superiors and consider their worth to be transactional.

They can’t stand the idea that someone else will beat them at their own game.

Whether it’s athletics or getting into the best Ivy League school, the golden child will be obsessed with outperforming their peers.

Their worst nightmare is someone coming along who is smarter, better or more talented than them.

That’s because such a person would basically destroy their identity as the special and talented one who is destined to be uniquely great.

This interruption of the space-time continuum can’t be allowed to exist, which means a golden child will tend to go berserk when someone challenges them for their prime spot.

9) A debilitating perfectionism

Part of the golden child’s obsessive need to outshine those around them is a debilitating perfectionism.

This perfectionism is usually spread out to multiple areas: a golden child is the type of person who will actually carefully read the step by step public health pictorial guides on the wall about the proper way to wash their hands.

They are also the type who will start the process over if they don’t interlace their fingers properly or apply enough soap to the wrist area.

Needless to say, golden children have a higher rate of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) than those who are raised in a more relaxed environment.

They want to get it right every time and do things “perfectly” in every way in order to please the authority figures who set the rules.

Like Shawn Richard writes:

“Golden children are typically perfectionists.

“They tend to be immaculate, and they are completely obsessed with it.

“By growing up with the belief that impeccability is everything, it is innate for them to seek flawlessness.”

10) A hard time recognizing the accomplishments of others

Part of the perfectionism and obsessive patterns of a golden child is a difficulty recognizing the accomplishments of others.

Their huge fear of failure combined with an outsized belief in their own talents makes the achievements of others a threat.

It’s a like a fatal system error in a computer: you get the spinning wheel of death on a Mac or bluescreen on a PC.

It just doesn’t compute…

The golden child is often an only child, but not always.

In the case that they have siblings who begin to shine, they will tend to become intensely jealous and not to give out compliments.

They don’t like anyone else getting a share of that spotlight.

Because it’s shining just for them and that’s how it should always be.


5 things to do about golden child syndrome

1) Work on yourself first

pexels tatiana syrikova 3968148 1 10 signs of the golden child syndrome (+ what to do about it)

Golden child syndrome can do years of damage even into adulthood.

If you have been left with all this baggage it’s very frustrating and it can feel like you’ll never have healthy romantic or personal relationships in your life.

And if you know someone who’s suffering from golden child-related issues, you can give them advice about this, too…

That’s because being raised to believe you are special is actually not as special as it sounds.

It can lead to so many broken relationships and frustrations…

When it comes to relationships, you might be surprised to hear that there’s one very important connection you’ve probably been overlooking:

The relationship you have with yourself.

I learnt about this from the shaman Rudá Iandê. In his incredible, free video on cultivating healthy relationships, he gives you the tools to plant yourself at the center of your world.

And once you start doing that, there’s no telling how much happiness and fulfillment you can find within yourself and with your relationships.

So what makes Rudá’s advice so life-changing?

Well, he uses techniques derived from ancient shamanic teachings, but he puts his own modern-day twist on them. He may be a shaman, but he’s experienced the same problems in love as you and I have.

And using this combination, he’s identified the areas where most of us go wrong in our relationships.

So if you’re tired of your relationships never working out, of feeling undervalued, unappreciated, or unloved, this free video will give you some amazing techniques to change your love life around.

Make the change today and cultivate the love and respect you know you deserve.

Click here to watch the free video.

2) Stop trying to be a good person

Being a good person is pretty exhausting.

Thinking you’re more or less a “good person” is also ironically a sign that you’re probably not a very good person.

In order to start living life in an authentic and effective way, one of the best things you can do is drop the idea that you hold a certain label.

You are a flawed person with amenable and difficult qualities like all the rest of us.

You aren’t binary, and you’re not a devil or a saint (as far as I know).

YouTube video

3) Face the nagging feeling of not being good enough

One of the worst parts of golden child syndrome is that the inner reality is so different from the outer appearance.

On the outside, the person with golden child syndrome may look self-obsessed, confident and happy.

On the inside, however, the golden child sufferer is often beset by deep feelings of inadequacy.

He or she doesn’t feel good enough and spends their life chasing a simple desire to be seen as sufficient for who they are by those around them.

The saddest thing is that they were raised from the earliest age to believe only their status and skills made them worthy, but they keep feeling unseen and unfulfilled despite outer achievements.

Like the School of Life puts it:

“Its underlying longing is not to revolutionize nations and be honored across the ages; it is to be accepted and loved for who it is, in all its often unimpressive and faltering realities.”


4) Get a pen and paper…

One of the best ways to start dealing with golden child syndrome is to get out a pen and paper and write down the names of ten people you know.

Include five you know well and five you know only casually or through work or other friends.

These could be people you like or dislike, it doesn’t really matter.

Next to their names, write down three qualities of each person that you admire.

One might be a total jackass who seems very boring, but is also extremely dependable in a crisis.

Another might be someone you find hilarious with their sense of humor even though they are very hyperactive or hard to work with in other ways.

Then write down your own name and write down three negative attributes of yourself.

Writing down these positive attributes next to your own negative attributes will start to wash away the stain of golden child syndrome.

You will clearly see that while you may be amazingly talented you also have some serious faults and others have some serious pluses.

That’s a good thing!

5) Be careful how you raise your kids!

If you have kids or are planning to have them, the issue of golden child syndrome is something you should pay attention to.

Children are a wonderful gift and also a big responsibility.

And when you have a child with special gifts, the temptation to focus in on it and raise them to their full potential is immense…

Of course it is!

If your son is an amazing baseball player you want to sign him up for as much little league as you can…

And if he later expresses a dislike of baseball and a desire to go to art camp instead it’s natural you might feel a little let down…

But trying to shape our kids in our image or make them how we imagine they should be to reach their full success can be really damaging.

And it can lead to the kind of golden child issues I’ve been discussing in this article.

As Kim Saaed explains:

“Golden child syndrome often emerges once a parent begins noticing one child’s ‘special attributes.’

“These attributes can be anything, but they’re usually externally reinforced. For example, a daycare teacher may comment on how well the child shares their toys.

“A neighbor might praise the child for being ‘so handsome.’

“Eventually, the parent starts stacking these compliments and starts grooming their child for ‘greatness.’”

Stay gold, ponyboy

Golden child syndrome isn’t a death sentence. There are kids raised this way who find a way to overcome the patterns they were raised with and see the good in everyone.

They can also take steps to begin appreciating themselves for who they are and not for their outer labels.

And begin to see that the fear of failure is something that was instilled in them and is not natural.

The more you understand about golden child syndrome, the more tools you have to respond to it and begin to build something useful instead.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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