The Internalising Vs Externalising Child and: Symptoms and Behaviours

During my exploration of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and how it often plays out in the family home, I regularly come across the explanation that narcissists separate their children into two categories. Firstly there is the golden child who can often do no wrong and is held up as a shining example to their siblings, and then there is the family scapegoat. The scapegoat is the person who is made to carry the blame for the wrong doings of the family, thus allowing family members to deflect from their own dysfunctional behaviour and even normalise it.

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This places the scapegoat in an awful and hopeless position because they are shown from a young age that they are not good enough. The role of scapegoat is decided for them before their personality is fully formed. There may be a variety of reasons why a narcissistic parent picks a specific child as the scapegoat, it could be:

  • That the child is strong willed and refuses to provide them with narcissistic supply.
  • The child has character traits similar to their own that they have denied.
  • They do not like the mother/father of the child, they could be divorced or still together.
  • The child is not easy to control and has a knowing about them that the narcissist finds threatening.

Whilst it is clear that the golden child receives better treatment than the scapegoat, the treatment of both children is abusive and dysfunctional. I believe that it is easier for the scapegoat to escape the narcissistic family because they have been treated like an outsider from a young age. The golden child is welcomed into the family circle of dysfunction and it is hard for them to maintain a sense of identity and not become enmeshed.

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There are numerous variations of every character type, due to the nature of human beings. However scapegoats often rebel against the role that they are given and become defiant, angry and rebellious. They challenge the unspoken rules of them family and will be the most likely to break the rules of secrecy that narcissistic families abide by. As the scapegoat becomes more angry about the way they have been treated by their family and continue to break the rules it becomes like a vicious circle where they prove to onlookers that their family are correct about their inability to behave. This can be described as externalising behaviour.

Externalising Behaviours

These are behaviours that are displayed outwardly towards the child’s physical environment. This can be aggressive, defiant, violent and delinquent behaviour. Children who display externalising behaviours often receive more attention, even though it may be negative, it feels better to them than being ignored. Although these children externalise the pain that they are feeling, they still suffer internally also. This contrasts with the internalising child who keeps the pain inside even though they do not know how to deal with it.

Internalising Behaviour

These behaviours show up with the child being withdrawn, depressive bouts, not wanting to socialise, problems concentrating, somatic symptoms which are not linked to another illness: headaches, nausea, or stomach aches, dramatic weight gain or weight loss, and high levels of anxiety. Within the family these symptoms can often get ignored especially when paired with a sibling who exhibiting externalising behaviour which is much more obvious for parents to spot.

The similarities between the scapegoat and the externalising child are uncanny. The above lists are not exhaustive yet it gives a picture of the behaviours. Similarly there are similarities between the golden child and the internalising child. The behaviours of the internalising child resonate with me because on the surface a golden child seems as though they have a much easier time than the scapegoat, yet the abuse, denial of self, and lack of self love is all internalised. Its buried so deep that it is often hard for the golden child to retrieve it and process the trauma that they have been through. It has been found that over time, on average, levels of internalising behaviour problems remained the same, whilst externalising behaviour problems decreased over time. (

Even though the externalising child and the scapegoat receive dire treatment, because they express themselves, even though negatively, its through that expression that they receive help and can move forward. The issues that they are suffering with can be identified and they can move on. The internalising child does not express their emotions and therefore they go unnoticed and it takes much longer for them to recover.

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I hope that this post encourages you to dig deeper and see if there are emotions that you have ignored or maybe turned a blind eye to. Emotions and trauma do not disappear without being acknowledged, they just lay dormant until they are triggered. Through healing you can become the person that you were destined to be.


Published by C J Anonymous

I have started this blog to share my journey through narcissistic abuse and beyond, and to help others who may have been through similar experiences. I also wanted to share the things that have helped me to heal from codependency. As a mother it became of paramount importance to me to ensure that unconscious generational patterns were not passed down to my children. Narcissism and codependency runs through my family of origin, and whilst I have learned that I cannot change the behaviour of others, I know that I can learn and improve myself daily and show up as an example to my children. There is a wealth of information about narcissism and codependency and yet everyone has a unique story to tell. Other's that shared their stories, helped me to see that I was not alone in a toxic family, or an abusive relationship and I did not have to be the victim, I could reclaim my power and change my life around. My hope is to help others who may feel as though they are the victim, suffer from low self-esteem, or believe that someone else has power over them. It can sometimes be a small quote, or one blog post that resonates with someone and starts their healing journey.

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