The terms narcissistic, sociopathic, or psychopathic are not being used as a diagnosis. These terms are being used as descriptors for patterns of behaviors that are exhibited by individuals. This blog is not intended to diagnose or treat anyone and is strictly for awareness and educational purposes.
A lost child in a toxic family system is quite different from the typical roles in dysfunctional families.
The lost child role isn’t loud, in the spotlight, the family punching bag, or the fall person for familial issues. The lost child is what it sounds like - they are the lost child. The forgotten child. The child who stays away from the family conflict and hides from any parental attention. The narcissistic or toxic parent doesn’t see the lost child as a form of supply or a threat.
Lost children are typically the middle child, but there are all different combinations where the narcissistic parent has the lost child assigned as the first or even their last child.
The lost child keeps to themselves to avoid all drama, emotional, and physical conflict. Even though the lost child isn’t experiencing abuse. They are experiencing a lot of neglect, which causes detrimental effects later in life.
Let’s talk about 5 of the main issues lost children face through their upbringing clear into adulthood.
Poor communication skills
Lost children are forced to hide in their rooms, stay at friends' homes, and maybe even stay outside or around town to avoid their narcissistic parents' wrath. This early childhood programming sets up lost children to feel like they have no other choice than to be alone.
Lost children do feel numb, powerless, angry, and alone when they’re growing up. They learned to stay quiet and to be not seen and not heard. Lost children wanted peace in the toxic environment they were raised in, so this often results in them becoming loners or they have very few friends. The result often is that lost children suffer from social anxiety and are often not sure who is safe to communicate with and who is not.
Difficulties with intimacy and relationships
It is hard for the lost child to connect with anyone because they are used to being alone. Even if the lost child wants connection, it’s hard for them to muster up the courage to continue relationships because they became used to the isolation and were programmed to “only exist” instead of living a life where they had freedom and care.
The lack of care and love growing up affects the lost child’s ability to trust in this area. It is difficult to trust when they have witnessed so much abuse and dysfunction from the people who were supposed to love them the most. It is often hard for lost children to openly express their emotions because they also fear rejection and lack confidence in themselves.
Low self-esteem and self-worth
The lost child was not praised or cherished like the golden child, but not critically blamed like the scapegoat. Although the scapegoat and lost child are more alike and can have overlapping similarities with the long-term effects of abuse, the lost child is different because they did not get attention. Scapegoats received negative attention and heavy responsibilities. In a lost child’s eyes, that is still attention that they craved and did not get.
As a result of never having attention or affection from their parents, a lost child does not feel like they have worth and that something must be wrong with them. When in reality, it is simply that the parents are the issue here.
They deny their feelings.
Lost children were taught that their feelings did not matter by their parents. Narcissistic parents typically do not ask their lost child how their day was, if they need help with homework, or if they just need to talk. The constant emotional neglect from parents does leave the lost child to sit and think that their emotions couldn’t possibly matter. They do compare their experiences and situations to their siblings and they know that there is a big difference in how they are treated - especially compared to the golden child.
They feel guilt for not being able to make their parents happy.
Lost children see the golden child or other people making the narcissistic parent happy or at least look happy. The lost child typically spent their time fantasizing and daydreaming in isolation. They may fantasize that their parents view them in a more positive light or at least give them more attention. They may have their own ideal family structure mapped out in their mind as well.
A lot of lost children feel guilt that they've never seen their parents praise them. That the smile parents show to the golden child is never directed at the lost child - this makes the lost child feel like they are not good enough and will never be enough to please the narcissistic parents' standards. Feeling this type of guilt can lead the lost child into overextending themselves in their relationships.