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Favoritism - Favoritism is the practice of systematically giving positive, preferential treatment to one child, subordinate or associate among a family or group of peers.

‘Golden Child’ syndrome

Everyone has favorites. No two relationships in this world are identical. Every relationship is as unique as the DNA of the people in the relationship and everyone has some relationships that feel more comfortable, natural or rewarding than others.

Many parents struggle to show equitable treatment to their children who often have different interests, abilities and behavior patterns. Employers typically find a broad spectrum of abilities and attitudes within their staff. Teachers find that some children seem to “get it” easier than others and they aren’t able to relate to all of their children in the same way. It is not possible, natural or even healthy to try to squeeze every relationship into a regimented cookie-cutter kind of system of absolute equality. That’s life.

For example, it would be unkind to force a child who struggled in school to attend the most difficult course in a university or college just because their sister or brother did. Neither would it be right to deny an academically gifted child access to tertiary education just because their sibling was academically challenged.

Favoritism becomes dysfunctional when actions and opportunities, resources and liberties are systematically denied or applied inequitably for no logical reason and without just cause.
Favoritism can occur in all aspects of life, wherever there are relationships. However, it can be highly destructive when the person showing favoritism has some form of power or authority over others, as occurs in parent-child, teacher-student and boss-subordinate relationships.

Favoritism also does not always work to the advantage of the favored one. For example, children who are favorites sometimes struggle to mature and form healthy peer relationships. They may miss the opportunity to learn responsibility through their developing years and may make mistakes once the parent is no longer there. Some children who are favorites may learn to resent additional expectations placed on them by the parent, who gives them more attention, scrutiny and less freedom than they give to others. They may also experience the humiliation of infantilization and be treated as younger than their age. They may also feel humiliation at being treated differently, face resentment from their peers.

Children who are victims of parental favoritism often seek validation outside of the home and are somewhat vulnerable to predatory groups and individuals who seek to take advantage of them. Religious cults, criminal gangs, terrorist organizations, thieves and violent or sexual predators often lure their victims by initially offering validation to people who have low self-worth.

In the US workplace, various laws such as The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 1991, The Equal Pay Act, The Age Discrimination Act, The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination based on ethnic origin, appearance, gender, religion and disability. However, these and other international laws only protect against favoritism which can be objectively verified in a court of law and where an objective criterion for the discriminatory behavior (for example only promoting white men) can be demonstrated. Favoritism based on a person’s subjective “gut-feel” judgment about someone’s personality, character or appearance is much harder to regulate or prove.

Synonyms for favoritism include preferential differential treatment, prejudice, discrimination, bias and partiality.

How it looks in the home

  • A parent systematically singles out one child for special gifts or attention which never get offered to their siblings.
  • A parent regularly withholds discipline or undesirable responsibilities such as chores from one child in the family.
  • A parent routinely speaks more positively to one child or about one child above the rest of their children.
  • How it looks at work
  • A boss offers raises and promotions to one employee who does not demonstrate performance or merit over the others.
  • A teacher gives better grades to one student than their work merits.
  • A boss routinely assigns more pleasant or desirable tasks and assignments to one employee while giving less desirable jobs to others.
  • A boss covers up or shields one employee from responsibility or accountability from their own actions in an inequitable way.
  • A boss denies access or time and attention to some employees while giving extensive access to others.

Why they do it

People who suffer from Personality Disorders are particularly susceptible to showing dysfunctional favoritism because they sometimes allow their feelings to override the facts. For some people with Personality Disorders, their feelings are so intense that what they feel about a person or situation gets much more of their attention than what they know about that person or situation. This can distort objective understanding, and become a justification for unfair actions and behaviors.

How it feels

Children who are subjects of parental favoritism may try to prove their worth by becoming over-achievers, often to the detriment of their own aspirations and interests in life.

Children who grow up in a family where another child is the favorite may develop trust issues, resentment and low self-esteem. Children often blame themselves whenever bad things happen and they may begin to feel worthless, ugly, stupid or incompetent. They avoid opportunities which are deemed competitive, such as sports and academic pursuits. They may also grow up into adults who struggle with pessimism and resentment in relationships, employment, and peer friendships.

Children who are victims of parental favoritism often seek validation outside of the home and are somewhat vulnerable to predatory groups and individuals who seek to take advantage of them.

What NOT to Do

  • Don’t automatically assume that you did anything to deserve the way other people treat you.
  • Don’t accept favoritism just to “go with the flow”. Try to be assertive without being confrontational.
  • Don’t chastise or persecute someone else who has been chosen as a favorite instead of you. They are a victim too.
  • Don’t try to justify your worth by becoming an over-achiever. Don’t work yourself harder to earn the love of a parent or family member. Real love is a free gift; it doesn’t require people to jump through hoops.
  • Don’t immediately trust everybody or every organization who offers you validation. Save your trust for people who will treat you well and don’t have a hidden agenda of their own.
  • Don’t waste your time and energy trying to change another person’s opinion of you. You have almost no power or control over another person’s thoughts, words and actions.
  • Don’t retaliate or try to hurt a person who shows favoritism to others. Try, as best you can, to disengage.

What TO Do

  • Try to base your opinion of yourself on your merits - your own set of strengths and weaknesses - not on other people's emotions or opinions.
  • Speak up for what is right when you see injustice. Say it once and then don’t say it again or argue about it. Agree to disagree if necessary. Just saying it once can sometimes help.
  • Get support. Find validating and healthy friendships and relationships where people will appreciate your worth and encourage you to be the best that you can be.
  • If you are in an employment situation, you might want to try to find an alternate position or another group or employer.
  • If you are the recipient of inequitable treatment, politely decline the favor and request inclusion of your peers.


Discussion from our support board about dealing with Parental Favoritism.

Article from US News and World report on Handling Favoritism at Work.

For More Information & Support...

If you suspect you may have a family member or loved-one who suffers from a personality disorder, we encourage you to learn all you can and surround yourself with support as you learn how to cope.

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