The drama of the spoiled child

Maybe I should give you a quick update. I didn´t manage to find a tutor, so I won´t enlist for my exams this winter. My family doesn´t know yet. This is not what I wanted to talk about, though.

I read an intriguing post on a blog I´ve already referred to before. The post was about  two ways in which people who were abused by their parents might parent their own children.

“Victims and survivors of this dysfunctional family system grow up going one of two ways OR as in the case of my mother, going both ways;

a) they believe that they can BE loved by being compliant and proving love to some people, and they believe that being loved is compliance and obedience from others. My mother made me jump through her hoops just as she jumped through everyone else’s hoops. (This is exactly like a pecking order system; think about who your oppressors, owners or captors are willing to serve.)

b) Others hang on to the belief that compliance and service is love, and they give in to their own children’s every whim falsely believing that doing that will ensure their kids love them. (which is a type of neglect) But because that also isn’t love, that doesn’t work either.”

So they might either treat their kids the way their parents treated them, or they might try to “love” their children the way they were taught to love their parents – while still looking for love themselves.

Option b) made me think, really. What effect will this kind of behavior have on the children? Will they all turn out to be little Eric Cartmans? Some real brats? Unable to take frustrations, unable to bear not getting what they want straight away? An ego that shoots straight through the ceiling?

It is hard to tell who is looked down upon more by society: These kids, or their parents. All I know is that there are entire television shows centered around “setting these kids straight”. We can watch how difficult teens  are sent to boot camps where they “finally get some perspective”; we can watch how violent little monsters are tamed by super nannies. Difficult, “spoiled” kids are the laughing stock of the nation. Everybody likes to see them getting their asses kicked. These shows are wank material for everyone who gets off from how much of a better kid/parent he or she is.

What is it like to be such a kid? What is it like to feel like a spoiled brat?

It means to believe that your parents have just been too nice to you. It means to believe that you have been treated to well; or at any rate better than you deserve.

We all may experience that kind of feeling every now and then, like when we get undeserved praise. It is not very comfortable. And now imagine this feeling to be an integral part of your self-image.

People treat me better than I deserve. I am completely dependent on their mercy. 

What follows? What follows if you are dependent on somebody´s mercy?

I must be nice to them. I must suck up to them. I must please them, because if I don´t, they won´t give me this special, generous treatment any more. They will treat me the way I deserve it, which means that they will be mean and cruel. 

“Hey, wait a sec!”, some people might exclaim now. “Maybe some kids feel this way, maybe you feel this way, but if you do, you haven´t been spoiled! Spoiled kids have a sense of entitlement; they believe they deserve the special treatment they get!”

Oh, but not necessarily. One of my favorite children´s books deals with a little girl who was being spoiled to no end, and yet she has such a strong sense of shame that she refused to rebel or even show any pain even when she lost everything and was forced to wear rags. I´m talking about A Little Princess, of course. Another example of  a spoiled child who refuses to be corrupted by her parents is Matilda. Matilda is also a good example of what the author of the above-mentioned blog says: That spoiling is a form of neglect.

So, let us rethink the situation of the kid whose parents give in to her every whim. Let us not vilify her for a moment. Let us assume spoiled kids are human beings, too, absurd as that may seem (yes, that was sarcasm). Human beings, of course, have feelings, and the feelings of the spoiled child might be worth taking a look at.

I imagine that one of the strongest feelings might be a sense of insecurity. Why insecurity? If parents give in to every whim of their child, then the child cannot rely on the parents knowing what is good for her ( and actually doing it). So who is supposed to know what is good for the child? The child herself? It seems like the spoiled child basically has to parent herself. At an age where she is much, much too young for that.

So what can she do if she wants to be able to rely on her parents? Not have any whims. Not show any feelings. Not want anything.  Being “difficult”, which, in many cases probably just means “being a normal child”, might become very dangerous. Or at least it might feel so, because suddenly your parents aren´t stable, strong and reliable anymore, as you need them to be in order to feel safe. Therefore,  a spoiled child might feel a deeply ingrained fear of being difficult. Because being difficult means chaos, insecurity and abandonment. As a result, the child might be paradoxically eager to be well-behaved. She might not make any trouble at all. She might do her homework, get good grades, not drink and smoke and not go out throughout her teenage years.  She might feel like she simply is that way. She is a copy of her parents. And whenever she “rebels” and behaves badly (like singing in the streets), she´ll start to feel worried, ashamed, sometimes even scared and lost and abandoned.

This doesn´t mean that there won´t be drama. She might start fights with her parents, testing boundaries which aren´t really there, hoping for some kind of reaction that makes her feel like she is being noticed and cared for. Predictably, though, her parents will just give in to her whims, thus abandoning her again, and making her feel deeply ashamed of behaving like a five-year-old just so she can go to bed half an hour later. Because this is what just happened, right? At least on the surface.

When she is older, she might accuse her parents of having spoiled her and not being stricter on her, but deep down she feels ashamed for blaming them for her character flaws and her inability to cope. She is just dodging responsibility again. How pathetic! Even if she was right she should just shut up and repair the damage.

As he hears those accusations, something in her father´s face changes, though. Suddenly she gets scared of him. “Well, I think you got away lucky!” he says in a harsh, aggressive tone. “Other parents beat up their kids, you really wouldn´t want that!” As she watches her sister quickly leave the room, she will wonder if an intelligent man like her father seriously believes these are the only two alternatives. Neglect or being beaten?

That aggression is always boiling under the surface. Since her parents feel compelled to fulfill all her wishes and to give in to all her whims, those whims exhaust them and spur aggression, especially if the parents see their own abusive caretakers in the child. She is given presents and granted favors that don´t come from the heart. She feels like she has somehow forced them to give these to her, and that her parents´ grudge is the result of her being such a manipulative, demanding child. The presents feel like a punishment, and yet she is forced to say “thank you”.

She will learn that her feelings are something dangerous. They are something that causes trouble; something that is so powerful it forces people to do things they don´t want to do. Something that causes aggression. Later in her life, when somebody does something nice for her, she will never be sure if he is doing it on his own accord or if she has somehow manipulated him into doing it and if he is secretly angry at her for doing so. When she asks her boyfriend to drive her home, her mother will find it “amusing” that she acts like a diva, charming him into giving in to her whim. She does not fail to remark that our spoiled child´s strong, independent sister would rather have walked home 10 miles than asking a man a favor. The spoiled child is left to wonder whether she is being inappropriately flirtatious. It is not the first time that her mother interprets the most harmless actions as her flirting with someone.

How will the child feel when is a young adult? She might feel useless, helpless, dependent and deeply ashamed of it. Her self-confidence is probably below zero. She might have a mysterious sense of guilt she doesn´t understand. She might have trouble setting goals, having ambitions, having even wishes or feelings. She might feel an immense pressure to become something special, something great, but she feels unable to even clean up her room or get dressed properly. And she knows that everybody will wonder, and maybe not without a certain amount of schadenfreude, why nothing became of her. Because she´s had it all, hasn´t she?







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