How Does It Feel to Be Overindulged as a Child? By David Bredehoft

Childhood overindulgence appears to be one of those “significant experiences." 

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As a psychologist, I don't have to tell you that significant experiences in childhood have profound, long-lasting effects well into adulthood. You can verify this from your own experience. For example, take a moment and think of one bad thing that happened to you in elementary school, and immediately all of the feelings come flooding back to you as if it were yesterday, even though it may have been 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

Childhood overindulgence appears to be one of those "significant experiences" that have profound, long-lasting effects well into adulthood, especially if the overindulgence was a pattern that continued over many years. The great majority (71 percent) of our overindulged subjects (age range 19-80. Mean = 42.2 years old) reported having difficulty knowing what enough is or what is normal as an adult.

Confirmation From Participants' Own Comments

  • "I have extreme difficulty making decisions."
  • "I need praise and material reward to feel worthy."
  • "I don't have to grow up, because other people will take care of me."
  • "I feel like I need lots of things to feel good about myself."
  • "I'm unlovable."
  • "I have to buy gifts to be loved."
  • "I constantly need outside affirmation from my friends."

Negative Results

How do children who were overindulged feel about the overindulgence when they grow up and look back on it? Overwhelmingly childhood overindulgence triggers negative feelings: confused, embarrassed, guilty, bad, sad, ashamed, ignored, and mad. The only "positive feeling" reported was love. Think of it: 48 percent interpreted the overindulgence as "my parents loved me." Why else would my parents be doing this? But that being said, the feeling of love is overshadowed by a cloud of negative feelings.

Feelings Resulting From Overindulgence

1. I felt loved. (48 percent)

2. I felt confused because it didn't feel right, but I couldn't complain, because how can I fault someone who does so much for me? (44 percent)

3. I felt embarrassed because, at times, I was expected to know some skills that I've never learned. (40 percent)

4. I felt guilty, bad, sad. (31 percent)

5. I felt good at the time, but later I felt ashamed. (29 percent)

6. I felt good because I got everything I wanted. (28 percent)

7. I felt embarrassed because I knew it wasn't right. (27 percent)

8. I felt bad because other kids didn't get what I did. (23 percent)

9. No matter how much I got, I never got enough, so I felt sad. (19 percent)

10. I felt good because I got to decide about everything. (15 percent)

11. I felt bad because the other kids made fun of me. (15 percent)

12. I felt embarrassed because other kids didn't have stuff. (14 percent)

13. I felt ignored. (13 percent)

14. I felt confused. (13 percent)

15. I felt embarrassed because other kids teased me. (11 percent)

16. No matter how much I got, I never got enough, so I felt mad. (11 percent)

n=124, percentages do not add up to 100 percent because participants were allowed to check "all that applied to them."

How Were the Adults in Our Study Overindulged as Children?

According to Jean Illsley Clarke, a noted expert on overindulgence, they were overindulged in three ways: giving them too muchover-nurturing, and too little structure.

"If any of us were overindulged as children, we were not responsible for that. It is not our fault. However, it is our responsibility as adults to fill any holes left in our skill set or self-awareness from that experience" (Clarke, Dawson & Bredehoft, 2014, p. 10).

Do all things with love, grace, and gratitude.

© 2020 David J. Bredehoft


Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. (1998). Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education16(2), 3-17.

Clarke, J. I., Dawson, C., & Bredehoft, D. J. (2014). How much is too much? Raising likeable, responsible, respectful children –from toddlers to teens- in an age of overindulgence (pp. 10). New York, Da Capo Press.

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2024;