Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places by David Bredehoft

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The notion that childhood experiences (positive or negative) leave indelible marks on the individual lasting a lifetime is not a new one. For example:

"...[Freud's] assumptions that personality forms during the first few years of life and that the ways in which parents or other caregivers interact with children have a long-lasting impact on children’s emotional states have guided parents, educators, clinicians, and policy-makers for many years."  –Psychodynamic Theory, Lumen Learning

"The environment in which one develops before and soon after birth provides powerful experiences that chemically modify certain genes in ways that then define how much and when they are expressed." –Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University

It is no surprise then that childhood overindulgence may influence individuals in adulthood. I and my colleagues (in Bredehoft, Mennicke, Potter & Clarke) found evidence that adult children of overindulgence (ACOs) tended to have more issues with overeating, overspending, and experiencing problems with childrearing, interpersonal boundaries, and decision making.

ACO comments confirm these:

  • “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.”

What specific things/situations do ACOs have difficulty navigating In adulthood?

  • food (21%)
  • spending money and buying gifts (17%)
  • parenting/child-rearing (17%)
  • feelings of what’s normal (14%)
  • conflict with interpersonal boundaries and relationships (12%)
  • decision-making (11%), and
  • excessive activities such as working, going to school, exercising, playing, and having fun (9%)

What skills were ACOs deficient in adulthood because they did not learn them as children?

  • communication, interpersonal, and relationship skills (31%)
  • domestic and home skills (13%)
  • mental and personal health skills (12%)
  • decision-making skills (11%)
  • money and time management skills (10%)
  • being responsible (8%)

"I was lookin' for love in all the wrong places, Lookin' for love in too many faces,

searchin' their eyes and lookin' for traces
of what I'm dreamin' of.

When ACOs Look For Love

Does childhood overindulgenceinfluence our love life? Does it consciously or unconsciously influence the partners we pick and how we interact with them? A follow-up studyidentified what is called the "Relationship Overindulgence Triangle." The sample consisted of 233 individuals who were in a relationship (dating, committed dating relationship, engaged, cohabitating, or married). Participants were asked questions covering childhood overindulgence of which three questions form the relationship overindulgence triangle.

  1. Do you think you were overindulged as a child?
  2. In my current relationship, my partner overindulges me.
  3. In my current relationship, I overindulge my partner.

Respondents answered each question using the following Likert scale: (1) never or almost never,  (2) seldom, (3) sometimes, sometimes not, (4) frequently, (5) always or almost always.

Correlations between the responses to these questions support the hypothesis that childhood overindulgence plays a role in finding and maintaining adult romantic relationships

This is the first in a series of posts that explore the relationship overindulgence triangle.

Related Posts

The Overindulgence Triangle and Money, Money, Money

- I Just Can’t Get Over It! I Feel Like I’m in a Fight Club

Practice aloha: 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.

Bredehoft, D. J., & Clarke, J. I. (2006). Questions about growing up overindulged and adult relationships. Poster presented at the National Council on Family Relations Annual Conference, Minneapolis, MN. 11.11.06.

Mallette, W., Morrison, B., & Ryan, P. Lookin' for love. Recorded by Johnny Lee.

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