Links Between Dysfunctional Beliefs and Overindulgence by David Bredehoft

Overindulgence happens in any family regardless of income or education. 


  • Childhood overindulgence affects individuals negatively in adulthood. 
  • There are three types of childhood overindulgence: too-much, over-nurture, and soft-structure.
  • The more people are overindulged, the more they engage in cognitive distortions which underlie depression and make them emotionally vulnerable.

Dysfunctional beliefs are common in today’s society, and so is overindulgence. But is there is a relationship between dysfunctional beliefs and overindulgence? To answer this and other questions about overindulgence, the Overindulgence Research Project was launched and, to date, has conducted ten research studies involving 3,531 participants.

Summary results from the first three studies are discussed here.

Research Findings From the Three Studies

Overindulgence has harmful effects. Our research suggests that parents are the ones who overindulge and that this behavior has its roots in some past events in the parents’ lives (e.g., growing up in poverty, chemical dependency, being a workaholic, or death of a child). Adults who were overindulged as children reported things like:

  •  “I felt ignored.”
  • “I felt confused.”
  • "I felt guilty, bad, and sad.”
  • “No matter how much I got, I never got enough.”
  • They reported problems with overeating, spending too much money, buying too many gifts, having conflicts in their relationships, excessive engagement in activities like work, school, exercise, or fun.
  • They also were more likely to pass it on to the next generation by overindulging their children.

Overindulgence is not just about stuff. There are three types or forms of overindulgence:

  1. Too-much,
  2. Over-nurturing, and
  3. Soft-structure (lax rules).

The too-much type of overindulgence involves material things such as excessive numbers of toys, clothes, sports equipment, or lessons.

The over-nurturing type has to do with over-loving a child, giving a child too much attention, or doing things for the child that they should be doing for themself.

The soft-structure (lax rules) form of overindulgence occurs when a parent does not have rules, does not enforce them, lets the child dominate or have too much freedom, gives the child excessive or unrealistic privileges, and doesn’t insist on chores or expect the child to learn necessary age-related skills.

Overindulgence is related to dysfunctional personal beliefs. Research results show that childhood overindulgence and dysfunctional personal beliefs were linked. The greater the childhood overindulgence, the more likely our participants “totally agreed” with the following examples of dysfunctional personal beliefs:

  • “If others dislike you, you cannot be happy.”
  • “I cannot be happy unless most people I know admire me.”
  • “It is difficult to be happy unless one is looking good, intelligent, rich, and creative.”

Our results suggest that the more people are overindulged, the more they engage in cognitive distortions which underlie depression and make them emotionally vulnerable.

Overindulgence and ineffective parenting beliefs go hand in hand. Our data show that the more parents were overindulged as children, the more strongly they agreed with the following ineffective parenting beliefs.

  • “I feel like what happens in my life is mostly determined by my child.”
  • “My child influences the number of friends I have.”
  • “Neither my child nor myself is responsible for his/her behavior.”
  • “I allow my child to get away with things.”

Overindulgence can happen in any family regardless of income, education, or type of family system. Prior to these studies, we thought that overindulgence might only occur in certain types of families like “affluent” ones. We were very surprised to find that this is not true. Our data suggest that it can happen in any family regardless of income, education, or how a family looks from the outside.

Practice Aloha. Do all things with love, grace, and gratitude.

© 2022 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 Education. 16(2), 3-17.

Bredehoft, D. J., Clarke, J. I., Dawson, C., & Morgart, M.  (2003). The relationship between childhood overindulgence and personality characteristics in college students

Bredehoft,  D. J., Clarke, J. I., & Dawson, C. (2001). Overindulgence, personality, family interaction and parental locus of control. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Council on Family Relations, Hopkins, Minnesota.

Weissman, M. A., and Friedman, M. A. (1998). Interpersonal problem behaviors associated with dysfunctional attitudes. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 22(2): 149-160.

Campis, L., Lyman, R. D., and Prentice-Dunn, S. (1986). The parental locus of control scale: Development and validation. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 15(3): 260-267.

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2022;