Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Faulty Definition - Spoiled

What is your impression when someone says, "She's so spoiled?"

If you're like me, and the comment's directly about You, you might get a little defensive. "No, I'm not!" Consider that an emotional response - defensiveness, in this case - implies an attachment, a fear that indeed what has been said may be true. The following story will illustrate one example of correcting a faulty definition.

I realized today that I'd misunderstood the term "spoiled," and had created my own personal meaning, when my fiance applied it to our dog.

"She's not spoiled!" I automatically responded, closely followed by, "Okay, yes, she is. But she's also very well-behaved, and incredibly sweet and loving." And then I thought, "She's like me! Very well cared for, but sweet, and generous, and ... aha! Not at all bratty."

Step 1)
I had taken the meaning of "spoiled brat" and collapsed it into the word "spoiled." That was my first linguistic error.

Now, having removed "bratty" from the equation, any guilt I had felt about "being spoiled" by my generous family (my father paid off my first car when I went back to school; my family contributed over $20K to the purchase of my first home; etc.) has been removed. I have detached the meaning of bratty from the word "spoiled," and I have a new freedom to receive gifts and allow myself to be "spoiled" without guilt.

Step 2)
Now wait a minute... What is the meaning of "being spoiled" anyway?

The following paragraphs were copied from

"Although it is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the spoiled child syndrome was identified and described by Bruce McIntosh in 1989.[4] The syndrome is characterized by
"excessive, self-centered, and immature behavior". It includes lack of consideration for other people, recurrent temper tantrums, an inability to handle the delay of gratification, demands for having one's own way, obstructiveness, and manipulation.[5] McIntosh attributed the syndrome to "the failure of parents to enforce consistent, age-appropriate limits", but others, such as Aylward, note that temperament is probably a contributory factor.[2]

It is important to note that the temper tantrums are recurrent. McIntosh observes that "many of the problem behaviors that cause parental concern are unrelated to spoiling as properly understood". Children may have occasional temper tantrums without them falling under the umbrella of "spoiled".
Extreme cases of spoiled child syndrome, in contrast, will involve frequent temper tantrums, physical aggression, defiance, destructive behaviour, and refusal to comply with even the simple demands of daily living.[2]"

Reading this definition and example, it is clear to me that I had created my own meaning for the term. Unlike the behavioral aspects of someone who has "been spoiled rotten," the word spoiled has been used in my experience, as with our dog, to refer to anyone who has received considerable generosity or lived a life free of major hardship on a regular basis. This was my second linguistic error, the implication being that living in hardship was the only valid way, and one should feel guilty for a life of ease (unless one works really hard for it).

(We can have a whole other conversation about how self-sabotaging that thought process is, and how it does our society infinitely more harm than good. I'm personally swearing off of the word spoiled unless it is scientifically accurate, as in, "The milk is spoiled!")

Furthermore, applying this definition, when anyone says that I'm spoiled, I can be very clear that I'm not, and in the space of such clarity, there's no upset, frustration, or defensiveness. I am NOT spoiled, so there's nothing to defend!

When you get upset, consider that you may have created a faulty definition. Go to the dictionary and look it up - you might be surprised at what you find.

Bonus question:
Have you discovered faulty definitions in your life and how did they impact you?

M. Makael Newby, 2010 - All Rights Reserved - http://mmakaelnewby.blogspot.com

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