At three years of age, Ron was a terror. He basically got what he wanted, not by crying for it, but by waging war. He could not be grabbed fast enough to discipline. He stuck his tongue out at his mother when she tried to teach him right from wrong. He sassed her by poking his rear end out of his pants and laughing before he ran away. At five, he was kicking his parents if they tried to discipline him. They gave up. They told themselves, “He’ll grow out of it.” That was a big mistake. Why would he grow out of it? He had no incentive to do so and got whatever he wanted by being a terror.

Why Spoiling a Child is Child Abuse

Ron was smart, and school came easy to him. As he got older, he thought going to class once in a while, taking the test cold, and acing it was funny, so he did it for laughs. He got away with the absences because he played football; he made a name for the school. Ron was also a good-looking boy. Although they seemed like assets, his smarts and his looks were really curses because they enabled him to get away with things. He never learned responsibility.

Vivian, a lovely woman he met in college, fell in love with him, intelligent and attractive as he was. And he had that air of certainty and all-knowingness that women find appealing. He had learned to be “nice” by observing that if you act in a particular way, you usually get what you want: that’s charm, and charming he was. Ron and Vivian got married, but bliss didn’t last long.

How Marriages Unravel

Ron had problems in his first job after college. There, they actually wanted him to work. He didn’t know anything about self-discipline. He showed up late. He was really surprised when they did not appreciate his point that he would get the job done on his own time so what did it matter when he got to work. And he didn’t exactly get the job done. He thought some of the work was stupid so he didn’t put a lot of effort into it. When he complained to Vivian, she was not too sympathetic. After all, she worked hard; why shouldn’t he, just like anyone else? In fact, his work problems took the shine off the image she’d had of him in college. She started to feel herself losing respect for him.

After a while, the relationship was hanging by a thread with Vivian completely fed up. They started fighting and then Vivian gave up (as his parents had) and just withdrew. However, when she told him she wanted a divorce, he urged her to go with him to marriage counseling. She gave him one last chance and went.

People like Ron do not see themselves at fault; they don’t have the vision to realize that being spoiled was the curse that kept them from learning self-discipline and concern for others. When brought into counseling, such people are truly perplexed that someone could be irritated with them. Ron was no exception. Except that he didn’t want to lose his wife. Often that is the motivator for people. Here is what we did:

1. Visualization Often Preceeds Action

Therefore, with patience, a little pushing, and encouragement, Ron decided to make a commitment to begin working on himself. He was sold on the idea that if he just followed a plan to be self-disciplined, respectful, and considerate, he would win back his wife. He came up with six scenes to visualize:

  • being punctual
  • working until the job is done and acting as if he likes it
  • listening to other people’s input in a respectful manner
  • doing something he hates on a date (like seeing a chick flick) to please Vivian
  • asking himself, “Now what would Vivian want me to do in this case?”
  • asking himself, “How can I prove to my boss that I care about the job?”

It is not easy to make major changes in outlook and behavior. For that reason, if people can see themselves in a particular situation behaving in new ways, it helps ease them into new behaviors.

I might add that the last item took some negotiating. As he put it, he didn’t care about the job in the first place. However, it did make sense to him that (a) if he put more into it, he might actually like it; (b) doing well at this job did improve the chances of a move into either a better position there or to another company; (c) there is a certain amount of good and bad in every job and focusing on the good part can make it more pleasant; (d) the pay was decent for a first job.

2. Walking the Walk Even If You’re Not Ready

So, he decided to act as if he cared about the job while asking himself what he could do to prove to his boss that he cared. You see, Ron never gave the job a fair chance and he started alienating people from the beginning by coming late. This obscured his ability to make an honest statement that he did or didn’t care about it. He needed to start with a fresh attitude by  assuming that he would come to like it if he treated it—and the other workers—with respect.

Each of the visualizations was very difficult for him. Following them was more so. He was constantly battling against his self-centeredness with ideas like, “This isn’t important; why bother?” On the other hand, he was intelligent enough to see that his bombing out at work could lead to a series of unsuccessful jobs later on. So he stuck to it.

It took three months to conquer the first item on his list; eventually, his body clock shifted. Getting up early and being on time became effortless; that was probably the hardest of his adjustments. Once he was on time, it improved everyone’s image of him so they believed his sincere efforts to apply himself. Acting as if he liked the job meant he couldn’t whine to Vivian. Since he was acting responsibly, her respect for him started to go up.

Ron forced himself to listen to other people at work. He had a hard time not thinking of people as “fools” sometimes, but he just smiled anyway. In other words, he stuck to his plan.

Ron also started to take Vivian out to restaurants of her choice and to activities she wanted, so she felt treasured, a new feeling for her in this relationship.

Then something unexpected and wonderful happened. A very new glow began to burn within his heart: For the first time, he experienced what it felt like to get pleasure out of pleasing someone else. He noticed that feeling, paid attention to it, and enjoyed the man he had become. Ron made a decision to work all the harder at his six-point plan.

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