Is That a Monster in the Mirror?: From Parenting to Politics

Carol Smaldino
9 min readApr 9, 2022

When I was very young, it was not uncommon for either of my parents to say I was “spoiled”. I sometimes helplessly retaliated: “Well, you spoiled me!” but it was never satisfying to me internally or even believable, even to myself. I was given a lot of things and let’s say I knew how to get them — if I asked or nagged long enough or pouted, that might become a win. However it was never a real win because I never felt worthy of what I got. I felt more like the monster who had taken over the minds and wallets of the good people who were my parents. And then there was the fact that whatever it was that I had obtained in this manner was never the right thing anyway. It was something used to pacify me and my insistence. And as such I wasn’t grateful either, thereby becoming known within the family circle as both spoiled and ungrateful.

It’s no wonder that as a therapist I became focused on this area of development and on the dynamics of parents and children where this kind of drama (and trauma) is played out. Let’s say that I became a defender of the child, in the sense that I had learned that parents who “spoil” their children are sneaky. They are sneaky often unconsciously, in that they wind up hiding from the obligation of being, so to speak, the bad guys who set the limits and are the bearer of disappointment. I have also hated the word “spoiled” and I think with good reason. To me it means that a child is not given what they really need, are instead pacified and then when they are cranky because the whole give and take if off center, they get accused of being spoiled or ungrateful, or both.

As such I have referred to this dynamic as “Is that a monster in the mirror?” as when the parent who refuses to feel like a monster, creates a monster in their child, assuaging the sense of fear and guilt about that monstrosity within. It is a very unfair bargain that can be solved best if the parent works through the negative emotions that lie within, really within all of us, and begins to face the fact that we are all in fact imperfect. In the best of hypotheses we wind up in families where the monster role shifts rather than being branded on one family member endlessly.


The analogy of “the monster in the mirror”, it seems, works all too well in the political world of conflict. I am looking at the war in Ukraine, and at the accusations against Russia and against Putin…

Carol Smaldino

A psychotherapist, a New Yorker living between Colorado and Italy (in good times) I am passionate about the role of emotions and awareness for evolving,sanity