Entitlement is a term used to describe a person’s belief that he deserves certain privileges and favourable treatment at the hands of others. This belief is unmerited and unrealistic when we use the term entitlement in a psychological way. In our society this behaviour is not encouraged and people who exhibit an unhealthy sense of entitlement are criticised for being arrogant and self-important.
We are all born with a sense of being entitled to what we perceive as our own special needs: to be loved and cared for by a parent, to be attended to when we are hungry or uncomfortable, to be comforted when hurt or anxious, to be listened to when we want to communicate, to be kept safe, to try new things, to feel good about ourselves and our achievements. But as we grow through childhood we learn that the needs of others are important and deserving of respect as well and sometimes even more important, and we learn to balance those two. If we don’t learn to do that balancing, we run the risk of not attracting friendships due to our selfish behaviour. So the trade-off for being unselfish is being liked and gaining social acceptability. In adulthood, a continuing sense of unrealistic and ego-centred entitlement leads to a lack of healthy relationships as well as of business opportunities. A lack of respect of other people’s needs is detrimental to our own happiness.
However, a healthy self-regard and a strong, reasonable sense of our true entitlements and rights in the world are crucial to leading a life with fulfilling relationships. Or else we will constantly be open to being taken unfair advantage of even to being victimised by others.
It is interesting to consider what gives rise to this sense of entitlement.
Psychologists are not certain of the causes, but like many aspects of human nature it seems to be a blend of environmental and biological make-up. Entitlement as defined in the first paragraph, is linked to narcissism and when a narcissistic person feels their notion of self as deserving of preferential treatment being in danger, and of losing control over both themselves and their world – such as happens when their spouse tells them that they want to separate, this type of person feels humiliated, shamed and inevitably angered and enraged. This humiliated rage often leads to acts of violence directed at the person who has injured them and has threatened to upend their world. The violence can be extreme - resulting in the death of the spouse and, or their children. The narcissist cannot deal in a more ‘normal’ way with the toxicity of his shame, his loss of control, the resistance to his authority and his sense of entitlement which includes ownership of his family. He sees them as his, belonging solely to him. Also involved is a ‘dog in the manger’ attitude, a need to punish and a desire to end the pain and rage he feels.
But this is the extreme reaction of the narcissist. What of anyone else - those who don’t fit into any category of mental disorder? When we consider the degree of entitlement prevalent in many ways in our society, is Steven Stosny right to call this the Age of Entitlement? He argues that we are now so obsessed with the need and right to feel good all of the time that we feel victimised when we don’t. We have forgotten that along with rights go responsibilities and that being humble is a virtue and not equated with having low self-esteem.
Why do these people feel entitled? Is it due to social media and the race to keep up with unrealistic ideas of being a successful human being, or to the patriarchal society in which men are raised to be macho, whereby they feel ownership over their families, their property?
Or is it due to a rise in depression and anxiety which sees people grasping for something to control in order to feel better, or to a lack of strong leaders modelling behaviour that shows a valuing of decency, honesty and morality?
Perhaps it is due to restrictive religions that consider women to be second class citizens and beholden to the men in their families, or is it due to our western education systems that have constantly told children that they are special and that they can do and be anything they want to, while protecting them from anything which may be perceived to upset them – setting them up for failure in the real world and an inability to deal with adversity?
Could it be that we have lost all tenets of how healthy relationships work and of how to treat others as equally important to ourselves?
I suspect that the rise of entitlement in the negative sense is due to all of these things, some of which are more implicated than others, but nonetheless allow someone’s humiliation and rage to ride roughshod over all other considerations and sometimes result in frightful consequences. We need to figure out how shame, feelings of inferiority, entitlement, damaged egos, outrage, hostility, a lack of consideration for the common good, violence and control are the ingredients in the potent mix that causes people to act in anti-social ways which we see escalating in intensity and frequency across all strata of our society.
If you feel that you might feel an unhealthy or abnormal type of entitlement, or if someone in a relationship with you does, you should seek help from a psychologist who can administer tests to determine if that is so. Living with narcissistic entitlement can be very difficult and it is important to distinguish between what appear to be two different types of entitled narcissism in order to gain the right sort of help. Studies so far show that there are broadly speaking, two types of people with entitlement issues. The first is someone who feels they are due all good things in life because they think they are better than others: those may be described as grandiose narcissists. These people have high self-esteem and a lack of empathy in close relationships,amongst other characteristics. The second type is someone who covers up their low sense of self-worth with claims of being great and better than others. There is an underlying fear of being inadequate which seems to be the driver of their selfishness and grandiosity. they may be described as vulnerable narcissists. Both types can experience anger or rage and feel aggressive when their entitlement needs are thwarted or unmet.
Entitled people have a low tolerance for frustration and when their expectations are dashed, hatred, anger and rage often follow. This takes the form of violent verbal and physical attacks on someone – usually a person who is close and includes belittling and demeaning talk. Joe Burgo says that behind the hatred can also lie profound shame and a sense of psychic damage.1 Shame at the disintegration of oneself and perhaps at one’s disproportional anger response and the repetitive patterns of behaviour that cause such damage and difficulties for oneself. Burgo suggests that we look behind the labels of mental disorders to consider that the shame, humiliated rage and hatred of reality that causes us frustration is not uncommon to many psychological personality categories - and indeed in less difficult to deal with degrees and forms, to all of us.
This is thought-provoking and just highlights that we are all somewhere on the continuum of so many aspects of personality and responses to what life hands us – including our response to frustration. We cannot just say that because a characteristic is exaggerated in someone diagnosed with a mental condition or disorder that we do not ourselves have a very similar characteristic, albeit to a lesser degree and which is manageable.
What do you think? I would love to hear your comments... -Dec 2020
1. Burgo, J. Narcissistic Rage and The Sense of Entitlement, After Psychotherapy, April 2011.
2. Stosny, S. Age of Entitlement, Psychology Today, February 2019. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201902/anger-in-the-age-entitlement>
3. Porter, R. The Psychology Behind Sense of Entitlement, Better Help, Jan 2021
4. Krauss Whitbourne, S. Revisiting the Psychology of Narcissistic Entitlement, Psychology Today. February 2014