“The secret to your existence is right in front of you. It manifests itself as all those things you know you should do, but are avoiding.” ~Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
Would you be able to spot entitlement in action?
You can probably remember each time someone tried pushing their way in front of you at the store because they felt their time was more ‘valuable’ than yours (and then played naive, …”Oh! I didn’t see you there!” if you called them out).
Or, maybe you know someone who always rolls their eyes if you ask them for the smallest favor (“Hey, can you feed the cat?”).
And while these are pretty obvious examples of a person believing they are ‘too good’ to be bothered with something as menial as waiting their turn or feeding the cat, more often than not, entitled behavior is less obvious.
At least at first.
For example, maybe you know someone who uses Torrenting programs to download movies or uses sketchy streaming services so they don’t have to pay. What you’re seeing up front is a good time, a movie night with your significant other and some cuddling time. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see the entitlement in play.
You might know someone who cancels plans last minute with a half-assed apology, only to find out they stood you up for a “better” option. Or, perhaps you know someone who decides to binge video games for hours on end before asking what you want to do. Aside from scratching these people off your list for acting like jerks, you may not see the entitlement in play until you dig a little deeper.
These are less obvious types of entitlement — you may not realize it’s based on the other person’s sense of entitlement with little regard for your privacy, or feelings.
Because entitlement and manipulation walk hand-in-hand, an unsuspecting person may not recognize they’re being pushed aside for what the other person wants.
Convenience Is Not Entitlement
Entitlement is not a new term. The word has been passed from one generation to the next for as long as generations have existed. Because we’ve become a society of convenience with double taps, selfies, and checking our daily steps on our FitBit, somewhere along the line, what is actually a convenience (think: anything technological versus older generations who had to do things “by hand”) has become synonymous with the word entitlement.
Because of the conveniences we’ve been handed, entitlement can come into play if we stop identifying with anyone else’s feelings or needs by putting ourselves first. It’s not that most of us don’t want to think of others, it’s just that the way the world is set up makes it inconvenient to shift outside of our comfort zone — which can then easily morph into entitlement.
For example, while most of us may not be intentionally dismissing another person’s needs, it doesn’t soften the blow if we send our friend some emoji or inspirational quote after they left us a 3-minute voicemail telling us they broke up with their girlfriend, instead of taking 20 minutes out of our day to call them back.
It’s just easier to send that emoji than to carve time out of our day to talk.
Entitlement is along a spectrum in how it affects us in our daily lives and how it can negatively affect relationships. I’m not referring to ‘convenience’ per se unless you allow simple conveniences to drive you into complacency with an entitled mindset.
I’m referring to pathological entitlement, where on this extreme end lurks dangerous behavior — for example, a guy who breaks into their ex’s house and ransacks it to get back at them for leaving, because he felt entitled to. Or, some jackass who leads a double-life pretending to be decent to his family’s faces while sabotaging them behind their backs — because he feels entitled to.
While these are extreme overt examples of entitlement, there are also equally destructive, but more covert examples of entitlement to consider.
Macro vs. Micro Behaviors With Entitlement
Two words: Veruca Salt.
…”Don’t care how, I want it now!”
I’m a huge fan of old-school. And, the old school Willy Wonka movie with Gene Wilder is classic on so many levels — from Willy sadistically plucking one of Mike TeeVee’s hairs out while singing “Pure Imagination” — to each kid’s behavior — that movie was jam-packed with entitlement. There was Augustus drinking from the chocolate river, Violet grabbing a piece of the 3-Course Dinner Gum, Charlie and Grampa Joe stealing Fizzy Lifting Drinks, Mike Teevee getting zapped into a million pieces…and of course Veruca Salt’s behavior, as her daddy pulls out his checkbook each time.
…all because they each felt entitled.
When behavior is overt, it’s easy to spot. A person will act haughty, self-righteous, and well…entitled. Willy Wonka aside, more common examples of overt entitlement are seen in those who park in a handicapped zone because the lot is full and they don’t feel like parking in the back-40; the person who walks in front of others onto an elevator (or doesn’t bother holding the door open); or a friend who didn’t bother taking care of your game controller and wound up breaking it.
Micro behaviors aren’t as easy to spot, so here are a few examples of more subtle, covert behavior associated with entitlement.
They Are Superficially Nice (with an angle). They may praise you and shower you with compliments, or they may say they washed your car or cooked you dinner. But, the ‘kindness’ is not without its agenda. Underneath the superficial niceness is the expectation that you will do for them — and they will come knocking sooner, rather than later for the ‘favor’ to be returned.
Typically, when dealing with covert behavior, any compliment or praise given to a person, or anything ‘nice’ that is done for someone is not said or done with the intention of being altruistic, but to feed their own Ego. By telling you that you’re smart or capable, they’re really telling themselves these things to stabilize a shaky self-esteem; not the healthiest way to try to feel good about themselves.
They Feel Easily Betrayed. For example, if your favorite sports team differs from theirs, they may overtly laugh at you or insult you for your taste in sports teams. Underneath, they’re feeling betrayed that your opinion or interests differ from theirs as well as questioning their own taste, so you’re ‘wrong’ and they’re ‘right’, and they usually have no problem telling you that you’re ‘wrong’.
On the the other hand, covert entitlement is more subtle. Instead of blatantly throwing you under a bus for having a difference of opinion, they may insist you don’t get it, or that you don’t understand — double points for both a sense of covert entitlement being flexed while shaming the other person for having a difference of opinion.
They Hold Grudges. As with the example above, if you have a difference of opinion, they may likely hold a grudge — indefinitely. While they may not overtly bring up “…that one time you…(enter grudge here)”, covert entitlement with holding a grudge may look like shutting down, becoming passive-aggressive or giving the silent treatment around the same situation in which they’re holding a grudge.
For example, if they somehow feel wronged by a coworker, they may hold a grudge by shutting down or walking away each time they see that person, or they may try to sabotage them by spreading rumors behind their back.
Idealized Expectations Trigger Depression or Anxiety. If/when idealized expectations aren’t lived up to regarding their social status, job promotions, or relationships, it can trigger depression or anxiety, which can be further triggered if others aren’t living up to their need for constant adoration, or if they aren’t living up to their own unrealistic expectations of perfection.
For example, if a partner isn’t living up to unrealistic ideals (i.e. they gained a few pounds, or they got laid off from their job, etc.), this can trigger anxiety and depression in a person who holds expectations of entitlement. They may feel cheated by their partner who ‘should be adoring them’ but may now be needing encouragement or support themselves.
Psychologically speaking, an attitude of entitlement often has roots in overcompensating for feelings of deep inadequacy or even self-hate.
The quote by Jordan Peterson above eloquently addresses what needs to happen to get to a place of growth — where entitlement is not needed.
Thus, knowing change is needed is not the same as doing something about it. Stopping a pattern of entitlement requires awareness, acceptance and a willingness to start making those changes.
Campbell W. K., et al. (2004). Psychological entitlement: Interpersonal consequences and validation of a self-report measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 83(1), 29–45.
Lange, J., Redford, L., & Crusius, J. (2019). A status-seeking account of psychological entitlement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(7), 1113–1128.
Lavner, J.A., et al. (2016). Narcissism and partner marital trajectories. Personal discord, Author manuscript, 7(2), 169–179.
Moeller, S. J., Crocker, J., & Bushman, B. J. (2009). Creating hostility and conflict: Effects of entitlement and self-image goals. Journal of Experiential and Social Psychology, 45(2), 448–458.