Self-entitlement is when an individual perceives themselves as deserving of unearned privileges. These are the people who believe life owes them something; a reward, a measure of success, a particular standard of living.
You can probably tell when you are dealing with such an individual because they will exhibit the following 5 traits.
1. Like the alphabet, I comes before U.
A sense of entitlement brings with it an uncompromising attitude. There is a lack of understanding of others’ needs and of certain social situations, accompanied by an expectation that you should be far more interested in their life than they are in yours.
Narcissism is at the very heart of this trait; the over-exaggerated sense of self-importance accompanied by fantasies of power, beauty and brilliance. Compromises, that require one to meet others halfway, don’t exist in the world of the entitled. Everyone else is either competition – threatening their own success – or irrelevant.
Headstrong, forceful ‘my way or the high way’ thinking is a common attribute. A meticulous route to success is chartered and followed. This course may be fruitful for them, but they are totally unaware of the carnage that lay in their wake, and they are in complete denial about holding any personal responsibility for their actions.
The belief that ‘it’s all about me’ is often instilled in the home, when, as children, their parents make them the center of their universe. Sadly, their route into maturity does not coincide with growth in their empathy. Often, the self-entitled have become stuck in a mindset more reminiscent of a self-absorbed teen.
2. What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is my own.
The double standards that stem from a sense of entitlement can feel bewildering in a society built on reciprocity. Whilst being unyielding to the requests of others, self-entitled individuals make unrealistic demands, oblivious that their personal happiness comes at another’s expense. Just imagine that person you hold the door open for, but who never holds it open for you, not even when your arms are fully loaded.
Ungrateful attitudes are often directed at you after you have performed a good deed for them. You might constantly change your shift pattern to accommodate their holiday/children/personal appointments, for instance, but they never offer to return the favor, even when you really need it. The self-entitled often appear totally oblivious to the inconvenience they have caused you.
Additionally, their relationships tend to be one-sided and they can be incredibly lazy. Socially expected norms are not performed, such as not helping to wash the dishes after a meal that has been cooked for them, or taking their turn making coffee in the office. Development of the idea of sharing has not taken place. With all the focus and determination of a two-year-old, no shame or guilt curbs their demands.
3. Expectation of privilege is so great it leaves equality feeling like oppression.
A sense of superiority resides in the self-entitled. They have the intention to start from the top of the ladder, without the typical grafting, bottom-up approach that most others take.
Ever had someone cut in front of you in a supermarket queue, or reserve seating in a ‘purchase prior to eating’ fast-food restaurant – leaving you with food but no seat? Exasperating! You have to look deeper, because an expectation of privilege can be hidden in the very essence of who we are: a higher rate of pay due to gender, preferential treatment at the bar due to age, or social opportunity due to race or class.
They overrate their own achievements whilst simultaneously underrating yours, creating in their head ‘justification’ for their expectation of privilege. As a parent, you soon figure out which other parents will happily ‘take’ the offer of a lift from you, when little Johnny has a party invite. This system works out great when you both take turns driving. Yet certain ‘takers’ never quite seem to have the opportunity to reciprocate. In situations where they are forced into taking their turn, they do so dramatically, making sure everyone is aware of their ‘great deed’.
It’s this sense of entitlement that eventually harms themselves. Ultimately, we distance ourselves from such people to limit the damage of their actions upon us. This type of behavior would appear to be driven from an unrealistic view of the world, one that includes an assumption of favorable living conditions and treatment.
4. An angry man/woman, who feels his/her anger is just.
The self-entitled are no strangers to confrontation. Often known for fits of rage surpassing any tantrum a toddler may throw, their ruthless, egotistical stance allows them to believe this is justified. ‘I can’t believe I have to work with such morons’ and other such inappropriate outbursts flow freely from their mouths.
Their anger can simmer passively too, a cutting glance or rolled eyes signal their contempt for those around them. Simmering negativity is displayed in cynical and overly critical viewpoints. The self-entitled, for instance, can never praise you for your promotion; instead, they believe (and make clear) that you gained it because you were ‘close with your manager/best of a bad bunch/about time you were promoted’.
Rage, and other volatile emotions that accompany a sense of entitlement, are often fuelled by underlying shame. The mask of entitlement may be used to cover a deeper need. Like most bullies, the anger projected onto others is often driven from their own insecurities.
5. Poor little old me.
When dominant, aggressive behavior doesn’t help the self-entitled reach their goals, a case of the ‘poor me’s’ may break out. Self-pitying attitudes coupled with manipulative and attention-seeking conduct makes their company draining.
Although consumed by the belief that social rules don’t apply to them, you can be sure they will loudly complain if they feel they are being short changed! This often rears its head in team work. Let’s say a group of you are putting a presentation together. One person falls short of meeting their share of the hard work. Yet that same person expects the largest amount of credit when the project goes well. Furthermore, that individual will desert the sinking ship if it doesn’t. This can often be derived from a behavior where their ‘wants’ are expressed as ‘needs’. They misinterpret their feelings as facts and others are often blamed for the situation they find themselves in. Their unmet expectations leave them feeling dissatisfied and chronically disappointed.
Behind all this behavior is an individual who craves to be admired and adored. They are in constant need of validation from their peers, whilst simultaneously demanding respect. So desperately full of insecurities, it is their own emotional distress they are trying to remedy through enforcement of their superiority. Socially destructive qualities have isolated them from society, and in the end, even those near and dear learn to hold their guarded distance. Depression can set in when the wall of self-entitlement begins to crumble.
The underlying emotional dynamics of self-entitlement in others needs to be managed. Giving the shirt off your back would not be enough. Recognize when you are being drawn into a ‘no win’ situation and gently extract yourself. ‘No, I’m sorry I am unable to meet at 4.00pm. We can reschedule to 5.00…’ Be firm, but fair. A halfway compromise from you is enough, but draw a line and be prepared to walk away.
Now to cast your eye upon your own soul. To some degree, we all have a sense of entitlement within us, but as with most personality traits, we sit at different points on a sliding scale. Do you pay attention to the needs of others? Show an awareness of other people’s feelings and situations? Are you able to forgive those who have, either by intent or negligence, done you wrong? Entitled traits are within us all, we can re-address the balance with humility and gratitude. Our personal and societal happiness relies on it.
Currently, I volunteer as a spiritual counselor in the mental health sector for the NHS whilst doing a psychology degree. Prior to this, I worked in holistic health, performing massage and reiki. Personal experiences with dementia, parkinsons, and other mental health issues led me to search for answers through psychology. As a mum of three teenagers and carer to elderly parents, a wide variety of mental wellbeing issues interest me. Due to my holistic practices, my psychological work is a mixture of intuitive thought and scientific reasoning. I’m a keen advocate of empowering ‘ordinary’ people to look after the welfare of their community through ‘ordinary’ activities. I regularly share through my Facebook page Muddy boots for mental wellbeing.