When you think of the word “Entitlement”, what comes to mind?
It’s probably negative. You might think of it in a pejorative sense, like “that entitled jerk just walked in demanding a free refill on his coffee. We don’t do that here!”
But I’m here to tell you that entitlement can be a good thing. And no matter what your connotation is when you hear it, it’s an essential word when we’re talking about healthy thriving relationships.
You should have healthy entitlement.
Healthy entitlement is really positive! This is when you expect the people around you to treat you with respect, sensitivity and kindness. You’re entitled to be treated with respect, period.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word entitlement actually means that you have a right to something. Healthy entitlements stem from childhood. It is the basic expectation (at a nervous system level) that your caregivers will give you respect, sensitivity, kindness, care and responsiveness when you have needs. If you cry, someone will come and feed, change or comfort you. If you are sad, someone will assure you that things will be okay. You feel safe – not threatened or scared. If you received care and respect in your early development, it is probably second nature for you to ask for what you need emotionally. For example, you will advocate for yourself and ask the other person to spend more time with you, speak to you with respect or listen to you when you express yourself. And if you make requests and they are ignored, you likely have an easier time distancing yourself from them.
If you did not receive these things, it might be really difficult for you to do those things. Asking for what you need might not come naturally to you. It might feel scary!
If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, you are more likely to stay. Even if you know that they are unlikely to change, your nervous system might prevent you from jumping into the unknown and leaving them behind. Fortunately, healthy entitlement can be learned later. Trust me, I have seen people who formerly struggled with healthy entitlement, go from struggling to thriving in their relationships.
These things are why we must discuss entitlement – because as you can see, the feeling that your needs are important is essential to positive relationships.
If you’re under-entitled, you strive to please others…to your own detriment.
It can be painful to realize that you are under-entitled. If it was uncomfortable and sad to think about your childhood needs and the disappointments that you endured, this is probably you.
Under-entitlement is when you didn’t get your basic needs met, or you had to meet the needs of your family first to deserve being cared for.
If you had to be a caretaker for your family emotionally, mentally or physically in childhood, if you had to “work” for them in order to feel worthy, you are under-entitled. You had your first job far too young, when others should have been caring for you.
If this is you, you likely walk on eggshells around others. You might be very intuitive about when they are sad, angry, or frustrated – which, despite being an asset in some ways, can wreak havoc on your relationships. This is not your fault – You were trained from an early age to track the emotional and physical reality outside of you vs. within you.
If somebody asks what you want, it is your first reflex to make sure they are happy and taken care of. You think of their emotional needs first.
This is not healthy entitlement, and should be unlearned.
On the other hand, there is over-entitlement.
There are two types of over-entitlement, and they both cause relational problems.
The first type of overly-entitled person expects you to meet all of their needs, all the time.
They need you to show up for them mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, etc – because no one showed up to provide any of these basic entitlements for them as children. They may act like you “owe” them all of these things. It’s about time someone came along and made up for these injustices!
We often call these people “needy.” This term is problematic – because the truth is, their needs themselves are valid. The problem is not that they have needs and express them – it is that they expect the people around them to be responsible for all of them.
As problematic as “needy” is, these people can be exhausting. They can drain the energy of those around them. The more others help, the more they ask for – give an inch, take a mile. If you find that this describes you, you can learn to create balance in your life. Working with a professional counselor or joining a therapeutic program can help you discuss the needs that you had that were not met early on – helping you reflect on your relationships in a new way!
The second overly-entitled person is the individual we often think of when we hear the word “entitled” or “spoiled”.
This person probably didn’t hear the word “no” very often in childhood. They were likely not given many boundaries (if any) and were free to use whatever, do whatever and go wherever they wanted.
This person probably values their time more than they value others’. They come and go as they please and don’t often consider the feelings of other people until they are reminded to. But again, if this is you – I have hope for your relationships.
How do you make sure that you’re just entitled enough? Like this…
There are many ways to correct your level of entitlement, bringing it into a healthy state of harmony.
My favorite way to do this is through being in a long term relationship, in which you both agree to actively reshape your sense of entitlement. What does that look like?
If you are under-entitled, this looks like refocusing your attention inwards and actually getting in touch with what you need as a person. If your first answer is “Well, I just want him/her/them to be happy,” it’s time to dig a little deeper and get to know the little kid inside of you that feels like she doesn’t deserve to ask for what she wants, or she’ll be shamed or dismissed if she does. That hits hard, I know – but the payoff is worth it. If you’re with someone who deserves you they will actually be curious about your unexpressed needs and help you fish them out of whatever little compartment they got jammed into.
Over-entitlement can be understood further through inner child work or with targeted therapy. Check out the questions below to begin the process of understanding and reparenting your inner child! Targeted talk therapy is helpful because it validates the experiences and emotions you had as a child – possibly for the first time.
If you are someone who consistently thinks of your own needs prior to another’s (the second type of over-entitlement we discussed), it’s time to get curious. You need to approach the state of your relationship like an investigation and seek to understand without getting defensive.
Ask your partner:
- “Do you feel like I make space for your needs in this relationship?”
- “Do you experience me putting my needs first? If so, how?”
- “What needs do you have that are not currently being met?”
- “What would make our relationship feel more collaborative?”
This is a vulnerable process but this can transform literally every part of your life.
No matter what your sense of entitlement looks like, You need to focus your attention inwards and ask yourself questions like…
- What is going on with this hypersensitive child inside of you? What feelings did you have frequently as a child – anger, sadness, frustration or loneliness? What is your relationship like with your inner child? How do you talk to yourself?
- Are you ready to be the parent for yourself that you never got? You’ll need to slow down and empathize with your younger self in a real, authentic way. Can you take the time to understand yourself more fully?
- Can you help your inner child develop the skills to communicate what’s happening inside in a way that’s not threatening or blaming to those around you so that you can stop pushing people away?
There is a whole lot more to say about the reshaping of our conditioned sense of entitlement.
I could write an entire book about entitlement and what an important tool it can be in transforming our interpersonal relationships!
In the meantime, I hope you get a glimpse of what is possible if you own your inner child and start to deliberately develop a healthy and collaborative sense of entitlement.
What do you think? Are you under-entitled, over-entitled or just entitled enough?