Entitlement: Sabotaging Relationships

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

I am sure some have come across people who hold the view that they are entitled to be treated in a certain manner. These individuals define their relationships with others in terms of their social position or power. That is to say, they feel they are entitled to and deserve, love, companionship, happiness, honesty, obedience, respect, and deference, etc. Entitlement works hand in hand with demanding expectations. This means, when someone doesn’t treat them the way they demand and expect to be treated, they feel they have the right to be angry or, alternatively, they get depressed.

From the outset, it should be noted that some of the expected ways in which people want others to treat them are often desirable and often good. A psycho-spiritual problem occurs when the events themselves become a test of whether or not expectations are met according to self-defined standards. In clinical terms, desirable preferences have been transformed into demanding expectations which sabotage the social or business relationship and result in emotions and behavior (usually anger) that impair the ability to attain desirable goals.

A few examples may help us understand entitlement. In the military, entitlement often manifest itself in officers or noncoms who seem ever mindful of — and habitually announce — the deference due their rank rather than earning the obedience they are entitled to by demonstrating real leadership from the front of their command. In family situations, a mother feels entitled to love and respect from her daughter: “After all I am her mother.” A father feels his son should listen and take his advice: “I am the father; he should listen and do what I tell him.” The same is true of a husband and wife: “I am his wife; he should... “or “I am her husband; she should ....” When family members do not meet our expectations we may feel we have the right to be angry. Alternatively, we may feel that we are unworthy because our expectations are not met and we may respond by feeling depressed. Either way, anyone consumed by these emotions will not be very good at bringing about the outcomes they would like. (Morelli, 2006b).

The key to understanding entitlement is to see the word “title” imbedded in the larger word. Whenever we make a demand based on our title (eg: boss, parent, spouse, etc.) we operate from an entitlement perspective. We often think: “Others should treat me the way I think they should.” Some personality psychologists such as Karen Horney (1950) have dubbed this the “tyranny of the shoulds.” The solution is to realize that a title is no guarantee that others will perform the specific behaviors we want them to.

Cognitive clinical psychologists such as Albert Ellis (1962) note the antidote to demanding expectations is to develop preferences for and about the way others treat us. In fact, what is really needed is a shift in perception from demanding expectations to preferential goals. Instead of thinking of our expectations in terms of an entitlement, we can frame them as invitations that others may accept in order to help themselves.

Modern clinical analysis of this problem ties in with the teaching of Jesus. Jesus never forced anyone by using His title. Instead, He recognized that obedience and respect are freely given. In the same way, the recognition that all people freely offer obedience and cooperation lifts preferences above a battle of the wills because the demanding expectation is diminished. People often “dig in” when they feel coerced into particular behaviors because they feel they need to save face and protect their self-identity. The most effective way of having people treating us appropriately is to state our desires clearly and the consequences if the desires are not met (Morelli, 2005, 2006a). Spiritually, the root of entitlement is pride. St. John Cassian, (360 AD-435 AD Philokalia I) while among the Eastern Christian monks in the Egyptian desert, learned that pride is “..like some harsh tyrant who has gained control of a great city, and destroys it completely razing it to its foundations.” As the Prophet Isaiah (31:3) reminds us: “[We] are men, and not God.”

REFERENCES

Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion In psychotherapy. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart.

Horney, K. (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Towards Self-Realization . NY: Norton.

Morelli, G. (2005, September 17). Smart Parenting Part 1. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/MorelliParenting.php.

Morelli, G. (2006a, February 04). Smart Parenting Part II. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliParenting2.php.

Morelli, G. (2006b, March 25). Smart Parenting III: Developing Emotional Control. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliParenting3.php.

Morelli, G. (2007, March 15). Smart Marriage: How An Attitude of Entitlement Undermines Marriage. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliEntitlement.php.

Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. &; Ware, K. (trans.) (1979). The Philokalia, Volume 1: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain . London: Faber and Faber.

Date posted: June 1, 2009