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The Entitlement Complex

One of the most interesting things I have learnt through therapy is the damaging effects of excessively instilling confidence in a child.

Many parents or caregivers, particularly those who may have been subjected to their own unhelpful parenting styles (i.e. authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent or neglectful) opt to build their children’s self-esteem at a young age by imbuing messages such as “you are amazing,” “you can be anything you want when you grow up,” “you’re the best,” “you’re a winner” and “you are special. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not!”

Children thrive on love, and absolutely need to feel supported to flourish as young people and adults. However, consistent messaging delivered to children about how great and fantastic they are often sets up a false self, one in which the child expects things to always work out in their favour, one which never fails, and one which deserves preferential treatment.

It results in an unexpected and detrimental two-pronged effect that may take years of psychotherapy to undo. Or worse, may never be undone.

The first effect is a low self-esteem. This is extremely interesting, as it is precisely the opposite outcome of what the parent/s intended. The reason for this, however, is quite simple. When a young person internalises that they are wonderful or special, or can become anything that their heart desires, any failure hits them much harder. Failure is a universal truth that all people will experience in their lives.

It cannot be avoided.

If the inevitability of failure is acknowledged, and responded to with a sense of resilience and fortitude, it can be the most helpful thing a person can experience. For someone who lives their life expecting never to lose however, any failure can become something excruciating, and lead to major issues like denial or delusion, narcissism, or an obsessive desire to control due to an inability to accept things as they are.

The second effect, which I’ll discuss more in this article, is the dreaded Entitlement Complex. Entitlement is the idea that the world owes you a favour. It is the idea that every person is cognisant of your existence and thinks you’re pretty great. It is the idea that no matter how much more diligent, courageous, determined and industrious other people are than us, we should still be one to reap the rewards. It does not add character, value, or charisma. Entitlement does not set up any person for success; rather, it sets people up to receive harsh reality checks, and denies that person the self-actualising “can do” attitude which content, fulfilled and purposeful people hold dear.

Where a pragmatic, stoic or resilient person might see a challenge and think “there must be a solution,” an entitled person will simply see another difficulty in their life that they are not responsible for. They will wait on others’ to fix their problems, without ever fully realising the universal truth of being human – that we, and we alone, are responsible for our problems.

It is a very large, very difficult pill to swallow for the entitled person when they realise that a) failure is inevitable, b) the world owes us precisely nothing and will be around long after we’ve gone and/or c) that they aren’t special.

For someone who is told they are a special to suddenly realise they are just another person, worth as much as all other people, is simply soul-crushing. Many entitled people live their lives in a narcissistic world of their own making, believing that everyone and everything acknowledges their talents and specialness. What they often fail to realise is that most people are not impacted by their presence whatsoever, and that the world continues around them, unaffected by them, without their special influence.

Take away their specialness and suddenly they feel worthless.

Being entitled sets us up for a life of misery and despair. We go into a situation, expecting a certain outcome. It is denied to us, and we cannot handle it. We get frustrated, we get sad, or we get furious. We yell, and we demand, and we threaten. And what do we get? We get a failure that we cannot handle, or deny, or even worse, we get the result we were looking for – which simply consolidates the idea that we are special and deserving of preferential treatment, making any inevitable failure going forward a little more painful, a little harder to cope with.

So what can we do when we encounter an entitled person?

We can first give love and compassion. We can acknowledge that their entitled attitude is no fault of their own, but rather a result of flawed parenting styles and/or living in a society that preaches the importance of excellence and perfection. We can then choose a course of action that is aligned with our values, or choose to simply not engage at all.

And if you are the entitled person?

If you are entitled, it’s an amazing step in the right direction to acknowledge it. First acknowledge that you are a worthy person, but that doesn’t mean you are special. Ask yourself if it is helping or hurting your ability to feel successful (not be successful – there is no way to measure success) or fulfilled, or living a meaningful and purposeful life. Acknowledge that the world is generally not influenced by any decisions you do or do not make. Acknowledge that no person is truly special unless they fill the world with love and compassion, yet expect nothing in return (not even praise). Acknowledge that you will fail. Acknowledge that it is impossible to always get what you want.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. We are all a little entitled. It’s part of being human.

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