Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions..
When I browse the latest news about health and disability issues, I often see the term “entitlement” bandied about. The media labels a lot of bad behavior out there as “feelings of entitlement.” This is obviously a bad thing, but what does it really mean? Is being entitled always wrong?
A Definition of Entitlement
According to Psychology Today, all of us have certain rights. Here are some of them:
- To be treated with respect
- To be valued as special
- To have certain emotional and physical needs met such as love, food, shelter, education, employment, etc.
- To be dealt with fairly
- To have our boundaries respected
People with a sense of entitlement are a problem, however, when their expectations become unreasonable and interfere with the rights of others. Sometimes, people feel entitled because they did not get what they needed from others or were mistreated. They may go overboard in their demands to compensate as a result. Others may have been brought up to believe that they deserve to get everything that they want such as the best seats in restaurants and other venues. They are miserable if they do not get what they desire and make the people around them miserable as well with their anger, outrage, and temper tantrums.
An example of Entitlement
One news story that got me thinking on this topic was an incident at a mall in Pennsylvania. A service dog handler with a training dog was approached by a mother with a toddler. When the mother asked the female dog trainer if her kid could pet the dog, the trainer said no.
The dog handler filmed the mother coming back to her and chewing her out. The mom claimed that the trainer was rude and said that the dog should be labeled with a “do not pet sign” (the dog did have several signs on its vest). The mom threatened to call her lawyer. Various media outlets also reported that the mother started crying and called security. The trainer shared the video she had taken of the rant and posted it to social media, where it went viral with millions of views (11 million and counting at the time of writing).
In this case, both the mother and the trainer allowed an inflated sense of what their rights were to mishandle their situation. The situation raises the questions such as: “How should these ladies have acted this situation?” “What do we do when people who feel entitled try to manipulate and exploit us?”
Tips For Dealing With People Who Feel Entitled
Recognize signs of entitled thinking
Some signs are:
- People think that they are more important or better than others
- They have unrealistic expectations of others
- They have double standards – they do not care if they are inconveniencing others through last minute cancellations or that they are making a request at another person’s expense, but are in a snit if they are treated the same way
- They accept favors as something they deserve but do not return them
- They are not fair to others but demand fairness from them
- They are not team players and struggle with following rules
- They will not negotiate or compromise
- They are controlling and manipulate to get what they want, including using social media to humiliate others
Deescalate the situation
When these people do not get what they want, they get angry and bluster with righteous indignation. People who feel thwarted say or do hurtful things. For our mental, and physical safety, we need to deescalate the situation, if possible. We can be polite and listen to them rant, for example. We can offer to accommodate them in some cases or walk away in others.
Do not be maneuvered into giving in to their demands
Some people base their demands on a distorted sense of entitlement. They use excuses to justify verbally and/or physically abusing their family members and/or to take advantage of others. They exploit us to get what they want. Sometimes, they use our emotions to control us so that we meet their expectations. Here are some examples:
Fear: A jobless man in his thirties feels he has the right to live at his parents’ house rent-free and without contributing to food and household expenses. His parents tolerate his behavior because they fear the consequences of him being broke and homeless. In another situation, family members provide money and pay for accommodation for someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol because they are afraid the addicts will suffer withdrawal or end up on the streets. Enablers may feel that they could not handle the manipulators overdosing or dying.
Guilt: In some cases, a parent may feel guilt for neglecting or mistreating their children. They try to make up for past mistakes such as substance abuse by giving in to their adult children’s unreasonable demands.
Have an aversion to conflict: Some people give in to entitled people because they hate arguing and dissent.
Allow the entitled to suffer the consequences of their actions
People who feel entitled should not be rescued from their bad decisions. If they are late for an appointment, they should not expect for a medical or other professional to take them after hours.
When the mother in the above story asked to pet the service dog, the trainer said “no.” The trainer was setting a boundary and sticking to it. In the same way, we need to set limits on other people’s behavior. If people expect us to babysit at the last minute, to continually rescue or bail them out when they get in trouble with the law, or to fork out money just because we are their parents, we are not obligated to fulfil their unreasonable expectations. We can make our own expectations clear while offering alternatives such as saying we are willing to babysit with more notice. When they whine and try to manipulate to get their way, we can respond by explaining that limits and rules are there to benefit everyone and should not be taken personally.
Educate them, if possible
When we say no to people, we are teaching them that the real world does not revolve around them. They need to learn that people cannot always get what they want. The entitled may be less likely to take “nos” personally if they understand the reasons behind them. Not everyone will listen, but those who do may learn something.
I do not know what the trainer in Pennsylvania had said to the upset mom before the video camera was rolling, but the mom might have been less upset if she understood why she was not allowed to pet the service dog. The bottom line is that service dogs are working to keep their handlers safe and alert them to potential dangers. For that reason, they should not be disturbed while on duty. I suspect that the dog trainer may have been in the busy mall that day with the dog so that the animal could learn to focus and not be distracted by the crowds.
Dogs cannot do that if they are distracted by people petting them. Dogs not only guide blind people and alert them to dangers. They can also be taught to detect and warn people with epilepsy when a seizure is imminent or warn diabetics when their blood sugar is at a dangerous level. Hearing dogs can help deaf people by alerting to them to sounds such as doorbells or fire alarms. Dogs can be trained for other purposes such as emotional support or aids to people with physical disabilities.
I do not know if this information would have made the mother calm down her hissy fit and stop taking the “no” personally. There is a possibility (probably remote, all things considered) that she could have stopped crying to mall security about how she had been mistreated and stopped threatening to call a lawyer. On the other hand, calling a lawyer could be a good thing. A knowledgeable lawyer can inform her about the rights of service dogs.
People who feel entitled can frustrate and infuriate us. They drive us crazy with their unreasonable and ridiculous demands. In the end, though, we should feel sorry for them. They are often miserable because they are often frustrated and angry that they did not get their own way. Their demands put a strain on their personal and work relationships. We cannot fix them, but we can manage to survive their drama. People do surprise us and change now and then, so we should hope for the best.
Furious mom loses it at service dog handler after she 'refuses to let the woman's 2-year-old daughter pet the pooch,' Daily Mail, Luke Kenton
What Makes Some People Feel Entitled to Special Treatment?, Psychology Today, F. Diane Barth
4 Ways to Deal with Entitled People, Quick and Dirty Tips, Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
RTalloni on January 21, 2019:
This topic is something we need to think through, for sure. Recent news highlights organizations that believe they are entitled. A man representing native Americans stunningly said some students should have gone away when approached by protesters. It was a laughable statement but the seriousness of the situation is rooted in an entitlement mindset. Being as kind as possible to entitlement-minded people does not diminish the truth that allowing them to make us their doormats not only hurts us but it harms them. Kind, but firm is indeed the need.
Leland Johnson from Midland MI on January 21, 2019:
Carola- I like the way you approached this topic. Sensitive, yet not overly sensitive, insightful, real, but not hard. Not angry. I recently had to take a class where in I studied Maslow's theory of heirarchy which deals with necessary, reasonable expectations. I even question the idea of having the right to be respected because if someone chooses not to, what can I do? Fall apart? Beg them to respect me? I think I can still be respectable and respectful even if others fail to reciprocate. Thanks for the enlightening article and for making me think. Leland
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 27, 2018:
Your message comes through clearly in your suggestions and illustrations. Nobody gains when we subscribe to the sense of entitlement in people with faulty thinking. Thanks fro dealing with this topic.