One of the most common fears that my clients express is the fear of being labelled as entitled. Often it is this fear that keeps them from speaking up whenever they would like to make a request or express a need in relationships. In short the fear of being seen as entitled keeps many of them from speaking in an assertive manner.
If this is you, you might be thinking that this is a well-founded fear. After all, who wants to be married to, managed by, or friends with an entitled person? Since good relationships depend on reciprocity and good-will, entitled people become relational pariahs. Unless they have actual power over us, we naturally have a disinclination to interact with people who believe we owe them something just because of who they are.
The problem comes from the fact that we aren’t exactly sure of what entitlement is. Having seen its shadow side in the form of over-powering, demanding, and bullying forms, we have lost touch with healthy entitlement. Because of this, we struggle with and often reject assertive traits.
So what exactly is entitlement and how can we understand it better?
Psychologists have identified 3 distinct types of entitlement that occur in relationships.
The first is restricted entitlement. This can be seen in cases where people are so timid and reserved that they are fearful about asking for their rights to be respected in any relationship. When you fail to recognize that you indeed have certain rights (ex. safety, autonomy, growth& change) when it comes to interacting with others, you may feel completely powerless when faced with conflict and therefore avoid it at all costs.
Excessive entitlement is when you think that you deserve better outcomes than others even (and often) at the expense of the needs and feelings of others. This is best illustrated by the current “Karen” trope. The instant popularity of “Karen” related memes as well as the speed at which this term entered the common vernacular shows that we as a society are all too familiar with people who consistently disregard the rights and freedoms of others in the service of their own misguided agendas. When people say they don’t want to be too entitled or too assertive, what they are really saying is that they don’t want to manifest assertiveness in an obnoxious and tone-deaf “Karen” way.
A balanced sense of entitlement is demonstrated in assertive entitlement. This is when you are able to ask for what you think is proper in a relationship. You are able to adapt and negotiate with others taking into account their feelings and needs. You neither bulldoze others nor overlook your own needs when you are acting from this relational orientation.
Entitlement and Romantic Relationships
While little long-term research exists on the impact of each type of mindset in relationships, a 2019 study found evidence that assertive entitlement contributes to our level of relationship satisfaction. In this study participants were asked to reflect on situations where they experienced one of the three entitlement orientations in a current or previous relationship. After that, participants were asked to reflect on how satisfied they were with that relationship and reflect on their current feelings about it. The study found that when participants we asked to recall restricted, assertive, or excessive entitlement, their sense of overall relationship satisfaction was affected. Specifically, those who “experienced an assertive relational entitlement reported greater relational satisfaction, greater positive affect, and lower negative affect than those who wrote about situations when they felt restricted or excessive entitlement. Also, those who wrote about excessive entitlement experienced lower levels of relational satisfaction and positive affect while having the highest level of negative affect.”
While it is important to acknowledge that this is just one study and no significant conclusions can be drawn from this line of research until the results have been replicated in future studies, it does offer an interesting counterpoint to that nagging voice that lives inside many of us. That voice that tells us that we should keep the peace, stay quiet, and avoid rocking the boat. Knowing that there is a healthy level of entitlement AND if that if we want relationship satisfaction, it something we need to cultivate, may be a game-changer for people who struggle with speaking their truth.
The results of this study can also be seen as an invitation for us to further explore what exactly we are entitled to in relationships. This is an area that I see as a starting point for cultivating healthy assertiveness. Given that this is such a rich area of inquiry, I will certainly dedicate a future post to this subject.
For now, I challenge my readers to reflect upon their relationship to entitlement. To do so, you may ask yourself questions such as
Of course, these questions are just a starting point. They represent a general line of inquiry that may take longer to explore than just one journaling session. If you would like to further explore your entitlement patterns with a coach, feel free to reach out and book a session with me.
Candel, O.S., & Turliuc, M.N (2019). The Effect of the Sense of Relational Entitlement on
Relational Satisfaction, Positive and Negative Emotions. Journal of Psychological and
Educational Research, 27(1), 46-60