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What Is Healthy Entitlement?

fdpFor many people, “entitled” is a four-letter word (e.g., “Kids today are so entitled!“). But for all of us, entitlement is essential to healthy self-esteem.

To entitle someone is to give them a title, right or claim to something.

When someone is entitled, they’ve accepted (and will act on) a certain title, right or claim. But to what?

What is an entitled person entitled TO?

How Do You Know When to Speak Up?

Someone with too much entitlement feels s/he has a right to just about anything s/he wants.  Obviously, no one is entitled to everything they want (except me), but all of us have the right to expect something at least some of the time.

Someone with healthy entitlement expects neither too much nor too little in any given situation. They have expectations that are appropriate.

If you think about different environments — in the workplace, at a party, at the store, etc. — you can probably make a list of rights that anyone would have in that situation.

Not to be abused is a universal right. Beyond that, circumstances dictate what you can reasonably expect.

One thing that’s always true: If you’re paying for something, you have a right to expect something.

A paying customer has the right to expect to be treated with courtesy, and to receive merchandise or services that meet basic standards for quality.

Consider a diner at a restaurant whose dinner is lukewarm or improperly cooked.

Someone with too much entitlement may act as if personally insulted. They might offer a few choice words to the manager, demand an apology from the chef, and insist on the meal being free.

Even if they seem assertive (don’t be fooled; that ain’t assertiveness!), they tend to come across as difficult or rude. Over-entitlement is what gives entitlement a bad name.

In contrast, someone with not-enough entitlement will say nothing, or else make a remark to a companion that ends with, “It’s fine,” and eat the meal anyway. They don’t want to cause anyone discomfort.

Under-entitlement isn’t any healthier than over-entitlement. It’s just quieter.

An example of an appropriately entitled response might be to inform the wait staff politely that the food is cold or not cooked as described and, if necessary, request a do-over.

If things don’t go smoothly from there, that’s a good reason not to eat there again.

Entitlement and Self-Esteem

Healthy entitlement seems to correlate with healthy self-esteem. Low self-esteem is often paired with either too little (“I’m not worth it”) or too much (overcompensating) entitlement.

When you practice healthy entitlement you support your self-esteem. You’re acting on your own behalf as a valued companion and friend. Failing to speak up for yourself just reminds you that you’re not worth speaking up for.

Being appropriately entitled doesn’t mean stepping on other people; you’re just making sure you don’t get the short end of a stick that may actually have two longish ends.

There are plenty of other examples of under- and over-entitlement. Can you think of any?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting, and ReconnectionClub.com, an online support and information hub for parents. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "What Is Healthy Entitlement?"

  • jwynnyk
    January 28, 2013 - 10:22 am Reply

    I recently made the decision to put one of my relationships on indefinite hold. It was difficult, as I had certain expectations going in that never came to fruition. I was able to have a healthy conversation with the individual and tell them that I valued their presence in my life, but that the world clearly wasn’t working in our favor. At this stage in my life, the people I let in must be emotionally capable of dealing with me, and this person clearly was not capable of coping with their own life much less adding me to the mix. In the past, I would’ve stuffed my feelings down (under entitlement) in hopes that the person would make an attempt to change. Not long after, when no change seemed evident or even in progress, I would blow up at the individual and banish them from my life forever (over entitlement). This new approach allowed me to tell the person how much I cared and wished the best for them, all the while providing me with the closure I need to move on with my life. If in time, they are able to emotionally deal with their own life enough to bring me back into the fold, I have created a foundation in which they can feel safe in doing so.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      January 28, 2013 - 11:31 am Reply

      What a wonderful example of exercising healthy entitlement. It sounds like a painful but well-navigated break. Kudos!
      Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story.

  • SA
    June 22, 2014 - 10:41 pm Reply

    Who are you referencing when making these statements?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      June 23, 2014 - 12:12 pm Reply

      I’ll always cite a reference if I have one, but otherwise I’m just writing from my own point of view — which is the case in this post.

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