The Psychology Behind Sense Of Entitlement

By Robert Porter

Updated June 25, 2020

Reviewer Ann-Marie Duncan

Have you ever met someone who seems to act like the whole world owes them?  Someone who is not satisfied unless their own needs are being met?  Trying to deal with someone who has acts this way can feel frustrating.  In fact, in society, this type of behavior typically attracts strong criticism and condemnation.

If this sounds like someone you know, you may be dealing with someone who has a sense of entitlement.  A sense of entitlement is defined as "an unrealistic, unmerited, or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others." Before we can understand the psychological roots behind the sense of entitlement, we must first understand exactly what a sense of entitlement means.

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What Does Sense of Entitlement Really Mean?

A sense of entitlement is a personality trait that is based on a person’s belief that they deserve privileges or recognition for things that they did not earn.  In simple terms, people with a sense of entitlement believe that the world owes them something in exchange for nothing. 

In some cases, such as in infant and childhood development, entitlement is not a negative thing.  During these stages of development, infants and small children depend on others for their care and expect that behavior.  However, as people become older and approach an age during which they should be able to provide for themselves, having expectations of others to provide for them without participating in any self-care role leads to a “self-entitled mentality.” 

What Causes an Unhealthy Sense of Entitlement?

Sense of entitlement develops in individuals for various reasons.  Many people believe that when children are given everything they ask for without learning how to earn rewards, it makes them expect the same treatment when they become adults.  On the other hand, certain personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder may cause symptoms of a sense of entitlement in others.

Signs that Someone Has a Sense of Entitlement

A sense of entitlement is the epitome of the "Me! Me! Me!" attitude where the world is supposed to revolve around a single person and what they want. In its simplest form, a person who has a sense of entitlement may come across as having extreme self-confidence or the belief that everything that happens should somehow benefit them.  In more drastic forms, a sense of entitlement is often a symptom of a personality disorder such as narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. 

People who have a sense of entitlement usually exhibit some of the following symptoms.

An over-exaggerated sense of self-importance.  This belief in one’s superiority is often accompanied by fantasies about beauty, brilliance, or power. 

They appear to lack understanding of other’s needs or wants.  Even people with a sense of entitlement who are aware of another’s needs generally do not put forth effort to meet those needs.  In fact, if their own agenda is not being served, they may be disinterested in any effort to give to others.

Rarely compromise with others for a common goal.  The old saying, “It’s my way or the highway” is a great way to describe someone with a sense of entitlement.  Often, if a person with a sense of entitlement is faced with compromising or giving in to someone else’s desires or losing a friendship or relationship, they will generally stand their ground and suffer the consequences. 

They have difficulty accepting others as equals.  People with a sense of entitlement often believe that they should be favored in personal and professional situations.  Even if they don’t have experience at a job, they may show shock or frustration if a more experienced person is offered a better paying or higher-ranking employment position than them. 

Someone with a sense of entitlement may insult another person’s achievements while over-exaggerating their own.  Not only do they try to take the positive focus off of others and turn it toward themselves, they may become angry or frustrated if others don’t follow their way of thinking.

Self-pity and attention-seeking behavior are common among those with a sense of entitlement.  If aggressive behavior does not gain the attention or reward that a person with sense of entitlement feels he deserves, they may try to use attention-seeking measures to get what they want.

When someone with a sense of entitlement doesn’t get what they want, it is not uncommon for them to lash out at others in anger or frustration.  Of course, not everyone who has a temper-tantrum or gets mad at others does so because they have a sense of entitlement.  However, if a person’s attitude changes often, especially when things don’t go their way, this could be a strong indication they have a true sense of entitlement. 

The behaviors that are manifested by a person who has a sense of entitlement is usually rooted in their belief that they should be admired and respected.  Although they may come across as people with a bold personality or a great sense of self-confidence, many people with a sense of entitlement battle personal insecurities.  Unfortunately, their attention-seeking behavior and overbearing personalities often lead to isolation from those who were once friends.  This, in turn, can lead to further feelings of isolation and depression. 

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If you're struggling with issues like this, it’s important to know that you're not alone. You can learn ways to address issues of entitlement and how to live a healthy, balanced life.

Understanding the Psychology Behind a Sense of Entitlement

Many professionals have tried to grasp and explain the psychology behind a sense of entitlement.  Why do some people believe they deserve admiration, respect, or dominance when they've not truly earned it? What childhood experience leads to this type of behavior?  Is it an inherited trait or a flaw in personality that is developed in response to environmental factors?

There are several thoughts regarding why some people may develop a sense of entitlement.  The most common include:

The Spoiled Child Parents naturally want their children to be happy, confident, and fulfilled. This is a healthy and natural urge, but when parents make the mistake of always saying "yes" to their kids, it can lead to a gradual sense of entitlement.  This type of behavior that is allowed during early childhood causes young children to believe that these acceptable patterns and behaviors throughout life.  Children who are always given what they want and are not required to earn rewards for good behavior generally become adults who expect others to cave to their demands.  Often, they become adults who do not know how to effectively communicate with others, and they may have trouble developing healthy relationships or maintaining stable employment.

An Attempt to Overcompensate for Past Wrongs:  In some cases, after experiencing maltreatment or neglect, some people develop a sense of entitlement.  Some believe this is a type of coping mechanism that is extreme.  For example, a child who is deprived of love and affection may grow up to demand it from others because she did not receive it at a young age.  A teenager who never got picked to be on the All-Star team may eventually grow up to believe he should coach a team with only the best players and may become upset if someone who is not an exceptional athlete is allowed on the team.  A sense of entitlement that is rooted in resentment from past hurts or is an attempt to compensate for past wrongs endured can lead to major disruptions in both personal and professional relationships.

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Personality Disorders:  For some, a sense of entitlement has nothing to do with being neglected or spoiled, but may be the result of a personality disorder, such as narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder.

Because personality disorders are characterized by altered views of oneself and others, it is not surprising that those with personality disorders often experience a sense of entitlement.  People with narcissistic personality disorder or other forms of personality disorder generally perceive themselves as being superior to others, have a skewed view of the value of other people’s worth and often don’t like to follow the rules.  They often exhibit an elevated sense of self-worth or exaggerated self-esteem which can fuel their sense of entitlement to insatiable levels. 

A person who begins a new career may show signs of entitlement by expecting to be treated with the same wage or title as others who have much more experience.  While it is reasonable to think that some expectation of entitlement is accurate if one has accomplished a goal or task, those with personality disorders have an unhealthy view of what gives them the right of entitlement. 

Learning to Overcome A Sense of Entitlement

While it may not be easy, it is not impossible to overcome a sense of entitlement.  Like anything that is worth having, however, overcoming a sense of entitlement takes work and dedicated effort.  Personality traits that lead to a sense of entitlement are learned.  Therefore, to overcome them, new behaviors must be learned and consistently practiced.

The first step in learning to overcome a sense of entitlement is to stop comparing yourself to others.  Remember, you are a unique individual and you can accomplish your own goals and dreams.  Take the time to think about things you want to achieve and make a list of things you are willing to do to make it happen.  Don’t be discouraged by temporary setbacks.  If you fall, get up and go again.  The feeling you get from accomplishing a goal on your own is going to be much greater than the feelings that are brought on by a sense of entitlement.   With willpower and determination, you can overcome a sense of entitlement.

Do something because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect to be rewarded.  Many times, the disappointment that comes from not being recognized or rewarded for a good deed can cause frustration or even anger.  Simply put, life is not always fair.  It is not likely that every good deed you do will be acknowledged or rewarded in the way you had hoped. However, if you can take the time to try and look at things from another person’s point of view, it can make doing things simply because they are right feel like a good thing.  The gratitude that others show you will likely cause you to feel much more satisfaction than simply receiving things because you feel you are entitled to do so.  

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Don't live in the past.  One of hardest things for many people is acknowledging that you cannot change the past.  However, it is possible to take lessons from the past and learn from them.  Everyone experiences difficulties and hardships of one type or another.  While they are unfortunate, they are a part of life.  The way we handle these challenges often determines our outlook on other aspects of life, as well. 

Practice treating others with respect, compassion and gratitude.  The more kindness you give to others, the more you are likely to receive.  Typically, favor produces favor.  If you are genuinely kind to others and commit to acts of selflessness without expecting favor in return, others feel more free to return the same goodness to you. 

Celebrate the successes of others, even when you feel like a failure.  The happiness and joy of others can be infectious.  Even in the most difficult times, times when you feel like you can’t accomplish anything (especially if you are trying to control the feelings of a sense of entitlement) you can learn to celebrate the success of others.  Being happy for others when you are faced with adversity is a great way for people to see what your giving character is like.  This makes you more approachable and could open doors of greater opportunity for you.

Learning to Change

While the idea of tackling personal issues and learning to overcome them independently is good, there may be times that you need some support.  Additionally, when you're trying to overcome having a sense of entitlement, it may be necessary to reach out for professional help. 

For some, joining a faith-based community or church can help you learn to communicate with others and practice selflessness.  Take the opportunity to challenge your own beliefs and look at things from a different angle.  When you look at things from a different point of view, your whole thought process could begin to change. 

One of the most humbling things you can do is to spend time with people who are less fortunate than you.  Taking the time to volunteer your time with people who are struggling can give you insight into how others feel, and it may help you realize what behaviors, if any, you think you can change to make yourself better.

You might also want to spend time around those less fortunate than you. You can even make a difference in someone else's life. Volunteering time around others and seeing the struggles of other people can help you realize that everyone is the same and that everyone just wants to live a happy life.

Keep in mind, attempting to change your perspective is a great way to apply for a new lease on life.  It’s not an easy journey, but it is one that will be worth it in the end.  If the journey seems too difficult to navigate on your own, consider reaching to a qualified professional for guidance.  A mental health professional can help you find the root of issues that have led to the development of a sense of entitlement.  It’s important to understand that seeking the help of a mental health professional is not a sign of weakness.  Rather, it is sign that you have identified the need for change and that you wish to improve your life and relationship with others.  

If You Need Help, Reach Out to BetterHelp

With appropriate intervention, people who have a sense of entitlement can learn ways of changing behavior and interacting with others.  If you feel the need to reach out for help from a professional, consider making an appointment with a local mental health clinic or counselor.  Additionally, there are options available to provide counseling and support from online sources.  Online counseling, such as the services provided by BetterHelp, focus on offering professional mental health care to individuals in the comfort of home or anywhere that there is phone and/or internet connection.  BetterHelp’s team of licensed, professional counselors, experienced clinical social works, marriage and family counselors, and psychologists can help you navigate through the journey of managing the feelings of sense of entitlement you are experiencing and can help you develop an action plan to learn to deal with behaviors in a more effective way.

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Conclusion

If you're suffering from a sense of entitlement, it's very important for you to know that you're not alone. Like others before you, you can change and develop healthy levels of self-love and self-esteem. All you need are the right tools. Take the first step.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does it mean to have a sense of entitlement?

People who have a false sense of entitlement believe that they are more deserving of special treatments and circumstances than everyone around them. In many cases this false sense of entitlement goes is a symptoms of personality disorders that may cause an individual to devalue the accomplishments and desires of others.

What is narcissistic entitlement?

Narcissistic entitlement is a form of entitlement that comes from the existence of a narcissistic personality disorder. People who suffer from narcissistic entitlement have no logical reasoning or information (outside of their own opinion) that makes them feel that they deserve better treatment than others.

What is an example of an entitlement?

An example of an entitlement is someone who believes they deserve better treatment, better service, and better circumstances than others around them without merit. People who suffer from entitlement issues often don't have logical reasoning for why they feel they should have better treatment. However, they persist with unreasonable demands and expect them to be met.

What is the difference between privilege and entitlement?

Privilege is a state of being where someone has access to improved circumstances or the finer things in life with ease. We often consider celebrities and people of similar status to have privilege based on their contributions, achievements, and accomplishments. Entitlement takes privilege to another level by making unreasonable requests or demands from friends, family, lovers, employers, and the like. People who feel entitled often have no explanation for their unreasonable requests outside of their own opinions.

What are entitlement issues?

People with entitlement issues often feel that they deserve the "best." While believing that you deserve the best is not usually a significant problem, when those beliefs begin to make you feel that you deserve better things than others or should be given things without working for them, this is a sign of a sense of entitlement. Entitlement issues often present themselves as unreasonable demands or requests, lack of empathy regarding the feelings of others, refusal to reciprocate the same treatment, and stonewalling to prevent a resolution of the ongoing entitlement issues.

What is the opposite of entitlement?

The opposite of entitlement is humility. When people are humble this means that they understand that everyone has equal rights and opportunities. People who display humility celebrate their own successes -- as well as the success of others. These people realize that there will be differences in our lives, and they respect these differences rather than use them as an issue to create conflict or havoc. Humble people have learned to live and let live without making unreasonable demands on themselves or expecting others to support their lifestyles.

What is an entitled person?

An "entitled" person is someone who falsely believes that they deserve the best and no one else does. Entitled people make unreasonable requests and demands on the world around them on a regular basis. For example, many of us have at least one special day that we celebrate ourselves. In most cases, this is a birthday, graduation, promotion, etc. On these special occasions we allow ourselves to be the center of attention. An entitled person expects this kind of celebratory treatment on an everyday basis without merit.

What is entitlement culture?

Entitlement culture is a collective group of people that share the entitlement mentality. In this case, entitlement culture is represented by an increasing demand for more, better, unlimited selfies, and everything that surrounds the concept of "me-only" culture. People who are enmeshed in entitlement culture normally surround themselves with other people who feel entitled and support each other in making unreasonable demands on everyone else around them.

What does entitlement mean in business?

Entitlement in business is the same as entitlement in a social or personal setting. In the case of business, you may find that people in higher ranking positions feel that they deserve better treatment, services, compensation, and support than others in equal (and especially lower) ranking positions. People who feel a sense of entitlement in business may make unreasonable demands on institutions, employees, investors, and family members based on little or no action on their part.


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