The Psychology Behind Sense Of Entitlement

By: Robert Porter

Updated July 12, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: 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 acted 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, 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 it 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 experiencing this believe that the world owes them something in exchange for nothing. 

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.

Signs that Someone Has a Sense of Entitlement

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, it is often a symptom of a personality disorder such as narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. 

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.  Maybe their attitude changes often, especially when things don’t go their way. 

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 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 and how to live a healthy, balanced life.

Understanding the Psychology Behind a Sense of Entitlement

There are several theories 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 self-righteous attitude.  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 they 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.  An attitude 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, this has nothing to do with being neglected or spoiled, but maybe 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 this.  People with a 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 this to insatiable levels. 

Learning to Overcome A Sense of Entitlement

The first step in learning to overcome this 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.   With willpower and determination, you can overcome this.

Do something because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect to be rewarded. Try and look at things from another person’s point of view, it can make doing things simply because they are right to feel like a good thing. 

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Don't live in the past. The way we handle these challenges in our past often determines our outlook on other aspects of life, as well. 

Practice treating others with respect, compassion, and gratitude.  If you are genuinely kind to others and commit to acts of selflessness without expecting a favor in return, others feel freer to return the same goodness to you. 

Celebrate the successes of others, even when you feel like a failure. 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. 

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. 

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.

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, focuses on offering professional mental health care to individuals in the comfort of home or anywhere that there is a 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 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, you need 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.

 


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