Escaping the Entitlement Trap
Written by Tawana Bain
This month, we will explore dealing with the entitled.
Whether it’s present with family, friends, or is woven silently with business associates, I can’t help but to be perplexed at how naturally this trait exists and, as if bearing the weight of processing the behavior of the entitled is not enough, how are we to cope with the realization when those we least expect to harbor the trait show us who they are? Do we stand by and agonize without uttering a word? Or do we challenge them to do some self-reflection in hopes they, too, come to the realization that their behavior is outlandish, far fetched, unacceptable, or right up there with the Disney fairy tales many of us grew up on. Oy!
Is it so much a personality trait as it is a state of being or a matter of situational context? A dictionary from just twenty years ago defines the word like this:
Qualified for by right according to law
“We are all entitled to equal protection under the law.”
While a newer one tells us:
Believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.
“Kids who feel so entitled and think the world will revolve around them.”
In just two decades, the social currency of this word went from meaning that one is legally and rightfully meant to hold something to pretty much the opposite of that…and it’s inferred that they’re being a brat about it, too! In a dispute years ago, you might have said without batting an eye that you are entitled to things that belong to you, but today, it’s probably the last word you would choose to use when trying to articulate what’s rightfully yours.
Now I preface this with the reality that depending on which context we are speaking about, certain entitlements, in my opinion, are certainly up for debate. Those like should Native Americans inherently receive certain entitlements to land, should women be entitled to making decisions surrounding their bodies, which family members should receive assets left behind when no will was established, should the Black community be entitled to systemic changes and financial repair due to years of oppression? These are all worthy of our time and efforts to debate. However items such as whether family members are entitled to your nest egg while you are still with us, whether business associates are entitled to things never contractually agreed upon, if friends are entitled to be on the guest list, should children be entitled to financial support from their parents once they fly the coop? Answers to these questions should ultimately reside with the ones who own them. And they should be able to do so without being condemned, made to feel guilty, or retaliated against.
Walking on eggshells for the things which you have earned is not empowering. In the event that anyone can not wrap their brain around why something that does not belong to them is not owed to them, they should lose the privileges of knowing anything that you have — immediately.
To be in a comfortable position at a station of life where you can help others is a wonderful thing. But to encounter an expectation that it’s not just up to you to help people in your life, but that it’s all somehow owed to them…it makes us feel unpleasant feelings we don’t want to feel. It causes us to put up guards and begin to question who’s with us for us and who is with us for what they can get. It makes us question if the warm feelings we get from the people in our lives when they’re not asking us for things are only there for when they do ask us for things. And what happens if you choose to say no? Oftentimes with the entitled, your decision to say no may cause the requester to resent or judge you.
Is it possible to keep and make new friends as you expand your resources? Here are four tips I try to exercise to establish boundaries. They will not be fail proof with everyone you encounter, but may assist with preventing those closest to you from disappointing you.
- DO NOT let it slide. If someone feels they are owed anything they have not put in the work for, address it head-on. Walking on eggshells for the things which you have earned is not empowering. In the event that anyone can not wrap their brain around why something that does not belong to them is not owed to them, they should lose the privileges of knowing anything that you have — immediately.
- Establish boundaries with those seeking access to others in proximity to you. Be clear that you don’t give out contact information to friends and family out of respect. Let them know you’re happy to share any information, but have agreed to allow your contacts to reach out on their own if interested. If they respect this boundary, then it’s safe to say you most likely will not regret passing on their information. And, of course, if they resent this approach you’ll most likely want to steer clear of connecting them with anyone you respect and care for.
- When engaging friends and family on projects tied to your success, look for ways they can contribute and financially benefit at the onset. Talk openly and honestly about finances, whether there are equity stakes or not, right away. Never leave this to fester.
- Avoid loans like the plague. Either give them the money and ask them to work it off in some fashion or consider it a donation. I promise you there’s nothing worse than being made to feel guilty when you check the status of something you owned and expect to be returned.
Ultimately, when you are made to feel guilty for things you acquire, especially by close friends and loved ones, it makes for some challenging feelings. You’ve probably found that in cases where we have two extremes, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. What’s most important to me, sis, is that you don’t isolate yourself and walk through life constantly putting up walls because you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Maybe people with entitled attitudes — the bad kind — will grow out of it in time. But remember, even if they don’t, you should never dim your light and stunt your growth out of guilt to make others more comfortable. Enjoy the blessings you’ve earned and establish the necessary boundaries so you can enjoy them while also enjoying those you love to be around.
And that’s not entitlement — it’s a privilege.