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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Treatment Tuesday - Sense of Entitlement

Joe wrote in asking me to talk about sense of entitlement. He and his daughter were talking about Lindsay Lohan in particular, and how she could walk out of a jewelry store with a stolen $2500 necklace as though it were a common, everyday occurrence.

Joe wants to know: What is is about money, fame, etc., that causes people to walk around feeling as though their status is something we should all be concerned about? Why do people utter, "Don't you know who I am?" as though who they are is supposed to be an excuse for them to do whatever they want to do?

While this is a bit out of the ordinary question, I think it applies to writers and readers alike, especially those writing YA, since this topic is quite common in those years. Self-entitlement is something that causes me so much headache as a therapist. Clients with this type of attitude are never satisfied with anything you do. Nothing is good enough for them, and they generally never express gratitude. It's like they think they are royalty.

Which brings me to my first talking point. I find it interesting that in your question you singled out people with money and fame as being self-entitled. Perhaps this is because at the time you emailed me (again, sorry about the email glitch that cost me 3 months of write-ins!) Lohan had just been arrested for felony grand theft and it was uppermost in your mind. But I work with people who almost exclusively have nothing to their names--no cars, houses, or assets of any kind--yet they, too, can have a sense of entitlement, that they are owed something by society.

If you think back to how your children were as toddlers, you should remember that they behaved as if they should get what they wanted, when they wanted it (typically ASAP, if your kids are anything like mine). If they didn't, whining and tantrum behaviors commence until you almost wish you could just give in. Children are naturally egotistical--the world revolves around them, or at least as much of the world that they are concerned with. 

But when this typical toddler-like selfish attitude is seen repeatedly in adults, you're dealing with psychopathology.

Children have to be taught to have a proper sense of entitlement (earning what they get), not a false sense, like Lohan's belief that she deserved that $2500 necklace just because she's who she is. When a child is overly praised for things, rewarded for tasks that should be done as a matter of course, and handed things without any effort on their part required, they can develop a false sense of entitlement.

These children are done such a disservice by their parents. Yes, I guess I blame Michael and Dina Lohan. They obviously did not teach her the value of hard work and earning things. Children need to be taught the connection between making an effort and achieving success. This is the way of the world. I believe Lindsay and others who are rich and famous--Winona Ryder comes to mind--actually think that the rules of the world don't apply to them...because they weren't taught these rules in childhood.

One can only hope that Lindsay feels the burn when she's asked to back out of movie deals because she's difficult to insure or when she has to serve jail time and/or go to rehab and miss out on career opportunities. She's got to pay the bills somehow. While this might be an eye-opening experience for her (if jail time actually happens...looks like the internet is saying she might just be under house arrest for a few days, not over 100 days in jail), it might also drive her to even more desperation. Time will tell.

Interesting that I've talked about with my staff many times, since it's so prevalent, even in economically poor populations. I actually did a group on the short story by O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi (click on the title to read it online). Excellent book about sacrificial giving and the exact opposite of a false sense of entitlement. Great story to teach from. Hope you enjoy.

Thanks for writing in, Joe. It was fun to go off on a little tangent. :)

 Wordle: signature


Unknown said...

Great post. Lots of food for thought here. Self-sacrifice is actually a theme that seems to recur in many of my stories, so I can see this info being very helpful in crafting characters who have something to overcome on their road to learning sacrificial love.

McKenzie McCann said...

I don't think of children as being egotistical. I think they just don't have well-developed mirror neurons and extreme tunnel vision. Small children simply don't understand. When it persists into adulthood it becomes egotistical.

Cecilia Marie Pulliam said...

This was a great info and insight. I especially liked the chance to re-read O. Henry's story. I have been a fan since I was young. This was always one of my favorites, the other being The Ransom of Red Chief.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late reading this, but it is still excellent. I encounter this attitude in ministry quite frequently, also. And I see parents go to great extreme to spare their kids from any negative consequences, even when the consequences are relatively minor. School teachers and principals certainly have to deal with that a lot.

I wish you'd write another post or two about this since it is so prevalent. But, I understand about time!

Good post.


Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

Warren -

Better late than never. I'm glad that you mentioned your ministerial perspective of seeing this a lot. This was written two years ago, yet I just had had this conversation with a coworker last week. Still really prevalent, and I'm afraid it will only get more so as time goes on, given the trends in society.

Anything in specific you'd want a subsequent post on?

Anonymous said...

I think you've touched on a number of issues related to entitlement in this post, so maybe what I was thinking was just expanding some of what you've touched on. Examples of how how people spoil their children and incline them toward entitlement, what to do if our kids are now 10 or 11 years old and we see evidence of entitlement, how to guard against it in our own lives, etc.

I know you have other things to write about, but if the opportunity arises, these would make for some very educational reading.


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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.