Helping Your Life Work
August 1, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 8

You're Worth It!

The phrase 'sense of entitlement' has acquired a negative connotation. While 'entitlement' generally means a right guaranteed by law, 'sense of entitlement' has come to describe those who believe they have special rights or privileges that others do not. This usage probably derived from a description in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of a narcissistic personality disorder. According to the DSM-IV, a narcissist has a "pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, lack of empathy" and  "a sense of entitlement."

I have often heard this expression used by parents and teachers to describe youngsters who expect others to take care of their every need. Human Resources professionals or managers often decry the behaviour of Generations X and Y in the workplace as spoiled, demanding, and arrogant. Others view our whole society as suffering from a 'culture of entitlement,' one in which we expect certain benefits in life, without necessarily earning the right to them.

Whatever reasons you may ascribe to the current 'crisis' of entitlement ('helicopter' parenting, expectations of immediate gratification as a result of technological advances, growing up with wealth and privilege, 'too much government,' etc.), it is important to recognize that a 'sense of entitlement' is not necessarily such a bad thing. Consider, for example, the individual who has little or no 'sense of entitlement.' They generally feel undeserving, not just of special treatment, but also of some basic human rights. They may give freely to others, but are unable to see the value in giving to themselves. Unassuming, unassertive and often unappreciated, they may tolerate any number of abusive or unhappy situations, not recognizing that they have a right to say 'no,' to be safe, protected, informed and happy. While the narcissist and the person who lacks a sense of entitlement may be on opposite sides of the spectrum, they actually share something in common. Both are driven by a sense of low self-esteem. They just manifest their reactions in different ways.

So while we may complain about people's sense of entitlement, in many ways, it is a healthy way of asserting ourselves, breaking free from dependencies on others and showing respect for ourselves. For example, if we take the case of Generations X and Y, there may be some amongst that population that may behave in an overly entitled way, as there would be in any segment of the population.  However, my experience with this group is that most of them just have different expectations in the workplace. As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, the stereotypical values we usually associate with members of the older generation are different from those of the younger. Rather than being motivated by 'a puritan work ethic', many younger workers have a 'self-fulfillment ethic.' They believe that they have a right to a job that is satisfying, to do work that is meaningful and to be treated in the same way as others in the workplace, regardless of their age or experience. And in this way, their 'sense of entitlement' can be viewed not only as legitimate but also healthy.

While there are many examples of an inflated sense of entitlement, (corporate greed comes to mind), most of us behave in ways that do not exploit others, but defend our rights to what we are entitled to. If you are having trouble developing a healthy sense of entitlement or valuing what you are worth, let's talk. You are entitled to get some help.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

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