I've been on a personal quest lately to find the answer to this question, but first let me just clarify that when I speak of entitlement here, I am not talking about an over-inflated sense of entitlement that usually coincides with a lack of gratitude or a ridiculously unrealistic sense of importance. I'm speaking of our natural right to claim something that is legitimately yours.
For example, I seem to have a good sense of entitlement in certain aspects of my life: I know I'm entitled to being treated respectfully, to work in a job I love, and to take time for myself when I need it. In other areas of my life, like the relationship arena, entitlement becomes a more confounding issue for me. I have begun to wonder why my idea of what I'm entitled to in a love relationship is so much more askew.
As I thought about it more, I came to realize that the idea of entitlement is not always so black and white. It's not like we are either entitled or not entitled, or that we can simply say that we are all entitled to whatever we want. I have found this to be potentially dangerous because it ultimately leads to high levels of disappointment and frustration. It's simply not realistic to think that we can have whatever we desire at any given moment because some things are simply impossible to attain.
Let me explain...
I like to think of entitlement as coming in three different categories:
1. Primitive Entitlement
2. Grandiose Entitlement
3. Organic Entitlement
Let me start with the first. Primitive entitlement stems from our early life; we are all, as human beings, entitled to being loved, nurtured and protected. When a baby is born, that little being is 100% entitled to these evolutionary needs that allow him or her to survive and develop in a healthy, adaptive way. The kicker is this: even though we are all entitled to this kind of care, most of us don't get it. I read recently in The Flight From Intimacy: Healing your relationship of counter-dependency that only 1 or 2 percent of people actually receive the kind of loving they are entitled to as babies. This means that 98 to 99 percent of us are walking around with a deficit in this area. Sometimes this manifests in our adult relationships, sometimes it doesn't. When the needs we are entitled to as babies get thwarted, we do what nature wired us to do: we continue to search for it, because ultimately, deep down in our unconscious, we feel both that we deserve it and cannot survive without it.
This brings us to number two. Grandiose entitlement is a direct response to a lack of primitive entitlement. This kind of entitlement occurs when you bring your early, unmet developmental needs into your everyday adult life. When your needs were not met as a baby, you dragged them with you along with an unconscious determination to find someone to give you what you were entitled to when you were small. It's sad that you did not get what you were entitled to as a baby, but trying to get it from your relationships as an adult will only come across as needy and demanding. These unmet needs are impossible to get from an adult relationship, yet we keep trying. The result is chronic disappointment, frustration, and often a re-traumatization of your earlier developmental trauma.
This leads me to number three. Organic entitlement is a concept that's new to me, and I would like to introduce it to you. Organic entitlement is a sense of entitlement that is grounded in reality and in authenticity. This is where you have to dig deep to really understand what you feel you are entitled to beyond what you feel you deserve. For example, you may feel you are entitled to be in a relationship with someone that worships you and adores you; this makes sense. You may also feel entitled to being in a relationship with someone that meets your every need without your input; this makes sense as well, but it is unrealistic. This is an example of a primitive entitlement turned grandiose. It's the job of a primary caregiver to meet your every need and read your non-verbal cues; this isn't the job of your partner. Your goal is to grieve the loss of what you didn't get, and to become realistic about what you can get now as an adult. Once this distinction is made, you will have a healthy organic entitlement to what you want and deserve as the grown up adult that you are.
While this insight may feel like a relationship death sentence, it's actually the opposite. Awareness is the key to all fundamental change, so simply becoming conscious of what you did or did not receive developmentally will allow you to design the ideal relationship for you. The most important piece is to find the right partner who can provide the safety and support you need to grow and finish developing the emotional life you deserve.
Put it into practice.
What needs are chronically unmet in your current relationships?
How do these ring true from your earlier experiences?
How can you begin to turn those early needs into realistic expectations in your present life?