Sense of Entitlement May Lead to Vicious Cycle of Distress

A new study suggests a belief in entitlement can lead to dire psychology and social costs.

Case Western Reserve University researchers discovered entitlement, defined as a personality trait driven by exaggerated feelings of deservingness and superiority — may lead to chronic disappointment, unmet expectations, and a habitual, self-reinforcing cycle of behavior.

In a new theoretical model, investigators mapped how entitled personality traits may lead to a perpetual loop of distress.

The findings appear in the Psychological Bulletin.

“At extreme levels, entitlement is a toxic narcissistic trait, repeatedly exposing people to the risk of feeling frustrated, unhappy, and disappointed with life,” said Joshua Grubbs, the primary author of the paper and a recent Ph.D. graduate from Case Western Reserve.

“Often times, life, health, aging, and the social world don’t treat us as well as we’d like. Confronting these limitations is especially threatening to an entitled person because it violates their worldview of self-superiority,” said Grubbs.

Reacting to perceived injustices, entitled people may direct their anger outward, blaming others, while reassuring themselves of their own specialness — thus beginning the cycle again.

The study — based on a review of more than 170 academic papers — outlines the cycle as a three-stage process:

  • First, entitlement creates a constant vulnerability to unmet expectations.
  • Unmet expectations then lead to dissatisfaction and other volatile emotions.
  • Emotional distress demands a remedy, leading to the reinforcement of superiority.

“Reassurance stemming from entitlement can provide temporary relief from the very distress caused by entitlement,” said Julie Exline, co-author of the study.

But these benefits are short-lived; long-term consequences associated with entitled behavior include poor relationships, interpersonal conflicts, and depression.

“The entire mindset pits someone against other people,” Exline said.

“When people think that they should have everything they want — often for nothing — it comes at the cost of relationships with others and, ultimately, their own happiness.”

Many believe entitlement is on the rise in America as studies show so-called “millennials” see themselves as generally more entitled than previous generations.

Entitled traits have an especially fertile breeding ground in the strong current of individualism valued by American society and culture, Exline says, though pinning blame for the phenomenon is difficult.

And while there is no clear path for a person to break out of the cycle of entitled behavior, previous research shows that traits of humility and gratitude can protect against the distress associated with entitlement.

By creating a sense of safety and security, psychologists have helped entitled people feel more connected to others by finding common ground in the limitations and suffering present in all human lives.

“Yet, this may be too much to ask,” Grubbs said. “It’s often unacceptable for entitled people to consider they are not the exception to the rule.”

Source: Case Western Reserve/EurekAlert
 
Man with an empty wallet photo by shutterstock.