By Punya Srivastava
All of us are equal but some of us are more equal than others, is the credo of those who suffer from an entitlement complex. Punya Srivastava investigates this malaise and offers ways to heal from it
My grandfather was a terror,” says a friend’s mother, who grew up in the strict environs of a Syrian Christian home in Kerala. “The best of food and choicest of condiments would be reserved for him. While the rest of the family would have to be content with a few bones and loads of coconut pieces in the chicken curry, he would feast on the tender meat.”
Another friend recalls that while she, her mother and siblings often travelled by train to their native place for the summer vacation, her father would frequently travel by plane to the location. “One time, we did not even get reserved seats. My mother and the rest of us travelled from Kolkata to Vishakapatnam in the most cramped and uncomfortable circumstances. The next morning my father showed up, looking fresh and neatly shaven. It used to make my blood boil.”
Growing up in the patriarchal age gives one a vivid exposure to the entitlement complex. But this scourge continues to plague us in the present times as well.
“Freshers these days carry such a humongous sense of entitlement!” said my cousin, a project manager in an NGO working in the field of governance. She was relating her recent experience of interviewing candidates for the post of junior project officers. “Most of them want a glamorous profile with a swanky office cubicle and hefty pay check without even getting a crease on their shirts, and that too in the beginning of their careers.”
Indeed, the entitlement complex is everywhere. Most road rage cases have entitlement as their core conflict point. The bigger the car, the greater the entitlement of the road; the point is made with imperious honking, “Hey! Make way for me for I am more important than all of you with smaller cars.” Demanding special attention at restaurants, jumping queues, harassing customer care executives by virtue of being rich and/or popular are small yet grave examples of the entitlement complex. I happened to read a social media post of a young girl who felt that her beauty entitled her to a luxurious lifestyle, which she intended to procure by marrying a rich and successful man.
“It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it,” writes the well known writer Jon Krakauer in his book, Into the Wild.
Yes, this is what most of us, and people before us, have grown up thinking, and here we are standing on a planet which is gradually dying. Our collective sense of entitlement has reduced mineral, plant and animal life to secondary status. Developed societies feel entitled to barge into the midst of tribal communities leading holistic and harmonious lives, and teach them their own faulty ways of living. At the individual level, we all feel entitled to be looked after by our parents, comforted by our friends, loved by our spouses and respected by our children. We feel entitled to receive, and if we don’t get it voluntarily, we throw a fit. Entitlement is essentially infantile in nature!
Psychologically, the entitlement complex is an unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favourable living conditions and/or favourable treatment at the hands of others. “We are born with lots of desires in our heart and fulfilling these desires becomes our main occupation. Most of these desires are self-centred, which give rise to a sense of entitlement,” says Swami Nikhilananda Saraswati, the regional head of Chinmaya Mission, Delhi.
According to Hitesh Vashisht, a Gurgaon-based soul coach and HR consultant, every child in his or her early years of development goes through a stage where they feel that everything is ‘theirs’, and he or she comes first in the priority list. “Parents need to help the child understand that while his or her own self is important, others are equally important. If such intervention does not happen, the child becomes prone to an entitlement complex,” he explains.
Often, it is the parents themselves who seed the entitlement complex in their children by fulfilling every imagined whim and fancy. An acquaintance of mine is a single mother in her mid-30s with a 12-year-old boy who considers himself to be nothing less than royalty. The guilt and pressure of being a single parent for over a decade drove her to fulfill every right or wrong demand her son made, to the extent that today he has no compunction in treating her insolently.
“As a child, I had a huge sense of ownership,” says Pavni Ratnaker, a chartered accountant intern from Lucknow. As a child she was pampered to the hilt by her indulgent grandmother for being the first child in the family. This made her used to having goodies for herself, and throwing tantrums if she was asked to share. As she entered her teens, this sense of entitlement grew steadily and made her a difficult child to handle. “I used to be shouted upon by my mother but I would always ignore her harangues. I would insist on getting my way, and if that didn’t happen, I would become rude, stop talking to people and sulk,” she says. Says Deepti G Gujar, a Pune-based Past Life Regression Therapist, “One does not get everything one thinks one deserves.”
Another reason behind developing an entitlement complex is by excessive giving in some other department. SukanyaVasudeva (name changed), a government bank employee in Delhi in her late 30s, is a case in point. The eldest among four siblings, she had to don the hat of a guardian for her siblings after the sudden demise of her parents in an unfortunate road accident when she was 17. She had to grow responsible for three other lives suddenly, and give up her dreams of pursuing a career in music. “Those years of constant struggles were difficult. I was a pampered child and life felt unfair after those privileges were suddenly taken away. I worked hard to be a perfect elder sister, but over the years, I realised that I had started expecting a lot more in return from my siblings. I felt a sense of entitlement on their lives, I wanted to have the last word in every decision they took. I smugly assumed that after all the sacrifices I had made for them, I would always remain the single axis around which their lives would revolve. But gradually, and thankfully, I realised that I was suffocating them by my constant need for their time and attention. What hurt me were my own inappropriate expectations, and not their scarcity of affection,” she says. Once the realisation set in, Sukanya worked her way through this behaviour to find peace of mind.
Entitlement in relationships
When received with gratitude and reverence, love is as life-giving as water to a parched traveller, and its presence is all that is needed to nourish relationships. But when one feels entitled to get love, the weight of the expectation crushes the sublime tenderness of the relationship. I am not entitled to receive presents and cards, not even lovely wishes by family, friends and colleagues on my birthday, by virtue of it being ‘my’ birthday. It is out of their own benevolence that they shower me with goodness. If tomorrow they don’t even remember the day, it won’t make them insensitive or wrong. The hurt would solely be because of my own ‘unmet’ expectations.
“An entitlement complex often leads to a feeling of superiority. The partner exhibiting it might pick up fights when their fantasy of what they deserve and what they are getting does not match,” says Amrisha Ahuja, clinical hypnotherapist and healing artist at The Healing Island, Delhi. Hitesh elaborates, “The ‘ship’ of a relationship has two sides which is giving and receiving. People with an entitlement complex think only about receiving while offering little. Such a ‘ship’ sinks as it rarely strikes a balance.” A sense of entitlement sucks dry love and joy from relationships, leaving people wounded.
Hitesh shares an instance where he was coaching the CEO of a company. Hitesh observed that though he was highly achievement-oriented he had a tendency to blame others for his sufferings. “He said that his wife was not compatible with him, and his business was facing high employee attrition. I sensed that his need to come to me was only based on learning the tactics to change others,” says Hitesh.
“I requested him to separate himself from his needs and demands and then look at his wife. When I asked him if he has been there for her when she needed him, he was silent,” Hitesh adds. For this man, moving out of his story and seeing the other’s story helped him diagnose his improvement areas at home and at the workplace. “I need to improve in order for the situations to improve,” the client finally surmised.
Rising above entitlement
“The easiest way to drop an entitlement complex is to take a step back from the whole situation and have a thorough look at it,” shares Deepti. Observing the tone, the arguments validating the sense of entitlement, the righteousness behind them, as a third person helps discern the malaise. “When you step up to your greater awareness and question the mind’s need to feel entitled about something, most of the time the need simply drops. These needs are just our mind’s illusions adding drama to our lives,” says Deepti. Self-awareness is the base of any healing. “Having an open and vulnerable relationship with one’s partner and openly sharing one’s wounds and desires also flushes to the surface hidden expectations,” says Amrisha. Ultimately, life itself is enough to whittle out this sense of entitlement from anyone. Life gives us no guarantees and over time, when we encounter bout after bout of disappointed expectations, the truth dawns. With time, as Pavni crossed her teenage years, she started questioning herself. “I learnt that I needed to grow up and be responsible for myself. I realised that the world was not created to serve me. I am different from everyone else yet at the same time, everyone is my equal, with the same entitlements. Just as I am not created to serve them, they are not created to serve me. Nobody owes anyone anything – this is a universal rule. Hence, it is better that we accept responsibility for our life and stop blaming others. The sooner we realise this fact, the happier our life becomes,” she says.
In one of his satsangs, Mooji, the Advaita sage, says, “If you want to go all the way, give up the sense that you have any rights in life. Have no rights at all for anything. Then everything is a gift. Experience what remains. A great space will open inside your heart. Huge humility, acceptance, love, wisdom and freedom as you experience integration with the cosmic being.”
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