Is It a Need or an Entitled Desire?

Now that we know the origin of entitlement, we can see how communication, both verbal and emotional, impact the the choice to avoid the Hard Way.

Whether we are personally struggling with entitlement or dealing with an entitled person, it is important to understand a key principle: it is critical to distinguish true needs from entitled desires. Meeting a true need fosters growth, responsibility, and ownership. Fulfilling entitled desires encourages an insatiable appetite for special treatment and an attitude of supremacy.

To meet true needs, it is important to define the appropriate rewards and consequences for behavior. We are not entitled to do whatever we want, especially if there is a negative impact to other people. Personally, we must be able to accept consequences for our own actions and lovingly correct others by setting appropriate limits and showing compassion. In practice, this means providing a reasonable timeframe for behavior to change, or else “x” will happen. There should be a follow up to the ultimatum to reinforce the consequences.

Regarding rewards, Dr. John Townsend provides six common pitfalls that promote entitlement mentality:

  1. Praising what takes no effort.
  2. Praising what is required.
  3. Praising what is not specific.
  4. Praising what takes an ability and creates an identity.
  5. Praising what is not based on reality.
  6. Praising in the absence of care or warmth or not praising at all.

If someone is praised for something he/she has little to control over (e.g. physical features), this creates a belief that love and rewards are associated with things that are difficult or impossible to change. Conversely, if someone is rewarded for showing stellar effort (e.g. studying hard in school), then he/she can change behavior by focusing on the level of effort.

If expectations are clearly defined, and someone only does the bare minimum, it’s not appropriate to reward minimum expectations. Praising only what is required does not drive behavior to go above and beyond and causes people to think they are special or superior without any additional effort.

When providing praise, it’s important to be specific in lieu of rewarding “just because.” For the person giving praise, it requires additional effort to think about what’s being rewarded instead of taking a shortcut and exaggerating general praise. For the recipient, specific praise helps to reinforce the noteworthy behavior.

If the praise sends the message that the recipient is better than someone else, this can create an entitlement mentality linked to feeling special and deserving preferential treatment. Again, the individual effort related to specific ability is what should be praised–not the performance as it relates to someone else.

If the praise gives someone false hope, it’s not worth giving. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” doesn’t apply in all situations. Praising someone’s effort to apply his/her unique talents and gifts is more constructive.

If there is a lack of praise in someone’s life or praise without genuine feeling, “defensive grandiose identity” can occur. A person will use a self-centered, entitled mindset as a means to protect him/herself from cold or detached relationships.

Coupled with appropriate praise and consequences, there other ways to combat entitlement thinking. These include both internal and external tools. The next blog in this series will address a few obstacles and how an individual, with the appropriate support, can overcome them.

©, May 2, 2018


J. Townsend, The Entitlement Cure Finding Success In Doing Hard Things The Right Way, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. pp. 38-45.

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