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  • Paula Thompson
    Paula Thompson

    Negative Emotional Entitlement: Why Taking Other People's Time and Energy Could Sabotage Your Happiness

    Unearned emotional entitlement is a dangerous attitude to cultivate, not just for other people, but for ourselves as well. Believing that you are owed people’s time and energy can lead to great unhappiness and resentment, even when those around us have nothing but good intentions.

    It’s human nature to make assumptions and judgments in order to feel safer and more secure in a given situation. Asserting that we “deserve” something is an easy way to justify our feelings and emotions, whether they are positive or negative. We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” but feeling a sense of “entitlement” to something can make it difficult to look past empty promises. In certain situations, having expectations and standards can be a healthy thing. But when it comes to relationships, having a feeling of entitlement sets the stage for disappointment and often leads to resentment; all of which can turn into misery, stress and even conflict.

    Unaddressed expectations in relationships can take a toll and undermine the relationship dynamics. It is one thing to have reasonable expectations about how others should treat and interact with you, but quite another to expect them to do something simply because you want them to. We may think that we have the “right” to another person’s time and energy without considering their availability or capacity. The truth is, people are only so capable or able to give of themselves, and expecting them to go above and beyond this ignores the human reality of physical and emotional limitations.

    Sometimes we may not even realize when we are entitled because it’s often a conditioned pattern of behavior based on past thoughts or experiences. If a negative emotion-based expectation is frequently or consistently unmet, a feeling of being “owed” something can become ingrained over time. This kind of entitlement takes its toll by contributing to feelings of low self-esteem and self-respect as we allow ourselves to remain in unhealthy, one-sided relationships. Not only can these dynamics hurt our wellbeing, but they can create imbalanced dynamics that make it harder for meaningful connections to form and grow.

    On the flip side, if the other person “gives in” to your emotional entitlement, resentment can fester. When someone consistently gives into things out of guilt or obligation, these relationships tend to be lopsided, with one person doing all the work. This too can be emotionally draining for both parties and can lead to burnout and frustration.

    When we view others through the lens of “emotional entitlement,” we neglect to consider that the feelings we have and the perceptions we form are our own, and are separate from those of the other person. It’s important to remember that people don’t owe us anything, although they may choose to do something out of kindness or care. It’s key that we know the difference between expecting something from another person, despite their own capabilities and condition, and allowing them to enjoy the freedom of expressing their love and care in the way that speaks for them best.

    If we want to break the cycle of emotional entitlement in order to cultivate healthier relationships, the starting point is within. Becoming mindful of unmet expectations helps us to recognize when we are acting on outdated rules or beliefs. Reframing old habits into positive practices such as cultivating gratitude and openness can burnish our relationships with others and can ultimately lead to greater satisfaction, security, and a sense of fulfillment.

    When a person recognizes that they have expectations or unmet desires, they can work on them consciously, nurturing a mindset of growth and trust rather than reacting with anger or dismissal. We can also seek outside help by participating in conversations and activities that can help us identify, understand, and address our own personal triggers. Knowing ourselves and our sometimes unacknowledged assumptions are the tools that enable us to experience connection in more meaningful and fulfilling ways.

    Emotional entitlement can be a destructive force in relationships, but it doesn’t have to be. Reaching an understanding of our needs, as well as our boundaries, can open up new possibilities for more loving and resilient relationships. When we stop thinking about what we “deserve” and start focusing on how we can honestly and authentically contribute to meaningful relationships and interactions, we create healthier patterns and open up conversations that benefit both ourselves and those we care about.

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