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Destructive Entitlement


(One of the Principles used in our curricula)

The news is filled these days with talk of ‘entitlement’ and ‘privilege,’ usually paired with some sort of racial, religious or socio-economic identifier. There are two basic kinds of entitlement: the “you owe me” entitlement enjoyed by those who see themselves as superior to others simply based on their race, religion or socio-economic status, and “destructive entitlement,” often exhibited by those who feel they’ve been short-changed in some aspect of their life and are therefore ‘owed,’ and someone/something has to pay.


Some people, many times celebrities, are often referred to as “over-entitled,” acting as if they deserve more (of everything), privileges or recognition for things they did not earn; the world owes them something in exchange for nothing, other than being who they are. Those with a sense of Destructive Entitlement believe “I have a right to be resentful because I had an awful life and/or childhood; I’m angry and sorry for myself because of what I’ve endured, so I’m going make someone pay for it. I may not have much, so society/individuals owe me something.”


Entitlement is often defined as a right, something earned either through contributions that benefit another or through suffering. It is an ethical accumulation or surplus. The concept of Destructive Entitlement was first broached by psychiatrist and humanist Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, and often includes an absence of empathy and lack of ability to consider other people and how they may be affected by one’s actions. Destructive Entitlement is an open account for revenge.


If you were exploited, abused or neglected as a child, you feel angry, suspicious, psychologically entitled to revenge. You have a right to feel revengeful, "Why me?" You also have an entitlement -you were damaged.


You have a right to feel slighted, abused, revengeful, but you don’t have the right to act against others based on those feelings. The question becomes, "How do I act on it, constructively or destructively?" It's the nature of the action you can take that determines how healthy (and legal) your choices will be.


You likely can't take it out on the causes of the damage, often they are your parents or other authority figures, sometimes you may not be able to find an entity to ‘blame’—if you have a learning disability, for example, you can’t really be mad at your genes. But if you use that entitlement and desire for revenge against an innocent person, or society, that's taking the past out on the future. It's unfair; it creates a new injustice, perpetuates the cycle and is often illegal.


Many times, if destructive entitlement is challenged, the persons only insist on it more, because being challenged seems a continuation of the original hurt. Destructive entitlement controls and organizes the life of many people. One of its major signs is not being sensitive to remorse; you don't care about others or yourself. Destructive entitlement thrives in the street, among street kids, from the violent or neglectful things that parents and often the greater society do to kids, often repeating the things that have been done to them and which they perpetuate.


Behavior that looks like evil or stupidity--violence, substance abuse – is often much better explained by destructive entitlement. When people seem to be acting fanatically, through hurt, it is not because they are stupid. They are blind to remorse. They don't see it as unfair. To them, it is a justice issue, not an intelligence issue.


Many who exhibit Destructive Entitlement have experienced Parentification as a child. Parentification happens when the child acts as a parent to their actual parent or siblings.

They, often take on responsibilities they are not equipped for, socially or emotionally, so they can take care of their parent/siblings’ physical, emotional, and social needs, or they take on the role of parent to younger children because the parents are not present, either through physical absence or emotional absence. They try to protect and/or provide for the needy parent or siblings, losing their own childhood and opportunity for growth in the process, leading to resentment, fear, and the feeling of destructive entitlement.


How does one overcome feelings of destructive entitlement? Therapy, if available, helps, as does recognizing the signs and symptoms. Developing humility and gratitude are also important. But there are some practical steps as well.


Recognize that while no one guarantees life will be fair, not all situations are unfair. Before you react in destructive entitlement, consider the greater good and your greater goal; in the long run, who will be harmed if you lash out, will your goal be more near or farther away as the result of your actions?


Be mindful of others; practice treating them as you would like to be treated. Regardless of differences, we are all human and want to be treated with kindness.


Use respect and kindness in all situations when interacting with others, who are probably going through struggles of their own. Even if they don’t return that kindness and respect, you are the bigger person for your positive understanding and response.


Learn from your mistakes and appreciate the value in failure. If certain actions and responses didn’t work for you before, remember those lessons and correct your actions the next time. Never, ever, stop learning or give up.


Understand where your past behaviors came from, and where they brought you and use that understanding and knowledge to recognize and adapt when those destructive entitlement thoughts show up.

(Vanessa and I and three Volunteer Prison Presenters; Sergey, Kevin and Jason)



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