Where Does Entitlement Come From?
I was dealing with a long-term cyberstalker, who had messaged me to tell he could have SO many women; prettier women, younger women, smarter women, etc. But, he wanted me because I was his woman. I may not be the “best” woman out there, but because I belonged to him, it was wrong for me to deny him my presence.
As I sat reading the email in a bar with my friends, I asked “How on earth did he come to think this?”
And, one of my friends quipped, “it’s like you haven’t heard of male entitlement before.”
It was a funny line, but it still didn’t answer a question I have now been wondering about for years; how do people come to feel like they “own” things they have no right to own? For that matter; how do people come feel like they have a right to own things at all?
When I was actively being stalked, I became obsessed with trying to figure it out. I read about trauma, and stalkers, and abusers and all that.
Yet, one of the weird places I ended up getting insight was when I read about property law, because, one of the keys to entitled behavior is that people act towards conscious beings the same way others act towards inanimate objects that they own; my stalker was treating me as if I was his stolen BMW.
The only thing was, I was both the BMW and the robber. He wanted to get back the physical presence of my body, while punishing (perhaps even destroying) the consciousness of my mind that had “taken” it from him.
And, I think if we want to understand “entitled” people, we have to begin looking at where are own entitlements lay, and how certain things feel intuitive (like they “belong” to us) even that intuition is misguided, or simply cultural.
For example, in the USA, we have certain feelings of entitlement around property. If you buy a house, or you buy the land under the house, that land feels like “yours.” If the government came and took away your land and your house, that would feel like a violation; that you’d been robbed.
Yet, this is only a cultural norm. In some other cultures, especially more nomadic ones, it’s not seen as possible to own land. In fact, as I dug into property law, much of what seems intuitive to us now was actually originally written so as to justify taking away land from the American Indians, many of whom did not have the same concepts of land ownership as the colonial settlers. What the colonists did, was take the land, divide it up into little plots, and sell off each little plot. Now, about 60% of the land is privately owned in the US, and most of the remainder belongs to the government.
This actually destroyed the way of life for many American Indians, who often had cultures that required migration for trade and food, and when certain passages became blocked their way of life crumbled. Even the way I phrased it, that the American Indians had “their land taken away,” seems to fit this into a colonial concept of land, because it’s so hard for me to conceptualize it another way. I think (and, I’m so far outside these cultures it’s hard to know for sure) that there was a concept of open land, or universal land — maybe the same way that we might think of the stars? — that belonged to no one, and was open for everyone.
So, all that is to point out, that to some degree “entitlement” and feeling like we have a “right” to own something is a cultural phenomenon; we learn to expect what our culture tells us we’re allowed to expect. And, often our culture doesn’t tell us explicitly what to expect, or want; it tells by example.
Part of the reason why many of us may feel entitled to land, is we see the people around us owning land. Then, to top that off, if we don’t own land, we now don’t have a place to go or live because all the other land that’s available is protected, and we’d be kicked off for squatting. Or, if you’re like me, you have to rent your living space off the land that someone else owns — working constantly to keep up with the rent. Part of the reason that most people would get angry if the government kicked them off their land is that they would have no place to live, and they would need to go back to renting land from another person.
Which, brings me to the second part of entitlements that strikes me as relevant, which is, part of what generates strong emotionality around that which we feel entitled to, is this feeling that something bad will happen to us if we do either acquire or keep this possession. For example, if a kid steals a penny from me, I probably would just laugh it off even though by cultural norms I was entitled to that penny I earned. However, if that same kid stole $100, I would probably get angry — because, that is $100 I can no longer spend on myself. There is something that I will no longer get to have because I don’t have that $100.
However, maybe if I was very rich that value would be higher — $1000 or something. My point is, how upset we get about losing what we feel entitled to, is directly proportional to how hurt we think we will be when we lose the thing we are entitled to.
And this brings me back to my stalker.
My stalker felt entitled to a wife and children, because most people he saw in the world around him had a wife and children — this is a norm we have set culturally. When I talk to older single people, even those people who never became toxic will often remark “I always just assumed I’d get married.” The world kind of presents it to us, that it is “normal” to get married and have kids, and this cultural norm is where that kind of entitlement starts creeping in.
I have (unfortunately) spent some of today digging into incel culture, and this kind of looking around — this comparison — to everyone else, seeing that “everyone” else is dating, “everyone” else is having sex, leads to this feelings of pain. Like, “it’s not fair, I should get to be having sex too.” Part of this, I’m sure, is we tell kids to expect that when they grow up, they should get married and have babies; we don’t really ever tell them what to do if this doesn’t work out.
Then, we add the second part when it came to my stalker, which was the obsession. I don’t want to write about it too much in detail because I don’t want to trigger another episode (and I’ve actually had more than 1 cyberstalker so I can sort of blur some of the details to make it not actually be about anyone specific) but suffice it to say — this person was obsessed with me, and was willing to devote an astronomical amount of energy to try to be with me, even though it was bizarre.
I read some of the emails — and had friends (and at some point, a lawyer) read some of the others — and one of the themes that stood out, was that this person was unhappy. Very unhappy. They saw their lives as a failure, especially in the job-realm, and believed that once they married me, that their life could get back on track again. Why they believed this, I had no idea, but they were convinced if I would just marry them, then their entire life would somehow magically work out — jobs, kids, the girl — the whole shebang, and he could just go back to being a normal member of society.
(It did not occur to him that whatever mental problems were causing his stalking behavior were likely limiting his success at work also.)
But THIS belief is where, I think, we really see an element around entitlement that is often missed in discussion; people who feel entitled to other people (either time, money, romance, etc.) believe that their life will be significantly better if they get what they want from this person, and it is the depth of this belief that drives the intensity of the entitlement.
We sort of have this cultural belief that spoiling your children will lead to them growing up being entitled, but actually, I think desperate people are the ones more likely to be entitled. They emotionality behind entitlement seems two fold:
- Being in extreme pain, that you would do anything to stop
- Having the (incorrect) belief that if you could just get this one thing from someone, it would solve all your pain
Now, of course, there exist lesser degrees of entitlement than stalking — but I think they actually follow a similar pattern. For example, during a class in college once, we were learning how to negotiate. One of the exercises was to pair up with a partner, and try to negotiate a deal with them selling an imaginary product for imaginary cash. Now, most of the class found themselves in some degree of middle ground, negotiating a fair price. However, one pair had agreed to an absolutely outrageous deal, where one person made tons of money off the imaginary product, and the other person had overpaid substantially.
When the professor asked the pair why they agreed to this deal, the person who made all the money said he was convinced the entire time that his partner was the one trying to screw HIM over — in fact, he’d been completely convinced he’d negotiated a losing deal for himself until they got to class and he found out what everyone else had done. In a sense, this person’s entitlement was based on their internalized belief that they were “getting screwed” more than everyone else, even though the opposite was true.
Anyhow; this is a complicated topic and it raises other questions — (like, does shame make someone more likely to be entitled? How should you respond to someone who is feeling entitled toward you?) but the process for making an entitled person seems to (frequently) go like this:
- Set up societal expectations, that this person doesn’t meet (or, at least believes they didn’t meet — many entitled people are superficially successful, but not as successful as they want to be.)
- This lack of meeting expectation causes some degree of intense pain, possibly shame
- The person believes they have found a (maybe imaginary) solution to their problem that another person (“the victim”) could provide. (Perhaps they drift toward external solutions because seeing how they could change their own behavior would add additional shame/pain.)
- This person now demands that the victim provide the solution they want, and the intensity of this demand is likely to be proportional to the intensity of the pain/shame of the demander.
- If the demander cannot achieve this goal, an extra bonus step may be, retaliation upon other people who have achieved this goal as a way of lessening their own shame (they no longer fail in comparison, these people have no longer achieved the goal either — a way murder may become appealing.)
Anyway. I’m no psychologist, and I just sort of thought up this framework today, so I’ll try to think it over if it truly applies in many cases — but, something I like about it, is that it does begin to hint at alternative solutions. Reducing the pain at not meeting social expectations, and finding alternative ways that people can resolve their internal pain may offer ways that we can begin to resolve inappropriate entitlement. Unfortunately, as I know all too well, often the single minded obsession of the entitled person with achieving the specific solution they want can be a serious impediment to progress.