“It's My Right to Be Happy!”

Lewis’ statement reflected an underlying belief about entitlement that was now threatening the survival of his relationship with Laura. During their three-year marriage he had often felt disappointed with her, and his frustration finally reached a boiling point. His recent anger outburst toward Laura prompted her to call the police. The two policemen who responded did not seem to be impressed with Lewis’ effort to defend his anger with the explanation “It’s my right to be happy.” After evaluating the situation the policemen discussed with him the need for self-control, warned him about the potential for violence, and encouraged him to pursue professional counseling. Another trip to their residence would probably result in his arrest. To get rid of the policemen Lewis promised to seek professional help although he knew that he would never carry through with the promise, simply because he was not the real problem. He believed that Laura was the one who was failing to do what she should do to make him happy through accommodating and satisfying what he wanted. Her treatment of him seemed unfair, and he was not happy.

During the three-year marriage Laura’s frustration level also continued to escalate. She was growing weary of Lewis’ unrealistic expectations and the double standards he set up for their relationship. She knew that their relationship was very unhealthy, but her efforts to get Lewis to work on the marriage had been fruitless and futile. From her perspective Lewis was blind to his entitlement mindset that fed his self-centered attitude and selfish actions. Tragically, both spouses felt hopeless and saw little happiness in the future of their relationship.  In their marital journey Lewis and Laura had collided with the Entitlement Roadblock.

When Laura first met Lewis she was not aware that he was traveling through life on the Entitlement Highway. Like his co-travelers Lewis believed that he possessed an inalienable right to happiness regardless of personal effort or life’s circumstances. Because of his entitlement mindset he frequently felt frustrated and angry as people and circumstances were not cooperative with his expectations and requirements. Driven by his inner belief system Lewis continued to create suffering for himself and for everyone with whom he had a personal relationship.

The suffering experienced by Lewis* and Laura* is a predicted reality when individuals possess and practice an entitlement mentality. The suffering is predictable; thankfully, it is also preventable. To prevent a tragic collision with the Entitlement Roadblock we must understand the harmful mindset and undertake a process of personal reconstruction of beliefs, intentions, and actions.


Revealing the Roadblock


Most roadblocks on literal highways are very visible and can usually be avoided with careful driving. However, some roadblocks are hidden from our view until we’re about to hit them. We’re prevented from seeing them because of a sharp curve, a heavy fog, or deep darkness. A collision occurs and damage is caused, all because the roadblock was not revealed to our vision. Our explanation that “I didn’t see it in time” does not reverse the destruction that resulted from the collision. Likewise, on our journey through life the Entitlement Roadblock is often obscured or hidden from our view. We might not be aware that it is present until major relationship collisions occur.

Safe and successful travels along the Relationship Highway require that we see and avoid all roadblocks that can disrupt and destroy our valued relationships. The effective management of any roadblock requires accurate understanding; that is, the roadblock must be revealed to us so that we can see it for what it is. Our first challenge is to reveal the Entitlement Roadblock. The second challenge is to remove it.
The term “entitlement” refers basically to something which an individual is entitled to receive. The entitled person is qualified to receive the entitlement and can thereby state, “I’m entitled to have it.” In our current culture the concept of entitlement involves a variety of views and often evokes strong emotions in both political and social arenas. As we consider the issue of entitlement and observe its impact upon personal health and interpersonal relationships we see two basic types of entitlements: healthy and unhealthy. 

Healthy Entitlements . . .

A healthy entitlement is one in which the individual has earned the right to receive the benefits inherent within the entitlement. For example, Jim* paid into our government’s Social Security system for many years. Theoretically, the money submitted has been used wisely by the program’s administrators and has earned additional money through interest income. The system is designed to provide for Jim a retirement income that he has worked hard to achieve and that he’s entitled to receive, either at full retirement age or sooner through disability or with reduced benefits. When he reaches the appropriate age Jim can say, “I’ve earned it, I deserve it, and I appreciate it.” That’s a healthy type of entitlement. Jim does not feel entitled to a paycheck unless he has worked hard to earn the money, based upon the specific agreement he has with his employer. Jim’s integrity will not allow him to accept “something for nothing.” He rejects unearned entitlements.

Similarly, in his relationships Jim works hard to practice integrity in that he treats other people the way he wants them to treat him. He strives to have realistic expectations of his family members and valued friends. He does not expect them to take care of him if he makes little or no effort to take care of himself. In essence, he believes in a “fair exchange” approach to relationships, never taking from others more than he is willing to give. Jim feels a measure of healthy entitlement in that he expects other people to reciprocate, at least to some extent, the efforts he makes within their relationships. Overall, Jim’s goal is to develop and maintain a sense of healthy entitlement within all of his human relationships. 

Healthy entitlements require the presence of personal responsibility. An individual feels a sense of personal responsibility that precedes and co-exists with any type of entitlement. His belief is “I have some type of personal responsibility to fulfill before I have a right to any type of entitlement.” The equation is clear: IR (“individual responsibilities”) + PR (“personal rights”) = HE (“healthy entitlements).”

Unhealthy Entitlements . . .

In contrast, an unhealthy entitlement is one which is unearned, undeserved, and unappreciated. A growing number of individuals seem to believe “Even though I’ve done nothing to earn the entitlement I still deserve it. I’m entitled—regardless!” Once received, the entitlement is not appreciated; instead, the item received is taken for granted. These individuals separate individual responsibilities from personal entitlements. Their basic belief is “I have a right to this entitlement but I have no responsibility to fulfill.” The resulting equation is:  NIR (“no individual responsibilities”) + PR (“personal rights”) = UE (“unhealthy entitlements”). 

This unhealthy entitlement mindset is being seen more frequently in a variety of situations. For example, the negative mindset is fast becoming a serious roadblock in our nation’s economic structure as corporations and individuals increasingly expect to be bailed out and taken care of Entitlementschartby government programs or community relief projects. This type of entitled individual puts more effort into joining welfare than in joining the work force. Interestingly, the issue of unhealthy entitlement is also seen in the realm of spirituality. For example, I listened recently to a discussion by several Christians concerning the abuse of God’s grace. The concern was expressed that more and more individuals view grace as an entitlement due them regardless of personal responsibility or lifestyle. The entitled person seems to believe that “God, you’re a God of love and grace. Therefore, you have to save me no matter what I believe in or how I live in daily life. Grace means that I’m entitled to salvation and heaven—no matter what!” The consensus of the discussion group seemed to be that we need to trust more in God’s grace and thereby have assurance of spiritual well-being, but we must never abuse that grace by taking it for granted or by misusing it as a license for an irresponsible lifestyle. I interpreted their discussion in this way: an unhealthy entitlement mindset about God’s love is a roadblock to healthy spirituality.

In a similar manner many people enter into relationships with unrealistic expectations regarding happiness and security. These individuals feel entitled to “being happy” and “feeling secure” even though they exert little effort and make no investment into the relationships. Tragically, in regard to economics, spirituality, and relationships our society is fast becoming a Culture of Entitlement. 

Clearly, a sense of healthy entitlement offers no threat to personal or relationship health. However, the slope is indeed slippery that leads one into an unhealthy type of entitlement. Because of the serious threat that unhealthy entitlement presents to our individual lives and to our human relationships we would do well to explore the development and demonstration of an entitlement lifestyle. As we understand the mindset and the lifestyle that is generated we will be able to see the roadblock more clearly.

(Note:  For the sake of convenience from this point forward I will use the term “entitlement” to refer to “unhealthy entitlement” unless otherwise stated. This abbreviated usage is appropriate since the bulk of entitlement falls within the category of unhealthy entitlement.)

The Development of Entitlement . . .

For most people the development of an entitlement mindset begins in childhood. The seeds of entitlement are planted during a variety of childhood experiences. The seeds germinate, take root, and grow into a full-blown entitlement mentality by the time of adolescence or at least by the transition into chronological adulthood. For example, one entitlement seed is planted within the child when the parents fail to teach the child the connection between effort and consequences. It might be that the parents themselves do not see the connection. They feel entitled and thus set an example of entitlement for the children to imitate. Or, the parents may intend to teach the connection between effort and consequences but fail to do so amid the rush and demands of everyday activities. Either way the child does not learn that his effort is connected to his consequences, and he grows up expecting to get something for nothing. He feels entitled to get a monetary allowance at home without doing chores. He feels entitled to high grades at school without serious study or completed homework. He feels entitled to acceptance and friendship from peers even though he treats them badly and offers them nothing.

This something-for-nothing attitude is reinforced and therefore develops more fully when the child is given indulgences and bail-outs. In our contemporary culture many parents indulge their children with everything they want, ranging from electronics, clothes, and cars to leisure activities, fun times, and “spending money” with a corresponding lack of emphasis upon a strong work ethic, personal responsibility, or stewardship. Parents are pushed toward an indulgent pattern perhaps because they want their children to have more than they had in their own childhood years, or perhaps because they don’t want their children to have less than their peers. This must-have-more tendency encourages parents toward dangerous indulgences. Furthermore, contemporary parents are reluctant to allow their children to suffer the negative consequences of any misbehavior. The parent might not want to run the risk that he will be disliked by the child, or he is too tired or too busy to notice the child’s misbehavior and to exert appropriate discipline. Thus, the child grows up with a belief that “I won’t be punished for my misbehavior” and an expectation that the parents will bail him out and rescue him from any painful consequence in life. Children are not motivated to obey the laws of the land as long as they think, “Oh, if I get arrested my parents will get me out of it. They won’t let me suffer.” Neither will they practice good financial stewardship as long as they believe that their parents will pay off their overdue debts.

Thankfully, some children and teenagers recognize the unhealthiness of parental indulgences and bail-outs that promote entitlement, and they choose beliefs and behaviors that will promote a strong work ethic and a healthy approach to personal relationships. Their choice of a better lifestyle allows them to travel through life without encountering the Entitlement Roadblock.Entitlement3F

Most children, however, continue blindly in their travels along the Entitlement Highway and enter chronological adulthood with an entitlement mindset that invites frequent collisions with the Entitlement Roadblock.  Their unhealthy mindset has a negative effect upon individual health, daily activities, career development, and personal relationships. Their behavior is consistent with their core belief:  “I am entitled to what I want in life or in relationships regardless of my amount of effort or regardless of the impact of my behavior upon other people.” Their entitlement behavior is fueled by a “three-F” approach to life: a Fun Ride (with no work), a Fast Ride (with no delay), and a Free Ride (with no cost). Basically, they expect to receive a full ride with nothing withheld or excluded! Interestingly, these same individuals seem surprised when their relationships falter and fail, and they are perhaps even shocked to see three “F” grades on their Relationship Report Card.

This brief description has highlighted several key components in the development of an unhealthy entitlement mindset and lifestyle. Other factors could be considered if time and space permitted. As you consider these components you might be tempted to think, “Ah . . . that looks a lot like narcissism.” And you would be correct. There are many similarities between an entitlement mindset and a narcissistic mentality.  To understand narcissism is to understand entitlement. The two lifestyles overlap in many ways to wreak havoc and create suffering for people with whom the entitled/narcissistic individual has relationships.  

The Demonstration of Entitlement . . . 

EntitlementConflictIn our attempt to reveal the Entitlement Roadblock so that it will be visible and avoidable we’ve examined the development of an entitlement mindset. The roadblock can be revealed more fully by a look at the demonstration of entitlement in human relationships.

In my professional work as an educator and as a therapist I’ve seen the impact of unhealthy entitlement upon personal relationships such as friendships and marriages. A great deal of conflict is generated by the playing of the “entitlement card” in the game of life. Perhaps you’ve experienced the frustration of hearing your spouse or a friend make a demand of you with the words “Just do it for me . . . I’m entitled to some happiness!” This entitlement mindset can be demonstrated and observed in at least four key areas of a relationship.

Trust Entitlement:  “You should trust me”

The entitled person handles the issue of trust in a very unrealistic manner. In a demanding tone he asserts, “I’m entitled to your trust regardless of my betrayals.” He cannot understand why the other person responds with the statement “I cannot trust you as long as you are dishonest and untrustworthy in our relationship.” The entitlement mindset blinds an individual from seeing reality, and thus he maintains the unrealistic expectation that he should be trusted even though he continues to betray the trust through lies, deceptions, and repeated offenses.

Respect Entitlement:  “You should respect me.”

Many people believe that they are entitled to continuous respect by other people even though they have never earned the respect desired or they have lost their respectability through negative behavior. For example, an individual neglects and/or mistreats a relationship partner and still demands respect. He makes his position clear: “I’m entitled to your respect regardless of my behavior.” The other person replies, “How can I respect you when your bad behavior has no respectability?” The entitled man does not see the connection between positive behavior and earned respect.

Attention Entitlement:  “You should give me attention.”

An entitlement mindset also impacts the issue of attention. The entitled woman says “I am entitled to your attention regardless of how I treat you.” Because of her mindset she cannot seem to grasp the other person’s reaction:   “I’m not willing to give you my attention as long as you treat me abusively and badly.” The woman’s sense of entitlement is demonstrated in her demands for positive attention even though her own behavior is negative and hurtful.

Possessions Entitlement:  “You should give me things.”

Another demonstration of entitlement is observed in one’s unrealistic expectations about possessions. The entitled person expects to receive possessions even though he has not worked for them. His message is “You should give me the things I want regardless of my effort.” Basically, he wants a certain standard of living and expects other people to give him the specific things he wants.  He is dissatisfied unless he has the best electronics or the latest gadgets. He measures his success by his possessions. The “I’m-entitled-to-things” attitude often leads to financial failures and ruined relationships. Many families are destroyed by the Entitlement Roadblock simply because family members will not give up their sense of entitlement for possessions. Predictably, such a person will not like the response he gets from people who reply, “I’m not willing to finance your selfish lifestyle as long as you’re not willing to work for what you want.” 

THE HAPPINESS TRAP . . .EntitlementTrap

The four demonstrations described above are typical results of an entitlement mindset. Essentially, all four are potential elements in the entitled person’s quest for personal happiness. To be happy he wants trust, respect, attention, and possessions. While there is nothing unhealthy with wanting these four elements the determination to get them through entitlement is inherently unhealthy.

When we try to gain trust, respect, attention, and possessions with an attitude of entitlement we set ourselves up for a major trap. In fact, the first letters of the four words (Trust, Respect, Attention, Possessions) spell the word “TRAP.” As a result of our selfish entitlement mindset we develop and demonstrate a pattern of negative behavior that traps us and blocks us from gaining the very items that we desire. Predictably we collide with the Entitlement Roadblock and pay a heavy price in that we damage individual health and personal relationships.

A mindset of entitlement is also demonstrated in the practice of double standards within human relationships. One person feels entitled to one standard but expects the other person to live by a different standard. Here are a few of the many double standards generated by entitlement that often cause serious problems in marriage relationships.

          Money:  “I can spend money the way I want to, but you must stay within the budget.”
          Secrets:  “I can keep secrets from you, but you have to be totally open with me.”
          Problem-solving:  “I can do it any way I prefer, but you must do it in one certain way.”
          Anger:  “I can have anger outbursts with you, but you must practice self-control.”
          Sex:  “I can withhold sex from you, but you must always be there for me.”
          Threats:  “I can threaten you with divorce, but you must never threaten me.”

Another demonstration of entitlement is ingratitude. The entitled person takes things for granted; he assumes rights and denies responsibility. Because he is entitled to receive all of the positive things that come to him he does not feel thankful for what he has. He is therefore not likely to express gratitude for what his spouse provides or does for him. In important areas of life gratitude is hindered by the influence of unhealthy entitlement.

Removing the Roadblock


As long as individuals maintain an “I’m entitled” mindset the Entitlement Roadblock will continue to cause collisions in personal lives and in human relationships. Safe and successful travels along the Relationship Highway require the removal of the roadblock with its inherent threats and dangers. If your life has been damaged by a degree of unhealthy entitlement you might be interested in finding a better highway on which to travel through life. You might be wondering, “How can I remove my Entitlement Roadblock?” You’re raised a very important question that we need to address. The removal process involves at least four steps that deal with expectations, intentions, actions, and improvements. Let’s examine briefly each of these four important steps that can help us undertake and accomplish the effective removal of the Entitlement Roadblock. .

Step #1:  Mature My Mindset (“What Are My Expectations?”)

We begin the removal process by acknowledging the truth that at a basic level the entitlement mindset represents immaturity. To remove entitlement we must mature our mindset, especially in regard to our expectations. The key question to ask is “What are my expectations?” The immature person expects something for nothing; the mature person knows that everything has a price tag. Our new mindset involves the belief that we must invest something in order to get something back. We give, we work, we earn—and we develop realistic expectations about the return on our investment.

Step #2:  Master My Motives (“What Are My Intentions?”)

The second step in removing the Entitlement Roadblock deals with our motivation. Specifically, we must master our motives. The key question is “What are my intentions?” A person’s immature entitlement mindset is essentially selfish and self-serving. His intention is to pursue and demand whatever he thinks will make him happy with little no regard as to what other people might want or need. His intention is to do the least work possible although he expects to be taken care of and to have all of his needs and wants fulfilled by other people. Clearly, a major change in basic motivation is needed. In Step #1 we began to change our belief system about expectations. New beliefs will generate new intentions that are better and healthier. The new mindset means that we are more focused upon the wants and needs of other people than we are upon our own desires. Our new intention is to consider what is best for the other person and to be more motivated toward a benevolent lifestyle. 

Step #3:  Modify My Methods (“What Are My Actions?)

As we continue to work on our expectations and motives we also focus upon a third step in our effort to exit the Entitlement Highway. In Step #3 we modify our methods in regard to a key question:  “What are my actions?” In the past our actions were consistent with an unhealthy entitlement mindset. Our modified actions will move us toward healthy entitlements which, by definition, are earned, deserved, and appreciated.

Rather than expect our wants to be fulfilled as we passively and leisurely travel through life we will instead get up and get to work. A get-to-work method involves actions that will help us overcome our sense of unhealthy entitlement. For example, Susan* felt entitled to marriage. She expected that marriage would come her way regardless of her personal efforts. Now in her late forties she was tired of waiting for the right man to come along. She described her passive approach with the words, “For years I’ve been sitting by the side of life’s road waiting for Prince Charming to ride along, snatch me up, and take me off to paradise. It’s time for me to get up and start making things happen.” Her decision to “get to work” could not guarantee that she would find her special man, but the likelihood would be much higher than when she allowed her sense of entitlement to keep her waiting beside life’s road and wasting precious years of life. In our lives the need for “getting to work” might not refer to marriage but rather to finding a job, earning a living, fulfilling responsibility, or practicing good stewardship. In regard to relationships we will “get to work” with positive actions designed to resolve key issues and to grow healthy relationships.

Step #4:  Monitor My Mileage (“What Are My Improvements?”)

A fourth step in roadblock removal focuses upon the progress we make as we grow toward a healthy perspective about entitlement. The key question we ask is “What are my improvements?” This question is answered as we monitor our mileage along the Relationship Highway. When I travel by car to various locations, particularly to distant destinations, I am very prone to keep an eye on the odometer. I want to know how far I’ve traveled up to that point and how many miles are remaining in my journey. The practice of monitoring my mileage allows me to determine whether or not I am on schedule and making progress toward my goal. (The practice also lets me know if I have time to stop for another cup of coffee or to grab a quick snack!)

Likewise, in our efforts to remove the Entitlement Roadblock from our relationships we need to determine whether or not we are making improvements. We would do well to identify specific objectives that we’re trying to accomplish in our efforts to change expectations, intentions, and actions. An effective monitoring program will involve both a personal assessment and relevant feedback from the other people with whom we have relationships. Hopefully, the monitoring process will show significant progress toward our goal of removing our Entitlement Roadblock.

Concluding Thoughts . . .


Healthy relationships do not occur magically or easily. They result from mature thinking and hard work. We need to understand that an entitlement mindset on the Relationship Highway will bring us into a collision course with the Entitlement Roadblock. The predictable collision will cause damage and destruction to personal health and to personal relationships. Wisdom directs us to remove the roadblock as soon as possible so that our journey on the Relationship Highway will be safe and successful.

In this brief article we’ve examined the development of an unhealthy entitlement mindset and its negative demonstrations in personal relationships. More importantly, we’ve explored four important steps that help us in the removal of the Entitlement Roadblock. If you’ve suffered from a sense of unhealthy entitlement the good news is that you can change your mindset and remove the dangerous roadblock. I wish you well in the removal process and in your efforts to grow in your individual health and in your personal relationships.




(Healthy Relationships #122)


*NAMES: The names “Lewis,” “Laura,” and “Jim,” and “Susan” do not refer to specific individuals but are representative of men and women everywhere who struggle with the Entitlement Roadblock.


RELATED RESOURCES:  Dr. Baker has written several articles that are relevant to the issue of relationship entitlement. These articles are available on this website and can be read by clicking on the titles given below. 


           “Relationship Expectations”

           “Unrealistic Relationship Expectations”

           “Narcissistic Relationships”






VIDEO:  To see a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses "Relationships:  The Entitlement Roadblock" please click

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