4 Ways to Deal with Entitled People

Entitlement isn’t just Social Security and other government programs—more insidiously, it’s a mindset that the world owes you. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen discusses four signs of entitlement, plus how to deal with people whose entitlement is so strong you can smell it like a bad cologne.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
6-minute read
Episode #154
4 Ways to Deal with Entitled People

This week, for whatever reason, entitled people have been popping up around me like a game of whack-a-mole.

Earlier this week I was getting a haircut and overheard a customer ask at the desk for a same-day haircut. She was pleasant and smiley, but when the receptionist said she was sorry, they were booked for the day, the customer said, “Isn’t there someone on the schedule you don’t like very much who you could cancel?” The receptionist laughed ... until she realized the customer wasn’t joking.

The next day I went to a parent-teacher conference and the teacher let slide that many parents have been emailing the principal demanding that their child get this or that teacher next year. She said the principal was so annoyed that he’s decided to automatically decline all entitled demands.

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Finally, yesterday I got a call from a former client who no-showed her last three visits and ignored my emails for a month. She wanted an appointment, but expected me to stay late and to let her bypass the waitlist for accommodate her. That, plus she needed a letter to take her emotional support dog on a plane, and another letter to get a special parking spot. And she needed them that day.

What do all these pushy people have in common? Entitlement, or the belief that they are inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.

Some people wear their entitlement like a crown—they’re rude, demanding, contemptuous, and they get resentful, not just disappointed, when things don’t go exactly their way. But sometimes it’s more subtle—all you’re left with is a gut feeling that you’re being manipulated.

Not sure if you’re facing an innocent request or an entitled demand? Look for these four signs:

Sign #1: Mindset. 

Let’s start with the big one: entitled individuals genuinely think they are better or more important than others. Making a request at someone else’s expense definitely qualifies as entitled.

Sign #2: They hold double standards for themselves and others.

Entitled individuals think nothing of inconveniencing others, like canceling at the last minute, no-showing appointments, or requiring lots of others people’s time and effort to get a task done.

But turn the tables and it’s a different story. Entitled individuals accept favors without returning them. They freeload. They feel aggrieved when asked to do something, particularly if it’s not going to get them anything in return.

Sign #3: They have a really hard time playing fairly because fairness implies equality.

Entitled individuals have difficulty compromising, negotiating, following rules, waiting their turn, or taking one for the team. They don’t apologize. And don’t even try to argue with them.

Sign #4: They’re manipulative and controlling.

They think it will get them what they want, and when they don’t, they quickly get threatening and hostile. With people they perceive to be below them, like service workers or customer support, they’re rude and go out of their way to show they’re dominant and superior. They’re impossible to please, because they expect the best on a silver platter, and when they don’t get it, they leave deliberate messes and tantrums in their wake.

Speaking of tantrums, it might be a surprise to discover entitled people are just as miserable as they make everyone else. In a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers from the University of Michigan discovered why the strategies of the entitled don’t work.

The answer lies in the types of goals they set for themselves. Entitled people set what the researchers called self-image goals, meaning their aim is to have others respect and admire them (notice I didn’t say like them—that’s different).

Entitled individuals care deeply about approval. When they get it, or they get their way, they drink it up like a spring break bro chugs a beer. It all feeds a grandiose view of themselves, but deep down they feel insecure about measuring up to those grandiose standards.

Mix together deep seated insecurity, an inflated view of their own importance, and valuing admiration, and it’s a recipe for a thin skin: entitled people are notoriously hypersensitive, and will let loose hostility and punishment towards anyone who doesn’t work to prop up their fragile self-image. But hostility and punishment aren’t good ways to get people to admire or respect you. Instead, they alienate and isolate. According to the University of Michigan study, it’s a strategy that backfires every time.

By contrast, non-entitled people set what’s called compassionate goals, meaning they want to make a difference in the world, support others, and feel close to those they love.

In short, compassionate people want to contribute; entitled people want to win, and to be admired for it. But here’s the secret: it's only when you realize life isn't a contest that you actually win.


Medical Disclaimer
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets.