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

4 Ways to Deal with An Entitled Person

It’s a challenge to be friends, co-workers, or partners with an entitled individual because a relationship is supposed to be equal. But an entitled person sees himself as superior to you and will always put their agenda first. How to stop the madness? Try these 4 tips:

Tip #1: Use wish fulfillment to set limits.

An entitled individual will hold all sorts of expectations—a friend may expect you to babysit on a moment’s notice, a grown child may expect to inherit enough that she doesn’t have to bother saving for retirement, or, as I witnessed, a customer may expect you to bump a client so she can take their place.

These expectations will be dropped in your lap, but here’s the thing: you don’t have to pick them up. Leave the expectation lying there. You don’t have to fulfill it. Make it clear that you can’t or won’t fulfill the expectation, but do so without blame or criticism.

A great way to do this is through wish fulfillment, which sounds something like this: “I wish I could babysit and help you out, but I have an appointment today. Next time give me a few days notice and I’ll see if I can help.” Or, “I wish I could leave you enough that you never had to worry about money. I’m going with the Bill Gates approach: I’ll leave you enough to do something, but not so much you can do nothing.” Or, “I wish I could work you in the schedule today, but everyone is booked solid. What about tomorrow?”

In sum, say you wish you could fulfill the request, and then politely make it clear that you can’t. Sometimes just acknowledging that you heard the entitled person’s demand and ostensibly agreed with it is enough to assuage their fragile ego.

Yes, entitled people can make your blood boil. But underneath it all, there’s that raging sense of inadequacy.

Tip #2: Treat everyone equally.

If you’ve ever been in preschool, you probably remember your teacher using the phrase, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Do the equivalent to stave off entitled kids, employees, or students. Don’t bend the rules or make exceptions for one entitled person if you can’t do the same for everyone. Why? Because making exceptions feeds into the idea that the entitled person is special and superior, plus it has the side effect of making others feel resentful. Just like in preschool, everyone will feel more secure if you run a tight, egalitarian ship.

Tip #3: Feel a little sorry for them.

Yes, entitled people can make your blood boil. But underneath it all, there’s that raging sense of inadequacy. It doesn’t mean they can treat you like dirt, but it can be helpful to remember their lives and relationships—however they may look on the outside--are pretty miserable.

Tip #4: Remember there’s only so much you can do.

It’s cliche, but it’s true: people can only change themselves. You can try to help them (and protect yourself) by setting limits, being egalitarian, and feeling compassion, but ultimately, you can’t change them. Do your best to steer clear. It’s one of the few times in life where being punished with the silent treatment might actually be a blessing.

To wrap up, as Malcolm Forbes famously said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” So tip your waiter generously, smile and ask how your barista’s day was, and give up your seat to the old lady on the subway. This is not to be better than the entitled people—that misses the point. Instead, it’s to make everyone’s day a little better which, ironically, is exactly how to gain true admirers.

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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.