Browsing the archives for the entitlement tag.
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Always Giving to Others? That’s Fine, If You Want to End Up a Stump

States of mind

I’ve long had a problem with the acclaimed Shel Silverstein picture book The Giving Tree. It’s the story of a “friendship” between a tree and a boy in which the tree progressively gives everything it has–starting with the reasonable gifts of shade and fruit and a place to climb, but pushing on to the point where it urges the boy to cut it down–in order to make the boy happy.

Don’t get me wrong: giving is wonderful. What’s not wonderful is giving everything you have and are away. Self-sacrifice is one of the 18 problem mental schemas covered by the school of psychology known as schema therapy (see “Mental Schemas #13: Self-Sacrifice“).

Women seem to be disproportionately the victims of self-sacrifice. While many of us grow up with the message that it’s better to give than to receive, it seems that girls more often than boys are told that it’s always right to do things for others and never right to do things for ourselves.

Healthy relationships require balance. Everyone involved in the relationship is important, and when the needs of one person completely trump the needs of the other, both suffer. The giving side of this is called self-sacrifice; the taking side is another mental schema, Entitlement, and it’s not particularly fun to be afflicted with either.

What makes the boy in the story so comfortable hurting the tree to benefit himself? Why, when the tree is demonstrating such extraordinary consideration for him, does he feel so little concern for her?

Some people interpret the story as a straightforward parable of parents and children, and I suspect it was intended this way. The problem is that as much as a parent-child relationship for a long time is a lopsided arrangement, children are not so important that adults should ignore their own needs entirely in order to satisfy the child’s every whim. If this sounds insufficiently nurturing, consider this: one of the most important jobs parents have is modeling strong, healthy relationships. A child who gets everything while the parents give everything either follows the parent’s model and becomes a tool for the takers of the world, or (more likely) grows up with a sense of being the center of the universe, not subject to the same rules as everyone else, entitled to do anything that seems necessary to get a desired outcome–in other words, a taker him- or herself.

Another thing to consider about self-sacrifice is that sacrificing so much that one’s needs aren’t getting met usually results in emotional trouble. We all need a certain amount of love, consideration, and support. When we tell everyone else that they should take everything they want from us and never need to give anything back, we don’t get those things, and as a result we become stunted and often bitter. By giving everything, we end up having less available to give, just as the tree could have continued giving shade, apples, oxygen, and a place to play for generations if it hadn’t tried to give up its entire being just so the boy could make a boat.

To really be able to give the most to others, we have to be willing to receive some things ourselves.

Photo by karenhdy

Added afterward: In the same vein, Alison Cherry has an eye-opening version of the story on her site at http://alisoncherrybooks.com/blog/2011/12/8/why-i-hate-the-giving-tree.html .

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How Can Bad Relationships Feel So Right?

The human mind

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on schema therapy and mental schemas, a subject I’ve written about here a number of times: see links on my Mental Schemas and Schema Therapy page. One of the most intriguing insights that’s come up in that reading is “schema chemistry.” What’s schema chemistry? The short version is this: sometimes the people we are most strongly attracted to are the ones who are the most likely to make us crazy.

I don’t want to overstate this: I don’t imagine for a minute that all love, romance, chemistry, and attraction are based on people fitting their mental baggage together–but it’s pretty fascinating that some of it seems to be, for some people.

The apparent reason schema chemistry happens is that the kinds of troubles we’re used to are comfortable and normal-feeling to us, so a person who causes the same problems we’re used to will feel more familiar and closer. If Mary grew up in a house where her parents always left her alone, she might very well feel more “at home”–not happier, but in more familiar and “right-feeling” territory–if she dates someone who always leaves her home alone, too. If Jack’s mom was always telling him he was a hopeless screw-up, he might have more respect for and feel more familiar with a girlfriend who always tells him the same thing.

According to some accounts in Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide by Drs. Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko, it appears this isn’t always a mild effect, either: sometimes it really makes the sparks fly.

As you might expect, this can be bad news. Two people might fall madly in love, have a breathtaking romance, and then settle down into a pattern of gradually making each other miserable. Apart from breaking up, the best hope for a couple like this is often to get couples therapy–I’d be inclined to suggest couples schema therapy specifically–and to learn there not only how to handle their own emotional baggage better, but also how not to push the other person’s destructive buttons.

Here are a few more examples of schema chemistry:

  • A person who feels defective (the Defectiveness schema) gets together with a person who feels like people should be punished for even small mistakes (the Punitiveness schema)
  • A person with a sense of being better and more deserving than other people (the Entitlement schema) gets involved with someone who is constantly taking care of other people at the expense of their own needs (the Self-Sacrifice schema)
  • Someone who grew up feeling lonely and neglected in a house where there was very little nurturing or expression of love (the Emotional Deprivation schema) dates someone to whom expressing emotions seems unnecessary and disturbing (the Emotional Inhibition schema).

There are any number of combinations, given that there are 18 different schemas and a variety of ways to express each one. Fortunately, there are many other factors to bringing two people together than schema chemistry. Here’s hoping it’s not at work in your relationship! If it is, just becoming aware of how the two schemas interact may start to help. I’m working on a short, informal book on mental schemas that I hope will make it easier for people to gain insights on their own and others’ schemas; it should be out in November or December. For information on that, stay tuned.

Photo by jb_brooke

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11 Things Schema Therapy Tells Us About Living a Happy Life

States of mind

While I was compiling the schema therapy self-quiz that has run here at The Willpower Engine over the past week (to take it, start here with part 1), I began to realize that the principles behind the schemas amounted to some advice about how we can live happily and fulfillingly. This shouldn’t be surprising to me: after all, the whole point of learning about and working on mental schemas is to live a happier and more fulfilling life, so the fact that the schemas offer recommendations on how to do that shouldn’t be too shocking.

But I sometimes think about psychology the way I think many of us may think about it, as a non-judgmental, unopinionated body of knowledge. This, it seems, is wrong, and it makes sense that it’s wrong. After all, when we look to an area of knowledge to help better our lives, that area had better contain a sense of what “better” means.

Here are some of the ideas I found embedded in descriptions of some of the schemas. These conclusions are mine alone, though, and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Young (who originated schema therapy) or any psychologist whatsoever.

  1. Good relationships require trust, even when there’s some chance that trust will be betrayed.
  2. Being happy and doing well in the world begins with assuming we each have value. There does not have to be a reason we are valuable, although admittedly having solid reasons can be comforting.
  3. We can screw up any number of times and still have value as human beings.
  4. Somethings things go badly, and this is normal and in an important sense OK. It helps to be prepared for particularly bad situations if they’re likely, but it generally doesn’t help to preoccupy ourselves a lot with bad things that might happen.
  5. There is a place for each of us in human society, and it is useful and right and good for us each to seek out some support and some ways we can support others.
  6. When other people tell us things about ourselves, they are often wrong, no matter how certain they sound. (However, sometimes others can provide us with useful and accurate insights.)
  7. Valuing another person’s needs above or below our own often seems to lead to trouble.
  8. We all screw up sometimes, and we all do well at things sometimes.
  9. We aren’t entitled to anything at all: we start with nothing and do our best to get our needs met.
  10. It generally helps to give other people the same consideration we would want ourselves, even if it feels like we’re in a special situation that doesn’t apply to others.
  11. Being approved of is not a useful measure of how valuable a person is.

Photo by Adam Foster | Codefor

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What Are Your Mental Schemas? A Quiz, Part 3

Handling negative emotions

Here’s part 3 of the quiz on mental schemas. See Part 1 for more information about what this quiz might be able to tell you and why mental schemas are worth understanding, along with the first set of questions. You’ll find the second set of question in Part 2.

Do you feel as though you are set apart from the rest of the world in the sense of being superior?
Do you often feel as though you should be able to have certain things despite those things being impractical, harmful, or unavailable?
Does it sometimes seem to you that the rules that should apply to other people shouldn’t apply to you?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may be struggling with an Entitlement Schema.

Do you often find yourself making impulsive decisions you later regret?
Do you notice yourself making choices that you know at the time are bad ones?
Do you have trouble suffering through boredom or frustration, even for a worthy end?

These kinds of experiences may point to a Lack of Self-Control Schema.

Do you find you prefer to be told what to do rather than having to decide yourself?
Would you have trouble feeling loved and valuable if important people in your life did not approve of your actions, even though you felt your actions were right?
Do you often feel controlled or rebellious?

Feelings like these may suggest a Subjugation Schema is at work.

Do you tend to feel that meeting your own needs is less important than meeting the needs of others who are close to you?
Do you feel guilty when you spend time, effort, or resources taking care of your own needs?
Do you find it very hard to ask for or receive help?

If so, you may want to read about the Self-Sacrifice Schema.

Do you find you aren’t happy unless other people are happy with you?
Are you constantly working to win other people’s love?
Do you find rejection extremely painful?

These kinds of attitudes are common in people who have the Need for Approval Schema.

That completes the quiz. Did you find one or more schemas that you felt were descriptive of you? Seeing these schemas clearly can be the first step in overcoming them once and for all.

Photo by meddygarnet

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Mental Schemas #10: Entitlement

Handling negative emotions

This is the tenth in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.

While the articles in this series so far have been about schemas that I’ve seen mainly in other people’s lives, I’m all too familiar with the subject of today’s post, entitlement. This schema is sometimes referred to as “grandiosity” or “superiority,” but the version that I have experience with fits the term “entitlement” best: it’s the sense that you’re naturally owed something. People with the entitlement schema may feel as though there are things they should be getting regardless of how practical, reasonable, possible, or equitable that is. Entitlement is the sense that somehow, the world owes you a living. For some people, this goes with a sense of being superior to most other people, or of having a special status or destiny that means that the rules that apply to other people don’t apply to you.

Entitled to act like an idiot
An example: when I was young, money was very tight around our house. Being a Vermonter, I was very familiar with maple syrup, but since it was fairly expensive, we didn’t get much of it. My entitlement schema told me that this was unfair and inappropriate, and that I especially, considering my excellent qualities, deserved to have maple syrup pretty much whenever I liked. One morning I was up earlier than anyone in the house and was getting milk from the refrigerator for my morning cereal when I spied the syrup can. Instead of having the cereal, I took out a small glass and filled it–with maple syrup. Then I drank it. Finally! The maple syrup I deserved!

A lot of things didn’t seem to matter to me as I drank my glass of maple syrup. It didn’t occur to me that if this syrup were replaced, it would increase the family grocery bill in an uncomfortable way. It didn’t occur to me that the syrup would not be available to my siblings, who after all liked maple syrup just as much as I did (except for my older sister, who bizarrely and inexplicably preferred fake syrup). It did not seem to give me pause that after the first mouthful, the huge amount of sweetness began to be a bit sickening. And at that time I didn’t know, and by all the evidence wouldn’t have cared, that the jolt of simple sugars in my body would give me a dizzying sugar high followed by a crashing sugar low, probably with a headache in the bargain. No sir, I was entitled to that syrup, gosh darn it, and I was going to drink my syrup and like it.

I drank my syrup, but I definitely did not like it. I apparently could ignore the sickening effects as I downed the glass, but I couldn’t ignore the much-too-powerful taste afterward or the awful way it made me feel. After that incident, I couldn’t stand to eat anything maple for months.

Broken ideas for the entitled
Entitlement schemas are often traced to two kinds of childhoods. One version is the truly entitled child, who is constantly indulged and/or assured of having a special status above normal people. The other is of feeling deprived (regardless of whether or not the child can really be said to be deprived), in reaction to which the child develops a belief that something is owed them–often, again, with a sense of having a special status.

People with the entitlement schema get fixated on the idea that they should be able to have or do something, or should be treated a particular way–even if the thing they think they’re entitled to does them or others harm, isn’t available to others, isn’t practical, takes more resources than they can afford, etc. This amounts to a huge use of the broken idea called a “should statement”–that is, “I should be able to have this!” Entitlement can also come out as “emotional reasoning”: “I feel as though I have a right to this, so I do have a right to it.” These attitudes only reinforce feelings of deprivation and lead to disappointment, selfish behavior, and ignoring consequences.

Breaking out of an entitlement schema
I’m glad to say that while my entitlement schema still pesters me every once in a while, over time it’s been whittled down to almost nothing as I gradually was forced to face the results of actions that, over and over again, proved that feeling entitled wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Every time I stayed up well into the night on the idea that I was owed some time and then felt exhausted the next day, every time I ate food my body didn’t need and then didn’t feel healthy and energetic, and every time I was late because I thought I was entitled to do a few more things before I went out the door, I ran smack into the reality that the idea of “deserving” things is not only untrue and useless, but dangerous and painful. Our feelings about how appropriate we think it is to have something, regardless of where they come from, do not generally have any effect on how practical, fair, kind, appropriate, or beneficial having that thing will be.

So every time an entitled person’s schema claims “You should be able to have/do this!” in a situation where “this” is something that would be best to avoid, the response that will diminish the schema and help shape a healthier vision of reality is to redo that thought, to repair the broken idea. The repaired version will often be something like “I can see that I want that thing, but that doesn’t mean I have to get it, especially since it _____” (and here you list the things that matter to you that would be harmed by following through on the desire). In the case of my glass of maple syrup, that blank might have been filled with something like “will make me sick and I’ll regret it for months” or “will take scarce resources from my family.”

Like any schema, entitlement schemas supply plenty of opportunities to act embarrassingly or in ways that hurt ourselves or other people. What’s truly joyful is being able to break out of a schema by paying attention to our thoughts and shaping a future that will actually create happiness and fulfillment rather than being dragged down by the bad ideas we may have adopted long ago.

Photo by Sighthound

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