A client once told me a story about how her narcissistic mother would never stand in lines. She was too important and had no patience. She also liked to gamble, but when she went to casinos she immediately got a wheelchair, though she was clearly not disabled, so that she could be pushed to the front of the line. This same mother would stand in the middle of the aisle at grocery stores and ask perfect strangers, "Could you find this for me?"
A recent story bowled me over with no pins standing. The daughter of a narcissistic mother had just had a home birth and her mother was there to help. Five hours after the birth while the young mother was nursing the baby on the couch, her mother asked her to get her a snack because she was hungry and so tired!
What is entitlement? It is the unreasonable expectation that one should receive special treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations. For the narcissist, they come first. They are unable to feel empathy towards others and therefore they operate from their own need base. When they speak, others are to jump. They somehow believe they are special and unique and should be treated so. Another client reports the example of going out to dinner with her family. She says her mother treats the wait staff like serfs in her personal kingdom. "She truly acts like she is the queen of the lizard lounge." Yet another sign of narcissistic behavior rearing its strange and ubiquitous head.
Where does this sense of entitlement come from and what can we learn from it? As parents in a difficult time, how do we keep from raising entitled kids? Are we spoiling our children? Is our culture continuing to give messages that it's all about you and you deserve the best and you deserve it now? Is instant gratification a norm with recent technology and every app and piece of knowledge at our fingertips in a New York minute?
Some document that narcissists are like six-year-olds. They were emotionally arrested in development at an early age. Where does this come from? Were they spoiled? Many say there was too much focus on self-esteem and coddling children and the parenting models need to change to a focus on accountability. But, where does empathy fit into this model?
Narcissists are brewed in families where feelings are denied, projected and not dealt with. The children are not attended to emotionally. Maybe they are given lots of goodies, play every sport imaginable and always wear designer labels. And, some were just plain ignored. In both cases their feelings were not important. "A child too, can never grasp the fact that the same mother who cooks so well, is so concerned about his cough, and helps so kindly with his homework, in some circumstance has no more feeling than a wall of his hidden inner world." Alice Miller. If a child does not learn to identify feelings and have those feelings validated and acknowledged, that child does not learn to trust him or herself. If someone cannot tune into their own feelings and learn to responsibly process those feelings, how can they have empathy for others?
A recent clinical experience working with eight and nine year old girls was enlightening. These sweet little girls were developing cliques of buddies and speaking and acting awful to those who did not belong. Were they becoming bullies? Were they entering the "mean girls" drama? One can lecture about being nice to others. One can read them books about being a good friend. Some use punishment. What really works? Empathy for others comes when the child can feel their own feelings of being rejected and left out. Having those feelings validated makes them feel real. Then they can better understand the feelings of the "left out" group of kids. They can use the skills they used for themselves to understand the others and it makes more sense to them. Without this, they tend to normally focus on the issue of being accepted or not.
When adults feel stressed and overwhelmed, and who doesn't these days, what is the magical key to taking care of self and not acting like a six-year old who deserves immediate attention? If that six-year old suddenly takes center stage, there is a risk that others will be treated poorly. Think road rage. Think reactions to poor customer service. Think dealing with incompetence in the business world. We all know and have experienced these frustrations. We can't change others. But, we can tune into self. We can give self-compassion and gently deal with our own feelings and as soon as we do, it has a calming effect. It also instantly helps to see the concerns and plight of others.
Where did empathy go? Where did self-compassion go? If we want to change an entitled world and rail against the unrelenting rise in narcissism and entitlement both in ourselves and our parenting, we need to bring back the much needed empathic responses to self and others.
"It's surprising how many persons go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you're not comfortable within yourself you can't be comfortable with others." Sydney J. Harris
Additional Resources for Recovery:
Resource Website: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com
Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book
Audio Book: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book
Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/workshop-overview-healing-the-daughters-of-narcissistic-mothers
Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride
“Is this your Mom?” Take the survey: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/narcissistic-mother