- Narcissism and entitlement are often thought of as inseparable qualities, an assumption challenged by a new study.
- People who like to keep you in suspense may have learned that they can flaunt social norms, so they keep doing so.
- Letting the entitled in your life know that you find their behavior unacceptable may help shape them into more considerate people.
You’ve set up a time to meet with a friend at a local coffee shop and so, because you’re a conscientious person, you’re at the appointed place when you’re supposed to be there. As the minutes tick by, you find yourself looking at everyone entering the shop, anxiously peering out the window for signs of your friend while continually checking your watch. Sure enough, your friend finally shows up, not even apologizing for making you wait, but you're just happy that they made it.
Consider another scenario. Rather than being late for an in-person get-together, your friend doesn’t reply to a text message you sent that clearly required a response. You’ve asked for an opinion and instead of providing it in a timely fashion, they take a couple of days to reply. During this time, all sorts of questions run through your mind. Was it inappropriate to ask for this opinion? Does your friend think your question was so silly it doesn’t dignify a reply? Eventually, you do get a reply, so you're just relieved that you didn't commit a faux pas.
Even so, and as much as you like your friend, this kind of behavior continues to annoy you. If you could only understand why this happens, maybe you could either learn to live with it or even help your friend become more considerate.
This tendency to keep others in suspense may be part of a larger pattern known as entitlement. According to a new study by Texas State University’s Brian Miller, people high in this quality show “the predisposition toward expecting or demanding more rewards or benefits than someone else regardless of one’s own contribution, effort or performance” (p. 1846). By keeping others in suspense, individuals high in this quality demand that others follow their schedule rather than comply with social niceties.
The Difference Between Entitlement and Narcissism
You probably assume that entitlement is just another form of narcissism. This is because, according to Miller, popular writing on the topic tends to assume that they are one and the same (e.g. Twenge & Campell, 2009). However, as Miller points out, although entitlement may be included in measures of narcissism, it can also show up as its own separate quality.
Your friend may have a strong sense of entitlement, then, but not fit the overall definition of a narcissist. Indeed, if you stop and think about it, your friend’s endearing qualities suggest that they lack the sense of grandiosity and manipulativeness that forms part of the pathology of the narcissist.
The Psychological Entitlement Scale (PES; Campbell et al., 2004) provides a way to probe into the qualities of the entitled separate from those of the narcissist. You can see what entitlement involves by rating yourself on a 1-7 scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree) on the following statements from the PES:
- I honestly feel I am more deserving than others.
- Great things should come to me.
- If I were on the Titanic, I would deserve to be on the first lifeboat.
- I demand the best because I deserve it.
- I do not necessarily deserve special treatment (reversed).
- I deserve more things in life.
- People like me deserve an extra break now and then.
- Things should go my way.
- I feel entitled to more of everything.
The average score on the PES in the original Campbell et al. sample was 31 (about 4 per item) with most individuals scoring between 23 and 39. In its initial validation study, the PES proved to predict a range of experimental outcomes such as deserving higher salaries, showing interpersonal aggression, being selfish and self-serving, and showing less empathy and respect toward others. There is not a specific question on “keeping others in suspense,” but as you can see from the items, the feeling that they deserve special treatment can lead people to feel that they don’t have to follow ordinary social norms that apply to everyone else.
Testing Entitlement’s Distinctive Qualities
The purpose of the TSU psychologist’s study was to determine how closely measures of narcissism and entitlement would relate independently to each other, and independently of other qualities that might be related to both of these qualities.
In particular, as Miller notes, there are problems involved in measuring entitlement; namely, that people don’t necessarily like to admit that they possess this undesirable quality. When you took the PES, how comfortable do you think you would have felt if you were turning your responses into a researcher who would then know just how poorly socialized you are? Indeed, both the PES and the most common measure of narcissism (including narcissistic entitlement), the Narcissism Personality Inventory (NPI) “measure a trait that is widely seen as a curse that affects a wide range of persons” (p. 1848). All the bad press about these traits, furthermore, doesn’t help.
To overcome the potential problem created by the desire to impress the researchers, Miller compared the relationship between these two measures not only with each other but with a scale tapping into this quality, known as “social desirability" (e.g. saying that you never tell a lie).
Finally, Miller was interested in determining how much response bias, or the tendency to use a particular pattern of answering the questionnaires, would contribute to the potential narcissism-entitlement relationship. To do so, he employed what might seem to you to be a rather odd measure, a questionnaire assessing “attitude toward the color blue.” What, you ask, might this be, and why would anyone bother to measure it? Consider these examples from an actual 8-item scale: “I prefer blue to other colors,” and “I really don’t like the color blue (reversed).” The way you respond to these questions, researchers believe, can provide insight into your response tendencies on the actual measures of interest (for the record, the average score on this scale was 4 out of 7).
To address the possible overlap among these measures, Miller recruited undergraduate samples who completed paper-and-pencil versions of the questionnaire packets across 3 separate studies. Although not ideal in terms of generalizing to the rest of the adult population, these samples nevertheless allowed for some control over the problems that can arise in online testing, where respondents may fail to take the task seriously.
Turning now to the findings, Miller reported that entitlement indeed emerged as its own personality trait separate from narcissistic entitlement although there was some overlap. This was due, in part, to the tendency of people to respond similarly to personality questionnaires, the quality tapped by the color blue test. With respect to the overlap of the basic concepts of entitlement and narcissism, the TSU author concluded that the two measures “are appropriately related but not necessarily interchangeable” (p. 1858).
How to Handle the Suspense Creator in Your Own Life
If the tendency to see themselves as deserving of special attention can emerge in people who aren’t necessarily narcissists, this can pave the way for you to approach people like that suspense-creating friend in your life. Seeing themselves as somehow outside the norms that apply to others, they may not have an inflated sense of self or be particularly malicious. It’s just that, for whatever reason, they’ve come to adopt a style that has worked for them. If they can navigate the world according to their own time schedule, and no one has called them on that, then why should they change?
It’s a great deal easier, when you think about it, to operate in ways that maximize your comfort and needs than to take the needs of others into account. You can show up when you feel like it, let messages languish unanswered on your phone or on email, eat when you please, and let others cater to you rather than vice versa. Additionally, you’ll be reinforced for this behavior because others will be happy when you finally do make your appearance.
To break through this self-perpetuating cycle requires that you not respond to their behavior with that happiness and relief. Call them on it and let them know that this is not okay. Even more to the point, what would happen if you didn’t wait for them? Might they realize that you’re a person who can’t and won’t be treated this way?
To sum up, if you view entitlement as involving a lack of attentiveness to society’s expectations, you’ll treat those who demonstrate this counter-normative attitude in a way that can shape them to be more conscious of how others are affected by their behavior. Narcissists are typically entitled but, importantly, not all who are entitled fit the narcissistic profile.
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Campbell, W. K., Bonacci, A. M., Shelton, J., Exline, J. J., & Bushman, B. J. (2004). Psychological entitlement: Interpersonal consequences and validation of a self-report measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 83(1), 29–45
Miller, B. K. (2021). Impact of social desirability and common method variance on two measures of entitlement. Psychological Reports, 124(4), 1845–1862. https://doi-org/10.1177/0033294120937439
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. Free Press