The connection between narcissism and entitlement is well known even casually and colloquially. We all know of that loud mouthed narcissist who feels he deserves special treatment, or to be let in somewhere just because of who he is – “do you know who I am?!”
But entitlement isn’t always this overt and obvious with narcissists, even though it is ALWAYS present (it’s one of the 9 DSM traits of narcissistic personality disorder, so it’s built in to the condition). Sometimes, it’s more subtle, and implied by the way the narcissist acts rather than verbally stated.
In this article, we’re going to cover the connection between narcissism and entitlement in more detail – obvious and subtle examples of it, how it forms in narcissists, plus some real life examples. The bottom line is that you will always see entitlement displayed in some form by narcissists, and it comes from a sense of being special, unique and superior, that’s often imprinted into them from a very early age by dysfunctional parenting patterns.
Similarly, the prognosis for remedying this toxic personality trait is not particularly good in full blown narcissists, so the prospects for change are not good – it’s the way they have always been and the way they’ll continue to be going forward, barring some huge intervention.
Let’s look at the entire issue of narcissists and entitlement – the what, why, and how – the explain why.
Signs & Symptoms Of Entitlement With Narcissists
Entitlement is really one of key cornerstones or pillars of the narcissistic personality, arguably along with exploitation.
Here are some common ways this core trait of entitlement can manifest with narcissists.
- A sense that they can have, take and use whatever or whomever they want, without needing to show appreciation or gratitude, or say thanks (“why would I need to? I deserve it anyway because I’m “superior” is the general attitude)
- A feeling that the normal rules that apply to others, do not apply to them, because their are superior and “different”.
- With more overt narcissists, there will often be a sense that they deserve to “jump the queue” or be treated with VIP status in customer service/retail/venue settings, getting special treatment and concessions other people do not get. Narcissist customers can be very awkward and demanding.
- A feeling they should never be refused or told “no”.
- More boisterous narcissists will also try to bully their way to special treatment as a customer with a “do you know who I am?” type tirade. A feeling that they’re entitled to special treatment just because of who they are.
- A sense that they do not need to ever apologize for bad behavior or poor treatment of others.
- Narcissists who trampled over other in the business world to advance their own position will similarly feel no remorse for their behavior and see it as totally normal and acceptable (“why wouldn’t it be OK, I deserve to get to the top” or “just business”).
- A lack of respect for the boundaries, space, property and resources of others. The most extreme narcissists are literally incapable of seeing that there are other people with wants/needs/feelings separate to their own.
- A lack of humility, appreciation or gratitude in any area of life. A sense that any success, rewards or riches do not need to be earned and just belong to them by default.
- A sense that they automatically deserve to have their lifestyle supported by parents/lovers/spouses forever more (narcissists often drain the resources of parents and partners, with laziness and entitlement combining together in a parasitic lifestyle)
- Most narcissists will rarely, if ever, say thankyou to someone for helping them out or for acts of generosity. I have known it happen, but it’s very rare, and most of the time, simple gestures such as saying please and thanks are lacking.
- More generally, when their entitlement and lack of appreciation annoys someone and this annoyance is expressed to them, there will be a sense of bafflement on their part (“why wouldn’t it be OK what I just did? I’m the best, the greatest, number 1, I deserve it”).
The entire motif that underlies all of this is “why can’t/shouldn’t I have/use/be able to do this. I’m unique, I’m perfect, I’m special, I’m God. I can do whatever I like, I can have whatever I like. Why wouldn’t it be OK (to act the way I do?)”. Hence the seeming obliviousness and confusion you’ll see in them when it’s pointed out to them they may be acting inappropriately. To them, it’s perfectly normal and natural for them to believe they can have and do whatever they want, and this is driven by their grandiose, false sense of self.
A narcissist will become really enraged if their “entitlement” bubble is burst and they are told “no” or made to wait in line with everyone else
Why Are Narcissists So Entitled?
Once we observe the entitlement we see with narcissists, the logical follow up question is WHY are they like this? What happened in their upbringing to make them act and think in such an entitled way?
The key clue to this comes down to how the narcissistic personality is formed when it’s full blown narcissism (NPD).
There are many different theories and explanations for the formation of narcissism, but one plenty good enough working model for explaining entitlement is given in the Sam Vaknin/Richard Grannon school of thought on NPD (Vaknin in particular is an authority on this, having been diagnosed as a narcissist twice, and has huge knowledge of personality disorders in general).
Here’s an overview (as regard the formation of entitlement, the bolded points are the most relevant):
- Narcissism is often thought to originate from excessive un-boundaried spoiling and objectification in childhood, or else from an alternating pattern where one parent berates and abuses, whilst the other spoils the child to try and compensate (the spoiling is critical here, because it’s teaching the child they can have whatever they want, whenever they want, which is already ingraining entitlement into their personality very early on)
- Common motifs here are a message of “you’re special” (in excess), “you’re important”, “you’re superior”. Sometimes there may be over the top messianic talk of the child’s “mission” or “purpose”, or of being “sent by God”. Again, these motifs are important because they’re ingraining this sense of superiority into the child, from which entitlement can very easily also form (“I deserve anything I want because I’m me”)
- If this happens over a prolonged period of time, it will crush the real self and identity of the child. An image is being projected onto them that isn’t real.
- The common factor here is objectification – whether being abused or idealized, the child is treated not as a real human being but as an object to be used for the parent’s gratification.
- Over time the child’s real self is discarded, and a “narcissistic shell” self is presented to the world in it’s place.
- The real human emotions of the child are also hidden away inside the narcissistic shell.
- Over time, these authentic emotions atrophy and die inside the shell.
- From this point on, you have full blown NPD, where the person can engage and interact with others in a seemingly normal way on the surface, but where there are no real human emotions left.
- NPDs are then simply robots operating from a series of defense mechanisms designed to prop up their false, grandiose, shell self. They are constantly seeking “supply” from others to do this. The deeply ingrained entitlement becomes part of this shell self, with a feeling that they can have and deserve anything at any time propping up their grandiose false self, and warding off the actual deep seated feelings of shame and worthlessness.
- The corollary of this is that they are psychologically allergic to any kind of real, authentic emotions or human engagement. As Vaknin himself points out, narcissism can be seen as a denial of the true self
Therefore, you can see that whatever is encouraged from a very early age in a child’s development will become a firmly ingrained trait in the person in adulthood. It’s the dysfunctional and excessive sense of specialness and superiority that’s particularly harmful in contributing towards the entitlement you’ll see in adult narcissists.
Entitlement As An Unconscious Coordinate With Narcissists
Whilst we all know of the loud-mouth foghorn “do you know who I am” narcissist who demands to push ahead in the store or club, and can perhaps laugh at it because it’s such a common stereotype, it’s also true that entitlement isn’t always quite so overt and immediately obvious with a lot of narcissists.
Oftentimes, it’s more cloaked and concealed, and not stated openly, but simply implied and expressed through the way they behave and treat others. In other words, while they may never openly say they’re entitled to special treatment, it’s still clearly evident they believe this through the entire way they act and behave in the world.
It’s an unconscious coordinate they live by. It’s a deeply rooted belief they stubbornly cling onto, even if they don’t say it openly and may deny it if confronted.
In other words, whether the narcissist admits it or not, and however well they may have tried to conceal it and put on a convincing front act, they will always have a strong sense of entitlement that will manifest in the way they live and interact with others.
This can also be the case with more so called covert narcissists, who aren’t the loud, boisterous, obnoxious type of narcissist that can be more easily spotted, but instead more fragile, withdrawn and seemingly vulnerable.
Even though these narcissists will never be the loud ones trying to push ahead in the queue or be the center of attention, you’ll still find entitlement in these people, just less initially apparent. They may feel more privately entitled to your money, attention, resources, time, repeated forgiveness no matter what they do, and so on. These people always think they are special, unique and superior, and deserve special treatment in some way, whether they’re overt or covert.
The bottom line on this is that entitlement will ALWAYS be present in all narcissists, just not so readily apparent in more covert narcissists. People show what their real values and beliefs are through action over time, and entitlement will always start to reveal itself with narcissists.
An Example Of Narcissistic Entitlement: Tiger Woods
Perhaps the best real life account of the entitlement of a narcissist (even more covert ones) is given in Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian’s superb biography of Tiger Woods from 2018. Wood’s narcissistic traits are well documented throughout the book, including the entitlement, which is clearly on display, if not through Wood’s words, then definitely through his behavior.
He’s a perfect example of a narcissist living with entitlement as a constant unconscious co-ordinate in their life, of it just being self evident through his behavior and actions, even if never stated verbally. Woods was never the loud, boisterous type of narcissist to get the mega-phone out and demand attention, but his entitlement was every bit as evident through the way he conducted himself in his twenties and thirties.
One example is of how he stayed in the home of local school teacher Peggy Lewis every week in April that he attended the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, from 1998-2002. Benedict and Keteyian document how he never showed any thanks, appreciation or gratitude towards Lewis for the use of her home, nor even showed any basic respect for her home or property.
After his stay in 2002, where Lewis returned home to find her place a total wreck yet again, the bio documents how Lewis finally lost patience with Wood’s lack of respect and entitled attitude:
“It was bad enough that Tiger had never paid her for the use of her home or left her a tip, but what really upset her was the basic lack of respect and appreciation. Year after year she would return home to find her personal property damaged or destroyed, none of which Tiger had apologized for or offered to replace. When Tiger’s assistant got on the phone, Lewis unloaded.
‘He’s not allowed in my house again’, Lewis told her, launching into a list of grievances (of damage to her property each year Tiger stayed)…….There had been Sunday nights when Lewis had to go to a hotel because Tiger was still in her house. It irritated her that in those instances, Tiger still didn’t offer to pay her expenses.
But it was the ($100+ worth of) calls to Sweden (using her home phone) that pushed her over the edge. Tiger was the richest athlete in the world. Would it really be so difficult to leave behind some money and a note explaining they had used the phone?….
Tiger’s inability to show gratitude, apologize, or express appreciation was rooted in his warped upbringing. His mother pampered him like a prince, and his father rarely uttered the words thank you or I’m sorry. Tiger learned early and often that his needs were all that mattered. His unapologetically self centered attitude was critical to his success in golf, but it had an utterly devastating impact on the way people perceived him. Sadly, Woods didn’t seem to care about the latter part. It didn’t matter that someone like Peggy Lewis would have adored him for life if he’d simply acknowledged or thanked her”
Benedict & Keteyian, Tiger Woods, 2018, pp.235-6
Hopefully readers can through this account see how the entitlement of a narcissist is often just “there”, ubiquitous, ambient, built in to the entire way they live their life, even if it’s never stated openly. They truly believe and act as though they can have and do whatever they want (even to other people’s property), without suffering consequences or needing to apologize.
Benedict and Keteyian also document another incident where Peggy, upon first meeting Tiger, enthusiastically introduced herself to him and extended her hand, only for him to completely ignore her gesture and cooly “blow her off”. And this is someone who was offering him the use of her home for 4 days every year! Such is the entitlement of narcissists.
Wood’s swing coach from 2004-2010, Hank Haney, also documents a similar sense of entitlement with him:
Self-centeredness went with the territory. Whenever I joined Elin and Tiger for a meal in their home, the moment Tiger finished, he simply got up and left without a word. If you were with him in a restaurant, when he was done – and he habitually ate fast – you were done. Whenever we got takeout food from outside the club (where he lived), I’d go pick it up, and I always paid”.
Hank Haney, The Big Miss
You see the same entitled trait, where his needs were all that mattered, and he seemed literally oblivious to the fact other people exist apart from him, with separate needs and wants.
Can Entitlement Be Cured With Narcissists?
The entitlement of a narcissist is very obnoxious to deal with, but can it ever be fixed? Can a narcissist be made to see how entitled they are and tone down this toxic personality trait?
As with so many questions around narcissism, it depends on whether the person has merely narcissistic traits or full blown narcissistic personality disorder, but in the latter case, you can pretty much give up hope.
Full blown narcissists do not change their behavior, therefore the traits they display, including entitlement, will continue right through their life.
One important indicator of this I’ve noted is that Patrick Carnes specialized in-patient program for sex addiction is specifically called Gratitude. I think a large part of the reason for this is the recognition that narcissism and sex addiction often overlaps, with many addicts being high powered narcissists used to being in control, and therefore the entire program is centred on reducing this sense of entitlement with sex addicts (that the normal rules do not apply to them) and returning to a sense of authentic gratitude (for life, connections, intimacy, what they already have etc).
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean such programs can always cure deep rooted narcissism, or the entitlement that goes along with it. It certainly didn’t with Tiger Woods, who completed Carnes’s Gratitude program in early 2010, and yet was reported by his swing coach to be no easier to work with, nor more forthcoming or gracious, even after intensive treatment (see our article on Woods for more on this).
Rather, re-wiring and curing full blown narcissism, and therefore the entitlement, if it can be done at all, takes many years of intensive (multiple sessions per week) psychotherapy. And even then, it may only reduce the narcissistic traits somewhat, including entitlement, but not really cure someone on a core level. It may only modify and improve outer behaviors, not the core of who a person is, once they’re in middle age.
Specifically regarding entitlement, a long period of patient, skilful psychotherapy may help someone with narcissistic personality disorder realize that it pays to be more gracious and show more appreciation to people.
Therefore they may be able to modify their outer behavior more, to:
- Realize they are NOT “special”, and therefore not entitled to special treatment, just because of who they are.
- Say please and thankyou more often
- Show more general appreciation for acts of kindness and generosity from others.
- Show more appreciation for people who have helped the person along in life in key ways (jobs, connections, friends, contracts, deals, mentorship, coaching etc)
- Show more gratitude and appreciation for basic things in life that they do have and which others in the world are not so fortunate to have (good health, mobility, comfortable standard of living, life opportunities etc).
- Show more respect for the property of others.
- Recognize that other people, with separate wants, feelings and needs, exist as well as them, and therefore to be more patient and understanding when they’re not “first in line” in certain scenarios, and not act in such inconsiderate ways towards others
However, it’s best not the raise your hopes too high with a narcissist, especially once they are in their thirties, forties and beyond, and their sense of entitlement is firmly embedded into their psyche. Also, not many people have the time or resources required to undergo the length of psychotherapy required to really start chipping away and reforming these narcissistic traits into something better. It’s going to cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even after many years, with full blown narcissists, the results may only be modest changes in outer behavior.
For most everyday narcissists without the resources to do this, they aren’t going to go to therapy unless a major life crisis or upheaval forces them to, and they’re likely to remain awkward, inconsiderate people right through their lives