One of my clients exclaimed: “No matter how much I do for my children, no matter how much I give, they always want more. They’re demanding and rude if they don’t get their way. There’s no gratitude.”
Another client told me: “My wife doesn’t appreciate how hard I work to provide a good life for her. It seems like it’s never good enough.”
These descriptions, along with many others, have convinced me of the truthfulness of Dr. Steve Maraboli’s statement: “A sense of entitlement is a cancerous thought process. It is void of gratitude and can be deadly to our relationships.” Entitlement on the part of one person leads to resentment, hurt, and feeling unappreciated on part of another.
Encouraging love or extinguishing it?
It’s no secret that love is the bedrock of happy families; acts of service and gratitude provide the clearest outward expression of that feeling. Service conveys love, becauseit is a voluntary act expressing concern for the comfort and well-being of another. Gratitude conveys love via appreciation as well as recognition that the service was offered by choice.
Entitlement and expectation, on the other hand, convey no love outwardly, nor do they encourage it inwardly. An act done for another out of expectation is not offered as voluntary, loving service; it is done grudgingly, out of fear of disappointing the other, or to avoid a negative consequence. If the receiver feels entitled to the gift or act, he or she usually fails to recognize it as an expression of love, getting upset if it’s not received but ungrateful when it is.
How to promote gratitude
In your relationships, you can counter entitlement by allowing others to serve you and expressing gratitude whenever possible. Be sure to give, serve, and help frequently so that you don’t fall into a routine of just taking. As you do so, you’ll likely see that others begin to reciprocate. With your children, clarify with both word and action that privileges are not rights.
My children, for example, understand that they only rights they have from us are shelter, clothing, and food (and even then, if they don’t eat what’s been prepared then they don’t eat at all). Everything else is a privilege that we offer voluntarily as an act of love. Abuse of those privileges, either by acting ungrateful, mistreating their possessions, or refusing to clean up, leads to loss of privileges for a time. What’s more, we’re quick to express praise when they behave respectfully and responsibly, reinforcing that behavior. Generally, they’ve become polite, grateful children as a result.
During Thanksgiving and always, it’s my hope that all of us will experience greater love within our homes by cultivating an attitude of gratitude, which will dispel the damaging sense of entitlement and replace it with appreciation.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.