This is based on a simple belief: because I want something very much, I ought to have it. The basic idea is that the degree of your need justifies the demand that someone else provide it. The feeling is that there are certain things you are entitled to. Many people feel they are entitled to be sexually fulfilled, or feel emotionally or physically safe, or have a certain standard of living. Some people feel they are entitled to rest when they are tired, or never be alone, or have their work appreciated. The list of possible entitlements is endless.
The entitlement fallacy confuses desire with obligation. It says, “When I want something this much, you have no right to say no.” Strong feelings of entitlement deny others the freedom to choose. And this is how entitlement damages relationships. It demands that the other person give up his or her limits and boundaries for you. It says your need and your pain must come first, that the function of the relationship is to serve you.
Now, most of the time you would deny feeling that way and be quite offended if anyone were to accuse you of demanding that your needs come first. But the feeling of entitlement waxes and wanes. Sometimes you have no awareness of it. But when the needs are very strong, when the feeling of longing begins to engulf you, all you care about is getting what you want. For a little while the other person may become only an instrument to provide for you. These painful feelings of need may periodically tempt you to forget the other person’s equally important needs, his or her right to say no and set boundaries.
Exercise: Remember times you had to say no to another person’s strong desire—a time when someone was in love with you, wanted your money, your support, your energy. His or her desire felt as real and vital and legitimate and necessary as yours does to you. Now try to remember why you said no. Remember the ways that your needs were different or conflicted. Remember how important it was for you to set your limits and clarify what you were and were
not willing to do. You knew you had a right to your limits, you knew you had a right to say no because you needed something else.
1. “I am free to want, but he or she is free to say no.”
2. “I have my limits, and you have your limits.”
3. “I have the right to say no, and so do you.”
4. “My desire doesn’t obligate you to meet it.”