The Roots of Entitlement in Domestic Violence

                                              

entitled photo

If you have led domestic violence groups, you have surely had conversations about entitlement.  It is common to hear group participants discuss entitlement beliefs and attitudes such as, “I am in charge because I am the man”, or “I make the money, so I get to decide how it’s spent”.  Facilitators have been coached through the years to help participants examine these entitled beliefs to help participants pursue a more equal, non-violent relationship.  While entitled beliefs are commonplace in intervention classes, facilitators do not often recognize how these beliefs can come from different sources.   Understanding the different roots of entitlement can be useful in intervening with those who batter and can help to elevate safety for those living with an abusive individual.

Common thought explains that entitlement originates as a result of social status and privilege and contributes to oppression.  Those who hold power positions in a society often feel “entitled” to maintain that power by using whatever means necessary.  Those who are oppressed are victims of the more powerful group’s privilege and entitlement. An example would be men’s violence against women being explained as driven by entitlement and privilege.  Privilege and oppression certainly breed entitlement, (or vice versa) but it is noteworthy that there are people who live without much privilege in society but are steadfast in their own entitlement beliefs.  People can have a high degree of privilege and hold few, if any, entitled beliefs.  Additionally, within oppressed groups, there are those who show rigid entitlement beliefs. Obviously, privilege is not the only source of entitlement.

 People can have a high degree of privilege and hold few, if any, entitled beliefs.  Additionally, within oppressed groups, there are those who show rigid entitlement beliefs.

While privilege is one source of entitled beliefs, these beliefs can also be rooted in trauma.  When entitlement is rooted in trauma, it is experienced as an “equal and opposite reaction” to intolerable experiences of childhood.  If someone felt intensely weak or helpless in childhood, they might vow to “never feel that way again”.  They might dedicate their lives to being in control and avoiding vulnerability at all costs. This makes them potentially dangerous in relationships. It is often easy to identify the beliefs born out of trauma by asking a few questions when the belief surfaces.  “What would it say about you if you were not in control?” or “Do you remember a time when you were weak and helpless?”  Exploring the belief in this way will often expose a root source of the entitled belief.

Entitlement can be an important indicator of other challenges lurking below the surface that, left unchecked, can leave victims of domestic violence in further danger.

Finally, those who struggle with the mental illness of narcissistic personality disorder often carry entitled beliefs.  Narcissistic individuals can be extremely dangerous in domestic violence situations. While many of those who batter carry some narcissistic traits, it is a much smaller group that have the disorder.  Interestingly, one of the known circumstances that can contribute to narcissism is a history of child abuse and other forms of trauma. In addition to entitlement, other basic traits that facilitators may see in narcissistic participants include:

  • Lives in a fantasy world that supports their delusions of grandeur
  • Grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Needs constant praise and admiration
  • Exploits others without guilt or shame
  • Frequently demeans, intimidates, bullies, or belittles others

Of course, socialization, trauma and mental health concerns are not 3 distinct categories. They commonly intersect in some way that makes intervention even that much more challenging. Entitlement can be an important indicator of other challenges lurking below the surface that, left unchecked, can leave victims of domestic violence in further danger.

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