Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Entitlement

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 25, 2013

Meghan, fifty-six, is bitter that she does not have her mother’s life. She is bewildered as to how she did not marry a wealthy man, stay home, raise a family and then enjoy a prosperous life. Instead, she feels she “has to work, which is not what I signed up for.” she says with the anger of someone whose contract is violated. Meghan is smart, and with motivation, could have scored a professional career, but since she assumed that was not her fate, she never pursued higher education. When her three husbands let her down through drug use, mental illness and financial recklessness, she realized that she had to make a living. She found a great job and she now makes good money, but she is mad. She is not mad at her marriages or their disappointment, she is mad that she did not replicate the life she came from. This attachment to her mom, her connection to a pre-conceived notion of how her life “should be” is her biggest hindrance to inner peace. I wonder if her mom gave her the message that her mom’s life is an ideal, and anything short of that, for a woman, would be “second best”. Meghan, I suspect, is carrying forward her mom’s insecurities, along with her mom’s belief that women who work are not as “lucky” as the women who don’t. Meghan cannot see how work is an opportunity for self-expression, for autonomy and self-esteem. Instead, she views work as a “dreadful” necessity of life. Freud would say that Meghan is fixated on her infantile objects (her mom), and as such, she cannot expand  her ego to contemplate the different ways in which people interface with their world. She can only see that because her mother could have a comfortable life with her dad, while not working outside the home, then she, as her mother’s daughter should have the same life. This very limited view of her life, one based on her childhood attachments, causes Meghan internal turmoil and stress. She cannot enjoy her job, or if she does, she quickly reminds herself that she “should” not have to be working. My job is to help expand Meghan’s world view, to help her see that life comes in so many flavors and her journey is necessarily different than her mom’s. I want to help her understand how this “should” came about; how is it that she feels entitled to her mom’s life. Further, what makes her think that she would be happy with her mom’s life. Maybe it suited her mom, but it would not suit her. Maybe she is fortunate with her work and so maybe her anger could rotate to gratitude. On the other hand, maybe she will stay angry, as her anger is how she stays attached to her mom. Maybe her mom unconsciously needs Meghan to envy her life. The depth of this attachment will, in part, determine how much I can help Meghan see her unconscious entitlement book. The journey, the psychotherapy, begins.

11 Responses to “Entitlement”

  1. Jon said

    We all play the game of “wouldn’t it be nice if…” Sadly, for Meghan, this game morphed into a mode of “my life should be…” Even more sadly, the game become “Why the #$% isn’t my life…” You explore some of the possible reasons for Meghan’s sad decline into this mode of thought. It is best to understand how that came about. However, in order for Meghan to achieve some inner peace, she will have to face the hard facts of this world that her resources are finite and are not unconditionally presented to her. Like most of us in this world, she will have to earn her money. Hopefully, she will find some joy and meaning in this part of the human condition.

  2. Ashana M said

    Meghan isn’t alone in this sentiment. Most of us hope to have more than our parents had or at least as much, and for many of us our parents told us daily that they were doing what they were doing so that we would have more. But in reality, middle class people have less than their parents did: they have less job security, lower salaries in real dollars, less chance of being able to purchase a home, and less time to spend with their families. The frustrations of working and middle class whites are real and it is one cause of the rise of the radical right at least in Europe. They have no viable recourse or outlet for their grievances.

    I’m also reminded that when Meghan was needing to plan for college, she was not developmentally mature enough to make that decision entirely on her own. She needed her parents or at least school officials to help her understand that she did need college and then to guide her through the process. Her parents let her down. That isn’t to say that some people don’t attend college much later when they realize they should have, but it is very difficult to do that.

    I don’t think it’s so difficult to understand why she feels entitled to her mom’s life. Unless our parents have done exceptionally well, nearly all of us expect a better life than our parents, especially if we take the course of action our parents and other adults tell us will get us there. The difficulty is accepting that we were misled–that those who guided us were wrong in telling us what to expect, and that the world changed more quickly than anyone anticipated. Most people I know of my generation or close to it are disappointed with the lifestyle they are able to lead. Most of us have less than we were promised and less than we used to. They adjust, but they are frustrated. Meghan may be a bit extreme in thinking she shouldn’t have to work at all, but she is by no means alone. In an earlier post, you wrote about losses. This is her loss that she needs to grieve–the loss of expectations for her future, to have the kind of life that she would have wanted and that she felt she was promised.

    • Shirah Vollmer said

      Thanks, Ashana. As with my comment to Jon, I would add on to your comments by saying that if Meghan could develop a more mature relationship with her mom, then she could give up the anger and take charge of her life in ways that were meaningful to Meghan, and unrelated to her mom’s life. It is the infantile tie to her mom which maintains her anger, or so I would wonder.

      • Ashana M said

        From the little you’ve written about her mother, I would guess that a mature relationship isn’t possible. Meghan seems to be trapped in very child-like relationship with her because that is the best that can be hoped for given her mother’s capacity for relating. Again, I think it comes down to loss. She will need to grieve the potential for a satisfying, adult relationship with her mother as well as the loss of her expected future. That’s a lot. I suspect she has a long, sad road ahead of her.

        • Shirah said

          Yes, I agree that maturity always involves loss, and I agree that this can be a very sad road. Whether she is trapped or not, I am not so sure about. Thanks.

          • Ashana M said

            Trapped may not be the right word, but maintaining a childlike relationship with her mother might seem like the best among a set of almost equally unpleasant options. Sometimes I’m glad my life has been as simple as it has. I don’t envy Meghan her choices.

            • Shirah said

              Yes, families can create very mixed feelings, and in Meghan’s case there is warmth but there is also a sense of constriction.

  3. Shelly said

    In your post, you don’t mention Meghan’s relationship with her mom. You only suppose what her relationship to her mom must be: that her anger is what ties her to her mother. Does Meghan have an open, loving relationship with her, or is it full of conflict and competition? Does Meghan yearn for what her mother has, i.e. a husband-wife relationship where the husband takes care of the wife such that the wife does not need to worry financially and actually about how to support their lifestyles? Perhaps Meghan saw, when growing up, that the husband took charge of the family income, and the wife took care of the home. This then, became her inner voice and the model with which she judges her own life. Meghan works hard every day, hardly seeing her husband and family, and her husband probably is unable to support the family alone. Meghan may be bitter because her mother modeled the lifestyle she envisioned for herself, never letting Meghan know that in order to obtain the lifestyle she envisioned required her to entirely close herself off from everything and everyone other than her husband. Including her children. Meghan is not her mother and therefore is bitter.

    • Shirah said

      Yes, if Meghan believed she was “entitled” to her mom’s life, then it makes sense that she would feel bitter. The origins of these “entitled” feelings are not clear to me, but one hypothesis is that her mother fed her this entitlement, which created a life-long issue for Meghan. As Meghan matures, she should come to understand that although she felt “entitled” to her mom’s life, in point of fact, no one is “entitled” to anything and therefore, one has to create one’s own existence with both internal and external resources. With this attitude comes not only an appreciation for one’s inner power, but also a deeper appreciation for how others can create a life for themselves, without needing to identify with one’s infantile attachments. This expansion of the ego, as Freud would say, allows for a self-esteem which is both strong and resilient because it does not make dangerous assumptions about entitlements.

      • Shelly said

        Does Meghan feel “entitled” to the lifestyle that her mother modeled? Or does she feel that what her mother modeled was the norm, and therefore what she lives is not normal? That the husband should be the breadwinner and the wife should take care of home and hearth? It is not infantile to wish for an easier life. It is a matter of perspective. Working for other people does not necessarily mean a life for oneself: one must constantly bow to another master, if you will.

        • Yes and yes. Meghan feels that her mom’s life is the only life she ever imagined, and as such, her need to work makes her feel bitter. It is not so much that Meghan wishes for an “easier” life, but rather she wishes for her mother’s life, which she does perceive as “easier” but that is not her motivation. Yes, work can make people angry, as one loses control and this causes resentment, but staying home, can do this too, depending on whether one is being true to oneself. In other words, each person must find the balance that makes him happy, and that usually means looking inwards and not outwards. Meghan’s external view that she would enjoy what her mom enjoys is limited by Meghan’s seemingly lack of understanding of what she needs to make herself happy. She is not her mom and as such, she needs different activities to make her happy.

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