Are Your Ideals Causing Your Suffering?

Are Your Lofty Ideals Causing Your Suffering?

Here’s a bit of balderdash from the world wide web, and, well, our world wide heart. It shows up in blog post advice, sales copy, and all over inspirational posters. It shows up in your church, the conversation at your happy hour table, and on the phone with your best friend. It begins with two highly enticing words.

You deserve.

It sounds so good, doesn’t it? So axiomatic. So soothing. So right. It represents the way things should be, the way things ought to be, the way things can be. You deserve is a statement of ideals. But there’s an important distinction to make to prevent taking these two words too far and ending up with a sense of entitlement.

Take the inspirational poster that says, “Respect yourself enough to know that you deserve the very best.” Understood philosophically, this is an encouragement not to settle for less than our best and highest good in every area of life (though it assumes we always know what that is... Ahem.) Understood personally as a judgment of rights, this becomes justification for unrealistic thinking and demands.  After all, my self-respect is intrinsically linked to my having the very best. Right?

So, while you deserve can be an empowering statement if taken philosophically, it can be defeating where it’s taken personally. Where you feel entitled to something and don’t have it, you will feel oppressed. That makes you perfectly positioned to rebel in response to that perceived oppression, and to feel justified in that rebellion. 

That might look like anger you have trouble controlling. It might look like rigorous expectations that you place on others (or yourself) that you are just sure are completely reasonable. It might look like self-indulgence, or self-repression. It might look like accepting the oppression of another in order to maintain a self-delusion that you already have the ideal. Just ask any woman who has escaped an abusive relationship that she used to tolerate in the name of “love.”  

As humans being, it’s not a question of if we have pockets of entitled thinking, it’s where. What do you feel entitled to? Here's a short list of common

  1. Money.
  2. Romance.
  3. Companionship.
  4. Peace and quiet.
  5. Children.
  6. Obedient children.
  7. Your dream.
  8. Healthy body.
  9. Close-knit family.
  10. A great job.
  11. A profitable business.
  12. Security.
  13. Sex.
  14. Understanding.
  15. Human touch.
  16. A new _______.
  17. Beauty (your own or another’s).
  18. Status.
  19. Freedom.
  20. Admiration.
  21. A break.
  22. Time alone.
  23. Clarity.
  24. Safety.
  25. Friends.
  26. Loyalty.
  27. Acceptance.
  28. Access.
  29. Comfort.
  30. Enough.

Understanding the ideal leads to innovation, to empathy, and to justified, organized, and fervent revolution. Knowing the ideal leads to a growth mindset. But expecting the ideal leads to demands, indignation, to oppressing and being oppressed, and to rebellious sedition. Feeling entitled to the ideal leads to a scarcity mindset.

Where you have an entitlement mindset you are vulnerable:

to temptation

to offending

to harming

to compromise

to allowing

to enabling

to tolerating

to disillusionment

Set your mind to discovering what is ideal, but when you find it, don’t expect it, don’t demand it, don’t easily believe anyone who says you personally deserve it right now. Just work towards it.

Lacking something we desire isn't something we should always escape. Unfulfilled desires are friends of your growth because they cause you to rethink your assumptions about life. They motivate meaningful introspection. They force innovation. Lack doesn’t have to cause suffering.

Sometimes lack leads change.