I remember a bumper sticker years ago that read, "My Inner Child Made Me Do It!" Apparently, rather than growing up, our "inner child" has now evolved into an "inner brat!" At least this is the basic thesis of an article in The Washington Post that I read awhile back. The article began with a pronouncement that "We are all entitled brats!" In light of the current financial/economic crisis, as well as the fact that we are now officially into the holiday shopping season (as marked by "Black Friday" last week), I think that you will find the idea of an "inner brat" timely, provocative, and, hopefully, meaningful.
Besides referring to proof of this new phenomenon on various television shows, including the so-called "reality show" variety, the newspaper article looked carefully at what is occurring in "real" life. Consider this: as consumers in a highly-technical society, we have come to expect efficiency and convenience, as well as instant gratification and quick turnarounds. In other words, "we want what we want and we want it now!" Moreover, we want what we want without aggravation, without hassles, without pain, and we want it "our way." And when our expectations are not met, such as when we become annoyed by inconveniences and inefficiencies (have you flown lately?), our moods are adversely affected as are our behaviors. In other words, we have found the stress enemy and, in large part, it is us!
Many "experts" argue that this change in expectations is primarily a generational thing, with members of the younger generations expecting much more choice and opportunities than their "elders," including baby-boomers. Most dramatic (and perhaps alarming), according to a study published in the Journal of Personality this year, is the rise of narcissism and entitlement among the younger age groups. Our "it's all about me" culture, suggests this study, increasingly emphasizes that we feel good about ourselves and favors the self -- selfishly -- over others. And the research data underscore that entitlement is a key part of narcissism, suggesting that humans tend to project on others and on "external forces" when things don't go the way that they would like. This, in turn, often antagonizes a situation because feeling entitled to something that you don't get leads to frustration, "bratty" behaviors, including aggression (for example, think about all of the rude behaviors we witness when driving, in customer service lines, and at airports), and, yes, increased stress.
It's a vicious cycle! The more that we feel entitled to something, the more dissatisfied we become when we don't get it (Note: this is a form of "paradoxical intention," which I introduced in a previous post, "Living with Meaning: Don't Work Against Yourself"). And in a society where advertising constantly reminds us that whatever we have is never enough, this vicious cycle is very hard to break, especially for those who, again, narcissistically feel that they are entitled to whatever their hearts desire. At least it seems that way, doesn't it?
According to psychologist Pauline Wallin, we need to "tame our inner brat" by realigning our expectations and squelching the nagging voice in our minds that fuels our dissatisfaction; in other words, that holds us "prisoners of our thoughts." And as I've already mentioned, the frustration that accompanies dissatisfaction leads, more often than not, to "bratty" behaviors and increased stress. (Stress, in turn, also fuels bratty behavior. Alas, there's that vicious cycle again!)
There are many things, of course, that we can do to "manage" and even relieve stress. In this connection, the HuffPo Living Section and its community of stakeholders offer a wide variety of remedies, practical techniques, and other supports to deal with both the symptoms and underlying causes of stress. With this support system in mind, I also recommend that we all take steps to tame our inner brat and shift our focus of attention away from ourselves, especially when we feel "entitled" to something (I refer to this principle as "dereflection" in my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, a concept and technique that I will discuss further in a future post). Let me quote Dr. Wallin, "If you're self-focused, you're not going to be happy even if you get your way. You're just going to be looking for the next thing to be upset about." As a result, you'll become even more stressed! Now how "bratty" is that?!