Esteem versus Entitlement

Recently I read an article highlighting the struggle psychologists were having in trying to find the line between healthy self-esteem and an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Others have been pondering the “Lake Woebegone” effect for a while now. (You know, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”) I once even saw a newspaper column declaring that it was all Mr. Rogers’ fault for telling children they were special.

I’m a little loathe to cast any blame on the sweater and tennis shoe man. More than that, I believe that every child IS special just by the fact that they are here on the earth. As a counselor, I spend a good bit of my time working with people whose sense of self was wounded early on. They use words like “stupid” and “worthless” to describe themselves. They keep themselves from doing what they can do by an exaggerated sense of what they cannot do.

And yet it doesn’t take a social scientist to see that we have a growing sense of entitlement. A few years ago I asked a retiring Dean of Students what the differences were in his work now. “The sense of entitlement,” he said without hesitation. One student’s parents actually threatened to sue the school because he got a high number in the housing lottery and was going to miss out on living in the cushy student apartments for the coming year.

So where’s the line? Perhaps it is this simple:

A sense of entitlement leads us back to ourselves. It’s all about what we can get, where we can go, what’s in it for us. We feel good because we are better than others. It’s about what we deserve, what the world should be giving us.

A healthy sense of self-esteem leads us outside of ourselves. Because we feel safe and secure we can risk using our gifts for the sake of others. Because we believe in ourselves we do not have to compete endlessly with others, making ourselves feel better by making them seem worse.  It’s about what we can give the world.

Healthy self-esteem doesn’t mean having the expectation that the world will bend to our wishes. It is the knowing that even if we face opposition, we will have the courage to stay true to our beliefs and dreams. It isn’t the expectation that others will deliver our dreams to us but knowing that we have whatever we need inside ourselves (including the ability to ask for help) to make those dreams come true.

In the next issue of my e-newsletter, “Feeling Good,” I’ll take a more in-depth look at the “self esteem tool kit” developed by Virginia Satir.

In the meantime, what do you think?


Creating Space

Last night about 11 I e-mailed my Tuesday morning running buddies to let them know that I wouldn’t be there for our 6 am run. I’d just gotten home from dinner.

Let me explain. First of all, dinner was in Greensboro, about 40 minutes away. Secondly, I didn’t spend over three hours eating. I spent it laughing. And talking. And enjoying being with some of my favorite women.

We started meeting together years ago, clergywomen in different kinds of jobs but all in the same geographic area. It was a word of mouth kind of a group, one person knew another person who knew another. At first we talked about discussing books. then we decided we liked just talking better. Just talking about work and families and whatever was going on in our lives. For years we met once a month on Thursday mornings. The group finally broke up as people began to move away – to Texas and New Mexico and me, the adventurous one, to Winston-Salem.

Our New Mexico friend was back in town yesterday, so we got together. As we sat out on the porch of the restaurant, I thought about the grace and gift of these connections. Even now when long stretches of time interrupt our gatherings, coming back together is easy and immediate.

But those connections didn’t happen by accident. They happened, in part, because we made a space for them. In the busy lives of our work, we carved out all of those Thursday mornings to be together. We made a space.

Making space is one of the great challenges for many of us. All of the things on our to do list and all of the voices calling for our attention (and distraction) crowd our days until there is no  space. Space for just sitting with and being with. So how do we make it happen?


For most of us it doesn’t “just happen,” not counting those rare moments when you and your friend find yourselves eating lunch at the same place at the same time with no other company. It means pulling out the calendar and making an appointment with each other. Maybe it is six weeks until you can get together but you put it down anyway because sooner or later that six weeks away will be here. Maybe it’s making a commitment to get up a little bit earlier to be at that breakfast. Even if it’s not your first choice of how it should happen, you still make it happen.


When we recognize that something is important we are more likely to invest ourselves in it. Investing means not just showing up but being present. Being present creates a space for others to share their stories with us, whether it’s a story that makes us laugh or moves us to tears. It is this sharing of stories that helps weaves the connections between us. Investing and showing up means recognizing that this time matters as well.

It’s easy in our culture to think of our friendships as somehow less important than everything else in our lives. But they are just as critical to our sense of well-being (and our ability to live well!) as what we eat and how well we sleep.

Letting Go

Sometimes we let our desire for perfection get in the way of creating space for friendships. For many years I invited a different group of friends over to my house for a simple dinner of soup and good bread in-between Christmas and New Year’s. It was a break from the holiday eating and an excuse to get together and catch up with one another.

This past year I was in the process of moving my father and had just inherited some of his furniture. My mother’s dining room table was in my dining room but my old furniture had yet to be picked up.

My first thought was to wait until I had everything ordered again. But who knew how long that would take? So I invited them to come and told them not to come to my front door – the entry hall was filled with furniture.

I normally don’t recommend entertaining in the midst of chaos but on this night I wasn’t entertaining. I was creating a space in which friends could gather.

What ways have you found to create space?