I’ve never been good at goodbyes. In fact, they freak me out pretty hardcore. I’m the type of person who will do anything, suffer anything, to keep you in my life. Even if you’re not that great, even if you cause me harm, I’d rather have you around than face the barrage of self-hatred that comes with letting you go.
That’s not to say I don’t have my breaking point. I’ve had to walk away from almost every single long-term, close relationship I had.
These were people I thought would be in my life forever. People I called my sisters and brothers, people whose continued presence I’d come to depend on. Knowing that those relationships were consistent is something I took comfort in.
And now, just like that, they’re gone.
I could have stuck around. I could have compromised further and kept those relationships alive. The fact that I chose not to is almost unprecedented in my life.
I’ve been through so much with these people that I can’t help but wonder if I’ve done something wrong. Should I have worked at it more? Expressed myself differently? Warned them of how I was feeling? Given them more chances to redeem my trust?
What, if anything, do I owe them?
When people talk about entitlement, we’re usually referring to kids taking their parents for granted, or perhaps some legal or financial obligation. But entitlement also goes beyond that. It includes any time someone invades your rights while trying to assert what they believe to be their own.
For example, ideologically speaking, you have the right not to be triggered. Others, however, believe they have the right to use whatever language they choose, regardless of the effect it has on others. This is an example of entitlement, because they believe their right supersedes your own, even though it comes at your expense.
Entitlement takes many forms. It can be sexual in nature. It plays a part in physical aggression, social coercion, and state violence. You could say that our society is entitled to the free labor of people of color, for instance, or to the emotional labor of women. It ranges from the systemic to the deeply personal.
I have been intimately familiar with entitlement for longer than I can remember. Since childhood, people have seized the opportunity to take advantage of me. They took my things, my money, sabotaged my relationships for their own gain. They took their worst emotions out on me.
People can also feel entitled to your suffering. So many have hurt me just to watch me cry. I know it was cathartic for them. They stole my emotional well-being. I was like an ant under their magnifying glasses, whose very life they could claim in the name of entertainment. If that’s not entitled, I don’t know what is.
Sometimes people really do feel entitled to your life. They endanger you recklessly, or attack you directly. It’s happened to me before. I could have burned to death for a little boy’s entertainment when I was only five or six years old. I was nothing more than an ant to him. He laughed as I ran for my life.
I think of that incident when I read about the hate crimes that are scourging our society today. I think about how entitled white supremacists are to the lives of the Black and Brown people they attack. Or the cishet zealots who murder queer and trans people without remorse. In their minds, our lives are theirs to take. That’s a form of entitlement as well.
People tax your resources – your time, money, energy, space. They invade your autonomy. They terrorize your psyche. Call them bullies, trolls, antagonists, abusers, whatever you want: these are people who feel it’s their right to cause you loss and pain. They feel entitled to harming your well-being. Sometimes it’s a means to an end, sometimes it’s just for the f*ck of it.
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Entitlement is also a component of toxic romantic relationships. No one person has ever taken so much from me as my abusive ex. Years lost, my health ruined. My mind brimming with traumas I cannot so much as name.
What right did they have to do all this to me? The answer seems so obvious: none. And yet it’s a question I always came back to. I’ve tortured myself with it, really; turning over and over my doubts and my hesitations.
What if their behavior was appropriate somehow? What if I deserved it? What if their needs outweighed my own?
There’s a problem with that type of thinking: I can rationalize their actions, but only if I devalue myself. Only in a world where I’m actually worth less than them could any of what I’ve been through be justified.
That’s the thing about entitlement: it’ll make you believe you’re less valuable than those around you, particularly those who take advantage of you. Believing that about yourself isn’t just bad for your psyche. It also affects how you live and how you allocate your time and resources.
People who are entitled will rob you of all of those things and leave you unable to care for yourself or make progress in your life. If you’re ever feeling stunted or stalled, ask yourself whether someone (or a group of people) has been draining you of the resources you need to survive.
Which brings me back to my erstwhile friends. I’ve had to walk away from a number of close friendships because those people chose to side with my abuser over me. They made excuses, they shut me down. They failed to prioritize my needs.
Is that really enough cause to cut them out? One of these was among my oldest friendships. Another I considered my brother. All of them were family. We had been through so much together.
The need for distance, at least, was clear. But how much? How harsh do I get to be? Do I owe explanations and second chances? After all, they’re struggling in their lives, too.
But then I look again at where I’m at. I’ve been left with so little of my spirit intact. I’ve given altogether far too much of myself to people who valued themselves over me. Failing to hear me now betrays a value judgment as well. Knowing that my well-being is at stake, they have placed the higher value on their own comfort, ease, and personal gain.
For whatever reason, they feel that a relationship with my abuser is preferable to, or more advantageous than, a relationship with me. In my view, acting on this preference tacitly condones all the ways in which my abuser was entitled to me. It also shows that they feel entitled to get ahead at my expense if necessary.
So the answer to my question about what I owe these people?
Nothing. Not a damn thing.
And neither do you, to anyone who causes your existence to be subservient to their own.
[Feature Image: An individual with long brown hair sits in a window sill wearing jeans and a sweater as they stare out of the window. Pexels.com ]