Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Dave was at work the other day when a shipment of office supplies came in. The delivery person had placed a stack of large boxes in the middle of the office. The boxes would need to be carried into the storeroom and unpacked.
This wasn’t the best of days for Dave. He didn’t have as much strength as he normally has. So Dave decided that, while it was his responsibility to unpack and log in the supplies, he was going to need help moving and unpacking them.
He asked two of his coworkers if they would help. “I’m not feeling the best today,” Dave said. “Would you guys mind giving me a hand?”
Joseph, one of the coworkers he asked, said with a smile, “Wow, Dave. What a convenient day to not feel good. So that means you’re entitled to push this off on your poor office mates, huh?”
Dave knew this was meant in good humor, so he smiled and said, “Yeah, good timing on my part.”
But inside, he felt he had been called out. He wasn’t so sure the comment about entitlement wasn’t meant to hit home. If so, it sure had. And Dave had to ask himself if, with a little extra pushing, he might have been able to move the boxes on his own. But would he have felt worse afterward?
Entitlement at home
Marisol experienced a more direct approach than Dave did.
She and her husband, Eduardo, take turns cleaning the bathroom every weekend. This weekend, Marisol wasn’t feeling so up to it, so she asked Eduardo if he would mind taking her turn.
“I’ll do it for you,” Eduardo said. “But I have to be honest with you. I know you’re not always feeling all that energetic. But cleaning the bathroom doesn’t take all that much energy. So I think it’s really entitled of you to ask me to do something you could do yourself. And the physical activity might even be good for you.”
Marisol felt bad when Eduardo said this to her. She understood his point. And so she said, “Never mind, Eduardo. I think I can do it. And you’re right, I can use the exercise.” But Marisol also wasn’t sure how she was going to feel when she finished the job.
Needing help isn’t being entitled. Even if it’s perceived that way.
What about you? Have you ever been accused of having an entitled attitude? Of using your chronic condition to get excused from doing something that, at least in the mind of the person you are asking for help, is something you could do for yourself? If so, you’re not alone. And when this happens, you have probably felt like Dave and Marisol. Exposed. With the other person thinking that you might be using your chronic condition to manipulate them.
Most likely, you are being judged unfairly. You have times when your chronic condition leaves you not feeling your best. In these times, you have a legitimate need for assistance.
So how do you handle the situation when other people accuse you of using your chronic condition as an excuse for acting entitled? Here are some ideas:
First, ask yourself if you really need the help. I can think of two good reasons why you might ask for help due to your chronic condition. First, your energy level or symptoms may prevent you from being able to complete the task. Second, like Dave, completing the task might leave you at risk for being exhausted or symptomatic. Both are good reasons for requesting assistance. But be clear with yourself about why you think you need help. And, with that reason clearly in mind, evaluate whether you might be able to do the task yourself. Will completing it be uncomfortable but doable? Will it leave you tired but not necessarily exhausted? You know your own body.
If you do need help, explain why. You don’t have to give a long explanation or reveal information you aren’t comfortable divulging. Simply say something like, “I’m not at my best today and I need some extra help. Would you mind giving me a hand?” If you’re asking for help from a loved one who understands your chronic condition, you might want to give more information, unless they are familiar with your good days and not-so-good days. The reason for a brief explanation is simple: The other person is naturally going to wonder why they are being called on to be inconvenienced. Having some idea of the motivation for your request may help them not to assume entitlement on your part. It communicates that you’re not making the request because you have a chronic condition, but because your chronic condition is making things more difficult for you.
Don’t ask for any more help than you are sure you need. Is it possible you might need some help with the task but be able to do part of it on your own? For example, Dave might have asked his coworkers to move the boxes to a large table and then, depending on his energy level, he might have been able to unpack and place the items in stock on his own, maybe with some additional help with heavier items. And Marisol might have needed some help with some of the heavier scrubbing—anything that involved bending and getting on her knees—but could have done the rest of the cleaning on her own.
Other people may be more willing to help when they see that you are trying to do as much as you can.
Offer to do something in return. Everybody appreciates a favor, especially when being asked to do one themself. So it might help to offer to do a favor for the person you are asking for help. Choose something you know you can do and that might actually benefit them. This isn’t about keeping things even, but it is about a spirit of cooperation and showing concern for someone else’s well-being as you ask them to be concerned for yours. For example, Dave might have offered to complete a report that he knows his coworker doesn’t enjoy doing. Marisol might have offered to make Eduardo’s favorite meal.
And of course, say thanks. Just in case you forgot. You might even remind the person helping you why their assistance is so valuable to you.
But when you are accused of being entitled, you can stand up for yourself. Sometimes you catch a loved one on a bad day—a day when the last thing they want to hear is a request from you to do one more thing when they’re already feeling overburdened. Or you seek help from a coworker who has had a stressful day, or who just isn’t all that interested in doing anything more than they have to, no matter how much you need help. These are times when the entitlement accusation may unfairly be hurled at you. You don’t have to accept this label, but you don’t have to reject it in a way that will lead to conflict. Simply say something like, “Believe me, the last thing I want to do is ask anyone for help. And I know you have a lot going on.” Or, more directly, “Let’s be kind to each other. I am not trying to make your day any harder than it is. But I can’t do this without some help.”
One of the most hurtful things that can be said to someone with a chronic condition is that they are acting entitled. Your chronic condition certainly wasn’t on your wish list. Sure, take a step back and think before you make a request for help. But on the other hand, don’t accept the entitled label when someone tries to unfairly pin it on you. You’re doing the best you can. When you need help, ask for it. Remember, and remind others, we’re all in this together.
Have you ever been accused of expecting special treatment because of your health? Share your experience by adding a comment below.