Ingratitude Arrests Healthy Character Formation

Ingratitude and Character Disturbance

Ingratitude is behind much character disturbance. How so, you might wonder? Early researchers discovered something important about the most disturbed characters among us. They tended to want and expect much. But they also tended to give little. More specifically, they gave little of themselves. Moreover, they felt no sense of obligation to do so. They felt entitled to take and entitled to possess. But they didn’t feel very obligated to give. And their lack of felt obligation was behind most of their problematic behavior. At the root of their lack of felt obligation, however, was much ingratitude.

It works this way: grateful folks know they are inherently indebted. And their sense of indebtedness naturally prompts them to honor their debt. They feel compelled to give back. And they do so with the obligations they dutifully assume. This is the heart of most healthy prosocial behavior. (See also:  Gratitude, Happiness, and Character and The Grateful Character Feels Obliged.)

Disturbed characters feel they are owed more than they owe. Sometimes, they feel cheated. Other times, they just feel entitled. But in any case they’re all too willing to take, and all too hesitant to give.

Obstacles to Gratitude

Ingratitude arises from many things. Deprivation (and pereived deprivation) can cause ingratitude. Folks who come out of disadvantaged circumstances can easily feel cheated, denied. The way some figure it, life didn’t treat them well, so why should they treat life and others well?

Ingratitude can also stem from overindulgence. Folks who’ve never had to work for much or who have been handed much merely for existing can’t possibly appreciate what they have or the sacrifices likely involved in providing it.

Whether it’s born of overindulgence, deprivation, or something else, ingratitude is leathal to healthy character. There are far to many takers out there and far too few givers. And our culture of entitlement not only encourages but also rewards the takers.

Finding and Showing Gratitude

Gratitude is crucial to healthy character. But it has to be more than just recognizing your many gifts and blessings. Healthy character is not so much about the gratitude you feel in your heart. Rather, its about the gratitude you demonstrate with your actions. Grateful individuals tend to be generous and kind. (See: Gratitude Inspires Civility and Generosity.) Expectational folks, on the other hand, tend to be selfish and demanding. They always want to know what you have done for them lately. And they don’t concern themselves very much with what they can do for you – or anyone else, for that matter.

The Many Manifestations of Character Disturbance

We live in an age where character disturbance of one kind or another is common. That’s why so many relationships experience trouble. It’s also why there’s so much social discord and dysfunction. Character doesn’t hold the place of high regard it once did. And too many folks emerge in adulthood arrested in their character development. But not every disturbed character is a narcissist, sociopath, or psychopath. And understanding each type of disturbed character and the problems they can cause is the main reason I wrote Character Disturbance.

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3 thoughts on “Ingratitude Arrests Healthy Character Formation

  1. Thank you for addressing the root of ingratitude, and how we reward the takers is yet another problem. Sometimes, some of us become “enablers” of takers for various reasons (to avoid conflict, because we are intimidated by them, etc.) But it is nevertheless unhealthy.

  2. What I don’t understand is the current climate in which the takers and the entitled are protected, and those – case in point- police, who curb violence and crime and protect citizens are vilified. Yes there are bad cops, but thats a small percentage and they are all being vilified. Can’t believe there is not an agenda behind that.

    1. Kat,

      I see what you mean. From my perspective what we are seeing in regards to the police is the demand for the adjustment of the power imbalance and the system that was designed to protect all police officers, even the bad apples. In effect, qualified immunity is giving most of the bad apples a free pass to do harm and feel invincible in doing so. Also, many of the police forces, when they do fire a police officer for their conduct, do not file a report of the behavior, warn other cities/towns/states of their character. So the bad apple just moves and gets a job someplace and continues with his/her harmful ways. The system is designed to protect them. It’s my understanding that Derek Chauvin also hit a 14 year old boy with a flashlight and knelt on his neck and back for 17 minutes. There are reports of many, many others he victimized. These were caught on tape. If this was not caught on tape with all the world witnessing it, chances are, he would have, yet again, gotten a pass.

      I’m not African American, or a person of color, yet even I see their shadiness and abuses of power. I have several cops in my family. They are all entitled abusers, drunk with power and know they can use it and abuse it without consequence.

      They’ve also been tasked with things they do not have the training skills to deal with (mental health issues, domestic violence issues) which leads to bad outcome for the people they show up to help. I believe the changes to system people are asking for is taking the police out of dealing with these issues and handing them to qualified people (social workers, etc..).

      I was pulled over by a late 30 something year old cop on a side road. I’m harmless and look it – middle aged white lady. I could tell from his body language and tone he was ready for a fight. So it was up to me to deescalate, to calm him down. Had I not had insight and skill set , it would have likely ended badly for me. They are trained to be aggressive and have learned that there’s not much they can get in trouble for.

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