A light bulb went off when I saw a bumper sticker for sale that read “Always remember you’re unique, just like everyone else.” Yes, we are special. But are we more special than others? Many people flash a wry smile as they read my head-turning — if not head-scratching — bumper sticker.
Attachment theory tells us that children need to feel welcomed, wanted, and loved. They need to feel special in the eyes of caregivers in order to develop a secure internal based. Even as adults, we want to feel special to our partner and close friends. But can our desire to be special become a liability?
It’s one thing to want to feel special to our partner, family, and friends. It’s quite another to want to be a special person. I’ve often seen clients who’ve been trained to believe that they’re better than others. Believing that we’re superior — or that we should be — is a heavy burden to bear.
A theme I have often heard from clients goes something like this: “My parents always told me, ‘You’re not like everyone else. You’re special.’” On the surface, this might seem like a positive message that would build self-worth. It might be counterintuitive, but it’s more likely to have the opposite effect!
Being special meant she had to look and act a certain way. She had to speak, dress, and behave in ways suitable for a “special” person. When she lost her job during the coronavirus crisis, she wouldn’t allow herself to apply for food stamps, even though she had meager savings and little money for food. In her worldview, special people don’t demean themselves by accepting handouts.
As we explored it, she realized that wanting to be special was a burden that she no longer wanted to carry.