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. It was freeing to recognize she could just be a normal human being, like the rest of us — and that her self-worth didn’t need to rest precariously on looking good or acting a certain way. She could be authentic without having to fabricate an image that she presented to the world. Some people will like her and others won’t. She realized that all she has control over is being herself, honoring her genuine feelings and needs, and being courageously open to what happens.
Living an authentic life — embrace our strengths and weaknesses, allows us to live with more possibilities for real intimacy. Deep, satisfying connections can only be created in a climate of mutual authenticity.
Difficulty Relaxing and Being Ourselves
If we think we’re better than others, we need to struggle to maintain the image of having no flaws and limits. We may succumb to the perils of perfectionism — convinced that no one can shame us if people see how perfect and special we are. We might also be develop the habit of procrastination. No one can accuse us of failing at anything that we never pursue or complete anything!
The reality is that we’re better than others at some things and not as good at other things. There’s nothing shameful about having limitations; there’s only the belief in our head that if we have limits, then we won’t be viewed as a special, worthy human being.
What makes you you is unique. While we have much in common with others, we each have our own unique fingerprint and make our own unique imprint. And we have own unique way of being in the world. We’re irreplaceable.
It’s a great relief to realize that we have worth and value without having to be better than others. We are special in our own way, just like everyone else!