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This is why you need to stop telling people they are special

Modern parenting emphasizes a child’s uniqueness and individuality, but psychologists now warn that this comes at a heavy price.

It’s true that we are all unique. We all have a unique temperament and personality that we bring to the world. There are parts of your personality that are uniquely yours and not shared with any other person.

We all have a different perspective on life, different abilities and talents that we bring to our world that make us special, but since all of us are special in our own way, the high frequency of specialness means that we’re not so special after all.

As psychiatrist and mystic Dr. David Hawkins puts it so well: “We’re all a different and unique snowflake, but we’re all still snowflakes.”

The danger behind feeling special

Here’s the danger: we emphasize our specialness at the cost of our shared humanity. According to Dr Sarah Sarkis, a licensed psychologist from Honolulu, Hawaii, we pay a heavy price for it.

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“What’s happened as a result of our emphasis on specialness as the basis for why our experiences, feelings and/or thoughts are so rare and unlike what others think, feel, and experience is that our shared sense of humanity ends up being less accessible to us.”

This is the ultimate paradox: our uniqueness has made us more isolated and alone in our experiences.

“Epic proportions of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection are reported in my office on a daily basis. This myth of specialness is the root cause of a lot of the clinical dynamics that unfold in my office, including entitlement, grandiosity, emotional disconnectedness, social isolation and alienation, nearly all the various forms of “isms” and many more,” says Sarkis.

Feeling entitled to a special treatment

The most obvious expression of specialness that we all come across on a daily basis, says Sarkis, is entitlement.

We all come across them: people who believe life owes them something, success or a particular standard of living. They are not prepared to start at the bottom and work their way up. No — they are so special, the rules for the rest don’t apply to them.

They have often been raised with this sense of entitlement, when parents make their children the center of their universe. No sacrifice is too much for their child who is so talented and so unique that they deserve special treatment.

At a later age, this expectation of privilege can pop up in everyday circumstances like cutting in front of other people who are waiting in line, or expecting preferential treatment everywhere. You know the drill, I’m sure.

How feeling special removes you from people

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This specialness removes them from others.

According to Sarkis this entitlement ends up impacting their ability to access empathy, the ability that allows us to feel what others feel.

“Specialness is born from an environment that emphasized the child’s uniqueness to the exclusion of also highlighting the importance of our shared human sameness, those core elements of being human, that we all share: We all bleed. We all feel pain. We all fall in love. We all face death. Ours. And those we love,” says Sarkis.

We can observe this specialness in people who have been told that their uniqueness is what gives them power, says Sarkis. Their thinking is: “I am different and unique and special and therefore I deserve a certain type of treatment.”

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It gets even worse.

There’s a second style of specialness that is harder to detect because it is less blatant, says Sarkis. Here the person transfers the sense of specialness towards their suffering and believes that they alone have been wronged, wounded, and pained in ways that other, less special people simply could not understand, says Sarkis.

This is the key point: they become isolated and disconnected from others by the very sense of specialness that was supposed to make them feel superior.

Sarkis says that this kind of patient will tell here “why their suffering is unique (and usually that is code for worse) from whatever sense of loss I might have felt throughout my journey.

They cannot absorb the support and empathy of the people around them because they are imprisoned in the myth of specialness, where it is only them, uniquely and to the exclusion of all other human mammals that could identify with their experience.

This person too will ultimately end up feeling more disconnected and dis-integrated from the people in their lives.”

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Are you sure you want to be unique? Are you sure your children should think they are special?

Sarkis encourages us all to do some introspection to see if we display any actions or attitudes that may point to our belief that we are special, and then reassess the price we might be paying for considering ourselves special.

Do you agree with these views or do you have another opinion or experience? Drop us your comments below!

***Do you want to be a stronger person? Do you want to stare down your challenges and overcome any obstacles? If so, check out our eBook: The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Mental Toughness.

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Notable replies

  1. Excellent observations. I think, in life we move. In movement and motion, we get the benefits and possibilities presented in our direction while simultaneously losing the possibilities from moving in the other 5 directions. In my observations life is a mutual duality in which both truths are true in the force moment. Of course, every individual is special, that is clear. Dwelling on being special is like dwelling on a finger that is trying to point to the moon (to burrow a metaphor ). Its like dwelling on the steering wheel in traffic.

  2. That’s a nice way way of putting it.

    After reflecting a bit more on this subject, I think it’s also important to emphasize our uniqueness. My article is an attempt at being a conversation starter because I think we’ve overemphasized how special we are to the detriment of finding commonality and comradeship with each other.

    It’s personal for me. My last few years has been very much about consciously finding what connects me to others and it’s been just the antidote I needed. Other people may need more of a dose of finding what makes them special.

    In that sense you’re spot on.

  3. You say “but since all of us are special in our own way, the high frequency of specialness means that we’re not so special after all.”

    Now I must think about this. Yes, it seems I have seen evidence of this in the world. Just look at the movies Hollywood is churning out. Years ago we had different movies, movies we learned to love. They were special. Now we see cookie cutter duplicates, all different but all the same. In my life, I don’t think I am “special,” just very different. Does this make me special? :thinking:

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Written by Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibility.

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