Each individual is unique in many ways but sometimes this feeling of specialness can get in the way. It can prevent people from seeing the reality of their situation and can be used as a form of denial. A good example of this is the cigarette smoker who is able to continue their habit even though they hear about so many people dying of lung cancer. They console themselves with the idea, it will never happen to me – I’m different. This is a dangerous way to think but unfortunately it is all too common. This type of mentality can be particularly strong for people involved in addictive behaviors. It not only keeps them trapped in the substance abuse, but it can also derail any attempt they make at recovery.
Terminal uniqueness is the belief that the situation the individual is facing is unlike anything faced by other people. It is called terminal uniqueness because thinking this way of thinking can get people killed. This can happen if ill people are unwilling to make the best use of the available treatments or cures because they are convinced that they are a special case. Suffering from terminal uniqueness puts the individual in conflict with other people a lot of the time.
Terminal uniqueness is sometimes referred to as personal exceptionalism. This is how the alcoholic is able to keep on their self-destructive path. They may have no problem accepting that excessive use of alcohol will destroy the lives of other people, yet they somehow feel exempt from this – they are the exception to the rule. They may die as a result of their addiction while still being under the spell of personal exceptionalism.
This way of thinking can be dangerous in a number of ways including:
* It allows people to ignore the likely consequences of their actions
* It provides a false sense of security
* It divides the world into me and them
* It means that the individual will be unwilling to believe that treatments that help other people can help them
* It leads to the individual thinking that they are either worse than everyone else or that they are better than everyone else
* It prevents them from seeking help for their problems
* It can be a barrier to communication
* It leads to feelings of loneliness and desperation
Terminal uniqueness is a form of denial. It allows the individual to hide from the consequences of their actions, and it prevents them from seeking help. So long as they view themselves as a special case they will not be able to see the truth of their predicament. This is how the substance abuser can continue using alcohol or drugs despite the evidence of where such a path always leads. Escaping addiction means getting beyond this type of ignorance.
While people are unique they also have a lot in common. Their similarities are what bring people together, and it also allows them to benefit from each other’s experience. It means that the individual does not need to find everything out for themselves. It also means that they do not have to make every mistake personally in order to learn from them. It allows the individual to see that if a path didn’t work for another person in a similar position then it probably will not work for them either. Accepting such similarities does not mean that people have to give up their sense of individuality. It just means accepting that humans are closely connected.
Terminal uniqueness is dangerous for people who are trying to escape an addiction. It can be used as an excuse to ignore good advice and may eventually lead to relapse. There are many potential pitfalls on the road to recovery, and it is vital that people learn from those who have taken this route before. It is only because people in recovery do share so many similarities that it has been possible to develop successful treatments and aftercare programs. In groups like AA they advise that people, listen to the similarities and not the differences – this can be a good antidote to terminal uniqueness.
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