In western culture there is a great deal of emphasis put on being an individual. Each person is viewed as unique, and their main goal in life is to find happiness. This view of the world differs from many eastern cultures where there is more emphasis on the group. Many of the successes within western culture can be seen as a result of this focus on the individual. There can also be a darker side to this way of viewing the world. Those people who are trying to escape an addiction may find that their feelings of being an individual can get in the way of their recovery. Personal exceptionalism can mean that people refuse to consider those recovery tools that have worked well for other people in the past.
Personal exceptionalism can be defined as the conviction that the individual has that they are just not like other people. This type of idea can be taking to extremes. A person can believe that the rules that apply to other people do not apply to them. This may mean that the individual is prepared to engage in unwise behaviors because they believe they will be able to avoid the usual negative consequences. Personal exceptionalism can also mean that the individual refuses to consider the possibility that things that worked for other people might also work for them.
Narcissism can be defined as an unhealthy level of self-love. A narcissist will tend to exhibit a number of unattractive personality traits including:
* Grandiosity means that the individual has an inflated sense of their own self-importance.
* Overestimation of their own skills and abilities.
* The narcissist has a sense of entitlement to all the good things in life.
* Those individuals who are narcissistic tend to ignore the needs of other people.
Narcissism can be an element of different kinds of mental illness including narcissistic personality disorder and addiction.
Personal exceptionalism can sometimes be described as terminal uniqueness. This term is often used negatively for people who are struggling with addiction recovery. The individual feels certain that they are a special case so they do not want to consider options that have worked for other people. It is called terminal uniqueness because this type of thinking can get people killed. Their ideas about personal exceptionalism take them right back to addiction, and they might never get another chance at recovery.
Personal exceptionalism can encourage the individual to build a good life for themselves, but it can also get in the way. This way of thinking can be dangerous for people in recovery because:
* It can act as a barrier to interpersonal communications. The individual may not believe that it is possible for other people to really understand them so they dismiss what these people have to say.
* It can lead to feelings of loneliness and alienation. These are dangerous emotions to experience in recovery because they can easily become relapse triggers.
* This mode of thinking can give the individual a false sense of security in recovery. The individual becomes complacent because they do not believe that a relapse will ever happen to them.
* It can give the individual the ability to ignore the consequences of their actions. They become willing to make reckless decisions because they feel that the normal rules do not apply to them.
* Terminal uniqueness can stop the individual from seeking help when they need it.
* Those individuals who have made it into advanced recovery have a great deal to teach those in early recovery. The person who suffers from terminal uniqueness will probably not believe that such lessons can be of value to them.
* When people are overly focused on personal exceptionalism it tends to divide the world into us and them.
* It puts the individual into a position where they either feel worse or better than everyone else.
It can be beneficial for the individual to tone down their feelings of personal exceptionalism in recovery. The benefits of doing so include:
* It means that the individual can learn from successes and mistakes of other people. This makes life easier because there will be no need for them to reinvent the wheel.
* Being part of a group is highly empowering. A fellowship of people is able to accomplish far more than one person working on their own.
* Those individuals who are narcissistic struggle to build meaningful relationships. This means that they miss out on one of the great joys of life.
* There is comfort to be found in being part of a group. The individual can find emotional as well as physical support from likeminded individuals.
* It means that the individual will be far more likely to make use of available recovery resources. They will also be more willing to ask for help when they need it.
There are things that people can do to escape the excesses of personal exceptionalism including:
* Learning to empathize with other people. By trying to view the world through the eyes of another it allows the individual to see that they are not that different from them.
* Helping other people in recovery means that the individual is able to move the focus onto someone else. It can be hugely rewarding to spend time thinking about other people for a change.
* Just spending time with other people and engaging with them can be a great way to break down walls. It also helps to eliminate loneliness and feelings of alienation.
* Many people find that joining a recovery fellowship helps to strengthen their sobriety, and gives them the opportunity to feel part of a collective.
* It can be beneficial to deliberately focus on those things that people have in common rather than the things that separate them.