When Believing You’re Special...Makes Things Worse.

Lisa Martens


Photo by Mukul Kumar on Unsplash

When I was a child, I believed I was special because I had epilepsy.

I hallucinated. I knew Joan of Arc was epileptic, and she was a Saint! So was I chosen by God to do something great? Would it all be revealed to me? Were my seizures really messages from God, and all those doctors were quacks and liars?

If I lived in a movie—Yes, probably. But in reality, not taking my seizure medication was dangerous.

There are still people I run into today who insist that my hallucinations were a gift I wasted. When I took care of my aunt who had cancer, I ran into people who told me cancer was just a hoax…it wasn’t real. She just had to eat different foods, stop chemo, and think the right thoughts.

Specialness, I have learned, can be a bit of a trap. We are all special and unique in our own ways. But we are all still very human, dealing with human problems, and in some instances, betting too much on our specialness can get us into trouble.

Specialness is also not very interesting. It’s kind of…a downer if your main character was chosen by blood or by God. They didn’t earn being special. It was just given to them. And is that truly impressive? Does that make for a good story? Is the story you want a story that is prescribed by destiny, not merit?

Ways Specialness Makes Things Worse

We glamorize fast montages over hard work.

How many times have you seen a movie where a character learns a difficult skill through a series of fast montages? In reality, learning and perfecting a skill takes years of dedication and hard work. Habit-forming requires daily practice.

When we overvalue specialness, we think that if we are not immediately good at something, then we are not “chosen” for that task, and we give up. While natural talent is useful, it’s not actually the end-all-be-all. Potential without consistent hard work is a road to nowhere.

We can become paranoid.

Thinking I was receiving messages from God was really frightening. If I did something wrong, then I was doing something against God Himself. As a child, the idea was extremely frightening.

When we start to believe ourselves as being ultra-special in this way, we can become increasingly more paranoid. We might think that little things that happen to us are much bigger in nature. We might even start to connect things that are unrelated, and fall into believing conspiracy theories. If we believe we are special in a very specific way, we may start to look for proof in strange, scary ways that are mentally unhealthy.

Other extreme emotions become heightened.

When we think everything is a critical situation, our other feelings like fear, anger, and anxiety may be heightened. It may be difficult to simply have a normal life if we are obsessed with specialness and the idea of being “chosen.” For the most part, work, family life, and maintenance are a bit mundane. Not everyone gets to be ultra-special, and that’s okay. Not being ultra-special allows us to relax and enjoy ourselves.

We are disconnected from others.

When we are obsessed with being right and being special, the ego takes over. This ego may cloud one’s judgment. We may be unable to reach out for help, because that might mean admitting we were wrong. When we become egotistical, we stop working with other people. We become more obsessed with being right than with getting along. We see this all the time on social media, where people will argue with complete strangers for hundreds and hundreds of comments. When one is obsessed with being special, they are less likely to try to get along with others.

We may fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy.

If we devote a lot of work proving to ourselves that we must be super special somehow, then it's hard to give all that up. If we become invested in conspiracy and believe dramatic events are bound to take place, then it can be hard to give up those beliefs.

I had a hard time creating an identity that was not related to having seizures. That, I was certain, was my special-ness. It took me a long time to realize if I wanted to become the best version of myself, I had to let go of the story I had created that I was special because something was misfiring in my brain.

I didn't want to have seizures forever. I didn't want a dignosis I received at eight to determine the course of my life. I did want to have them under control. But having my seizures under control meant they were not guiding my life. I had to create that for myself.

We may feel entitled to certain outcomes.

How disappointed would I have been if I poured my heart into the idea that I was some new Joan of Arc? While it sounds ridiculous then, I was very young when I was diagnosed, and I could have gone down a very strange path.

How upset and heartbroken would I have been if I foretold some great event, and it didn't happen, like so many failed predictions? Or if I thought something would happen to prove what I believed, and that thing never came true? If I had gone all-in on my specialness, I would have felt entitled to certain ridiculous outcomes. And when they didn't happen, my world would have been shattered.

What did I learn from NOT being special?

I learned that change, usually, comes gradually and through hard work. I saw people recover from cancer by taking their medication, going to chemo, relying on their families, eating healthy, remaining positive, and trying to exercise. They did all of these things at the same time, every day.

When I had seizures, I had to take my medication, change my diet to a low-sugar one, and keep track of my seizures and side effects. My parents helped me. It took all of us, working together.

I learned that when we define our own special-ness, instead of insisting we were gifted with it, it comes to mean more. I am glad that, in the end, I let go of that way of thinking. No, I'm not a Saint. But I am my own person. I decided who I wanted to be. Nobody chose it for me, and I don't feel like I've lost my individuality by being swept up in some tide.

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