Each individual is unique in many ways. However, sometimes this feeling of specialness can get in the way of an honest, fulfilled, and shared life. Believing in their uniqueness can prevent people from seeing the reality of their situation and can become a form of denial. Take, for example, the cigarette smoker who is able to continue his habit even though he knows the statistics of smoke-related lung cancer. Some smokers console themselves with the idea that: It will never happen to me! I’m different. Others declare: I don’t want to think about it right on. I just want to enjoy my smoke. This is a dangerous way of thinking. Yet, it is, unfortunately, all too common. This attitude is known as terminal uniqueness.
The term “terminal uniqueness” has been used often in the world of addiction. Substance abusers feel they can indulge in most dangerous behaviors and nothing will ever happen to them. Codependents who isolate from the world feel that the abuse they have endured or are experiencing is unique. They fear that most people will not understand them or, worse, ridicule them. Ashamed, they would rather isolate than share their histories for fear of rejection and/or judgment. Frequently, in recovery, the addict and the codependent come to realize that they are children living in a grownup body, who for whatever reason, failed to mature.
TERMINAL UNIQUENESS PRESENT DURING PREGNANCY AND BIRTH.One example of terminal uniqueness in pregnancy is a woman who believes that she is so special that she doesn’t need, or should not have to do the work of child birthing. She is too comfortable in her life, and thinks that the concept of “labor” is for the masses, not for the exclusive or the elite. These women have even been given a nick name: too posh to push.
Once, a woman came to me to discuss my postpartum services. When I asked her about the upcoming birth she nervously chuckled and told me that she had chosen an elective cesarean birth. She said, “I just don’t have time for an unpredictable labor, and all that mess I hear comes with it. Besides, I am doing all the work in carrying this child already. Look what it has done to my body! I need and want to schedule when to get this baby out,” and, she continued with a wink, “I definitely don’t want to stretch down there.”
We spent some time talking about what was really behind her decision and came to realize that her “posh” attitude was hiding is fear. She feared not being good enough to labor and deliver a child. She was terrified of pain. No one had told her about the consequences nor the pain related to cesarean births. She was afraid that she would be judged harshly by her friends and family, who all seemed to have chosen the cesarean route and even suggested the perfect OBGYN who would absolutely never question her choice. She was scared of losing a perfect façade or body image in front of her partner. Finally she talked about the horror stories of birth shared in the media. A proper woman would not scream, insult the doctor, and even poop in public! She could not see herself going through a vaginal birth. To her, it sounded too animal, raw, scary and out of control. She believed that she was so unique that even Mother Nature’s design did not apply to her.
Terminal uniqueness knows no socio-economic bounds. Women, who are survivors of abuse, molestation, or rape, may fall into the terminal uniqueness category as well. They may think: “Nobody can help me. I’m too messed up. You could never understand what I’ve been through.” “I am so ashamed of my past I do not want to talk abouy iy and mix pregnancy and childbirth, with any horrible memories”
We can’t stress enough the need for women who are survivors to seek the help of professionals, especially during pregnancy, and share their past experiences with their care provider. A pregnant woman needs to choose a provider whom she can trust, someone upon whom she can rely, someone who will understand her during the process. Doulas can be instrumental in such cases. They usually spend more time with the mother-to-be during labor than the average care provider. Thus, they can accompany her on her journey, especially at the hospital, by being the constant, trustworthy companion at her side. Failing recognizing the correlation between abusive experiences and the upcoming childbirth can lead to complications and unnecessary medical interventions. Women who believe that nobody in the world has ever had problems as bad as theirs, sins as unforgivable, or circumstances as unusually grotesque, may be afraid of their own past, of what people would think if they only knew. They obsess about how others would react, judge, or worse pity them. A client told me, while we were walking around during her early labor, “I’ve survived the worst all alone, so I’d pledged do this the same way.”During active labor and transition she deeply isolated and checked out. This had been her way of surviving the abuse. It took nearly two hours for her to come back after the delivery. At first, she was unable to hold her child to her chest as she was literally no longer in her body. Her hands had no strength. Her gaze was far away. Luckily, I had talked to the lovely nurse who was helping us. She assisted by holding the child onto the mother’s chest as I slowly accompanied my client back to reality, encouraging her to step into the present and into motherhood.
Experts say it’s increasingly clear that traumatic feelings often resurface when a woman is pregnant. Jody, a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Health Sciences, from safepasssage.info (a site created by abuse counselors who have specific skills and knowledge related to supporting women survivors of abuse through the childbearing year) writes, “…a woman may be expressing extreme pain early in labor not due to her ‘inability to cope’ but because she is being triggered by the pain of remembering an earlier incident of violence or abuse…For some women, it can be the case that they are having a ‘body memory’ of the abuse. They may say or do things that seem displaced. For instance she may say something like, ‘make him stop’, when no one is touching her. She may express what seems to be an extreme need for control in the birthing room, wanting to know who is coming and going, and who is doing what, and when they are going to do it. While all women are entitled to fully informed choices (not just informed consent), it is particularly essential for a woman survivor to know why something is being suggested and to have her choice, if possible, of who provides the intervention.”
Sharing your history and getting the help you need can make a huge difference to the outcome of your birth. Terminal uniqueness stems from fear. Fear creates defensiveness, resentment, and separation. Fear often masks itself in independence, freedom, and autonomy. We end up feeling alone and unsupported without knowing why. What we perceive as strength becomes a barrier to true freedom.
But those suffering from terminal uniqueness are not limited to the too posh, or to the survivors. Other symptoms of this condition can be the need for too much control or its opposite: no personal boundaries.
THE DANGERS OF TERMINAL UNIQUENESSWe called it terminal uniqueness because this way of thinking can be dangerous in a number of ways:
- Terminal uniqueness allows people to ignore the likely consequences of their actions.
- Terminal uniqueness provides a false sense of security.
- Terminal uniqueness divides the world into me and them.
- Terminal uniqueness leads to the individual’s thinking that she is either worse off than everyone else or that she is better than everyone else.
- Terminal uniqueness prevents her from seeking help for her problems.
- Terminal uniqueness can be a huge barrier to communication.
- Terminal uniqueness leads to feelings of loneliness and desperation.
- Terminal uniqueness can lead to making decisions against your own true desires
Terminal uniqueness can lead to unnecessary medical interventions, such as induction, augmentation, opiate administration, or cesarean sections.
If an individual views herself as a special case, she will not be able to reach out and embrace her authentic self. She is limited by her sense of uniqueness.
While it is true that living successful and fulfilling lives often means moving out of the mainstream, it is equally true that distancing ourselves from our fellow humans –physically, mentally, or emotionally–can have a negative effect on the quality of our lives.
Each of us is a special and unique individual. We are also members of the marvelous community of human beings, alike in many ways. Too often, we remove ourselves from this energizing unity of souls because we are afraid: afraid we will be hurt; afraid we won’t measure up; afraid we’ll fail; afraid we’ll be viewed as weak or damaged goods.
While people are unique, they also have a lot in common. Our similarities are what bring us together, allowing us to benefit from each other. We don’t have to discover everything for ourselves. We don’t have to make every mistake personally in order to learn from them. Accepting such similarities doesn’t mean giving up our individuality. It means benefiting from our similarities.
I once suffered from terminal uniqueness. I struggled with the need to be unique for a long, long time. Growing up during the feminist revolution in a culture where women were not highly regarded, I had to fight for my right to be different. I had to be as strong and as independent as a man to be noticed, to feel I existed. Because I felt so insecure about my strengths I felt I had to be better than others. I became great at handling crises. To demonstrate this greatness, however, I had to create a great deal of crises in my life!
To prove myself, to show the world how different and special I was, to convince others of how strong and independent I was, I filled my life with dramatic events (some real and some invented) that were hugely self-destructive. I was determined to be unique. I craved and immersed myself in drama so I could emerge victorious—the heroine of the situation.
I devised a code to keep control over my life and, of course, the lives of others. This code, born in my childhood and designed for my own personal safety, was so strict that if you did not behave accordingly you were not worthy of my friendship, attention, love, or companionship. At times, I even had a script you needed to follow. Of course the script existed in my head. Others around me were simply supposed to know it. Nevertheless, if you strayed from it I would feel abandoned, and misunderstood. I would fail to listen to what actually you were telling me. My focus was on catching you breaking my code. I believed in this code. It was all about integrity, loyalty, sincerity, and authenticity. I was righteously indignant with myself and all others who broke the code. I enforced this code until my group of friends became so small I had alienated many people. Most of all, I had alienated myself. The rules were so strict that I had omitted compassion. I punished myself when I did not live by my code and punished everyone else as well. The specific rules by which I wanted to live further separated me from everyone else. I persisted with this code until I woke up one morning, looked into the mirror and realized that the woman staring back at me—was a lonely terminally unique woman.
Don’t get me wrong! I know I am unique in many ways, and for that I am grateful. But, by recognizing the similarities I share with others, I’m more able to understand them, help them, and learn from them. When we view ourselves as completely unique, we do one of two things:
- We compare ourselves with others. By separating myself from others with an unrealistic view of uniqueness, I’m placing myself above or below them… “I’m better than…” or “I’m worse than…”
- Or, we find ourselves attached to the past, what we wish it was, or the future what we think/wish it should be and we lose the moment, the here and now – what actually is.
Terminal uniqueness is a fatal condition for souls. It destroys the possibility of having the life we really want. It separates us from the energy, from a support system, and from the community of people around us. It is born of fear rather than passion. The results can be terminal.
I am in no way encouraging you to simply become one of the masses, giving up the qualities that make you unique. I am inviting you to allow those qualities to connect you to other human beings rather than distancing yourself from them.
Both our similarities and our differences give us strength. The trick to having success, freedom, and joy in our lives is to embrace both, in ourselves as well as in others.
The idea that a problem we face is so unique that no one else has endured anything similar is ridiculous. If we focus only on how we are different from others, we segregate ourselves, thus losing our ability to learn from others. The irony is that, in our society, if you don’t compare yourself to any other person and if you live in the moment you will be unique. Yet, you will have mastered the art of being one with everyone else, blending in in this wonderful world of ours in the sea of humanity, as unique as a drop of water which contains, in itself, the entire ocean. Each individual is indispensable. Each of us is unique, and beautiful, as intricate as a snow crystal. Yet, together, we are each part of the fabric that makes up our awesome universe.