In recovery circles, you sometimes hear the phrase “terminal uniqueness.” That’s the belief that we’re different from everyone else, more sensitive, more romantic, special. We think we’re better than those “losers” who go to twelve-step groups, or we decide treatment programs aren’t for us because we know more than the counselors who lead the groups. Claiming specialness is a great way to avoid taking responsibility or having to change.
Not all addicts feel “special,” of course, and you don’t have to have an addiction to suffer from terminal uniqueness. Regardless of the issues we face in life, when we convince ourselves we’re different, or that diets, programs, or treatments that work for others won’t work for us, or that we don’t have a problem in the first place, we can, figuratively and literally, end up dead. If we don’t die in body, we die in spirit. We lose everything we love. We get depressed, suicidal, lonely, ill, or end up incarcerated.
Desiring to Be Special
If specialness leads to death, loneliness, and loss, why do we cling to it?
Thinking we’re special feels good. At least for a while, we don’t notice our shame. We can pretend we don’t have an addiction, that we aren’t really going to die, and that our problems aren’t our fault. We can blame our parents, pollution, or the certainty that everyone’s jealous of us.
Being part of the “in crowd” also makes us feel special. As addicts, or veterans, or believers, we gain identity and find camaraderie. We get status from joining fraternities or sororities.  Although this sense of belonging feels good, and can even be healthy, when we start to believe we are the “special” ones, belonging can lead to fear, condemnation, and violence.
An extreme reflection of specialness is narcissism. Nacissists, convinced of their uniqueness, think they’re better than everyone else and that the rules “normal” people follow don’t apply to them. Beneath their sense of superiority, however, lies an emptiness that fuels a search for validation from something outside themselves. They need others to affirm their specialness.
The Narcissist In Us
In their paper, “Nondual Psychotherapy and Second Stage Sexual Addictions Recovery: Transforming ‘Master of the Universe’ Narcissism into Nondual Being,” Gary Nixon and Brian Theriault talk about one way to help the narcissistic sex addict find healing and wholeness. Perhaps you can’t relate to the sexual acting out of the narcissist, but probably you share some of their insecurities.
For instance, most of us want to “escape from the threat of non-being . . . [and] the terror of non-existence” that the authors suggest lie beneath narcissistic and addictive behaviors.  To at least some extent, we all fear being nobody, empty, and worthless. Feeling important fills the hole in our hearts, so we seek awards, applause, accolades, and recognition. Many of us try to shore up our identity by being somebody special.
This seems innocuous enough. Yet if we can’t face the reality of our humanness, if humbleness feels like humiliation, we will become a slave to achievements, parties, praise, money, or drugs. Yet no matter how much we win, how many pleasures we savor, these empty conquests will never satisfy us. They will never be enough. Instead, they will make us, and everyone we love, miserable.
This, Nixon and Theriault explain, is a spiritual crisis. When we scrabble for worldly success, we lose our souls. We become addicted “to self and to mind,” which alienates us from our inner being and isolates us from others.  Instead of pursuing satisfaction in external pleasures, we need to surrender the illusion that we are separate individuals and awaken to who we really are: nondual creatures, at one with each other and the universe.
How do we do this? Nixon and Theriault suggest transpersonal psychotherapy. Meditation, chanting, prayers, and artistic expression also work, as does Henri Nouwen’s prescription: “chosenness.”
Chosenness and Israel’s Election
In Deuteronomy 7:6, we read “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” [NIV]
What a lovely thing to be “chosen” by God, especially since the Israelites didn’t have to do anything to earn or deserve this love and election. God loved because God chose to love.
Yet when we interpret God’s act of choosing as being a statement that the Hebrew people were “special,” when we assume God loved the Israelites more than He loved others, then we might start to think that the Hebrew people were justified in trampling and destroying others, just as the narcissistic idea that we individuals are “special” makes us think we have special rights. If God can “bless whom He would bless” [see Num. 22:6; Num. 23:30; Rom. 9], then He can also withhold that blessing. 
Nouwen re-interprets the idea of being chosen. Instead of believing that God chose the Israelites, or Christians, over other people, he insists that God chose all of us. Every single tribe and every single person is important to and beloved by God.
Miriam’s Song and God’s Love
We see something of this feeling in a midrash from the Talmud. When God split the Red Sea, then drowned the Egyptian pursuers in its waters, Miriam and Moses sang songs of rejoicing. Because they were only human, God allowed this, but when the angels wanted “to utter the song of praise before the Holy One, blessed be God, . . . God rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea, would you utter song before me!” (Talmud Sanhedrin 39b)
In other words, it is wrong to celebrate the deaths of any human being, even our enemies. God created everyone, and everything. All of God’s creation is “chosen.”
In “A Time to End the Hate Song,” rabbi Avi Katz Orlow writes, “A song of salvation is great, but rejoicing in someone else’s suffering is just wrong.” If “the wickedness of man” leaves God with no choice but to destroy the wicked ones, that doesn’t mean we should be happy about it. Love and reconciliation are more blessed than is hatred. 
Chosenness, not Specialness
In the Christian Scriptures, when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, God says to him, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” [Mark 1:10-11, NRSV]. In Life of the Beloved, Nouwen tells how he came to realize that this blessing from God was not just for Jesus, nor just for Christians, but “that the words ‘You are my Beloved’ revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings.” 
If specialness makes us think we are better than, different from, and more important than others, chosenness reminds us that we are all beloved in a very special way. When we feel unworthy or ashamed, when we cover up our inadequacies with arrogance, we have trouble accepting God’s love. Our compulsiveness and addictions are fed by our craving for some person or event that will make us feel acceptable. As Nouwen explains, when we cling to being “special,” we don’t allow ourselves to be “chosen.”
Just because we are chosen, however, doesn’t mean others are rejected. As we saw in the Talmud, God chose Egypt, too. God loves and chooses all of us, even those of us who do cruel and unspeakable things. Indeed, it’s when we deny our chosenness that we get greedy, clingy, ashamed, addicted, and aggressive.
Becoming the Beloved
Our work, therefore, is to accept our wholeness, to take in the love that is our birthright, to grow into our true selves, to live as the person God sees, to become the beloved. To do this, not only must we accept that we are loved, but also that we are broken.
We humans hurt one another. The wounds we cause create fissures in our hearts and souls. We might not notice our pain. After all, we don’t like to acknowledge our flaws. Pretending we are perfect, however, won’t make it so. Indeed, it will only preclude our healing, for we don’t heal by producing something of value or winning a trophy or birthing a child or getting a “good” job. We heal by accepting our brokenness, facing our pain, moving through our fears, and opening ourselves up to the truth of who and what we are. For Nixon and Theriault, this is our oneness; for Nouwen, it is our chosenness.
When we accept God’s love, when we feel at one with all things, our shame and inadequacy fade. We know ourselves as valuable, holy, whole. Nouwen writes: “When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness.” 
Whether we speak of God or psychology or mystical oneness, if we can take in the sense of being loved and beloved, we will discover a deep joy. Far more satisfying than any specialness the world might encourage us to claim or that our own insecurity might drive us to create, this love chooses us, blesses us, heals us, and sends us into the world to love others.
In faith and fondness,
- See Jaffe, Adi, “Is Personal Experience Necessary for Addiction Treatment?”, Psychology Today, May 25, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-addiction/201105/is-personal-experience-necessary-addiction-treatment.
- Nixon, Gary and Brian Theriault, “Nondual Psychotherapy and Second Stage Sexual Addictions Recovery: Transforming ‘Master of the Universe’ Narcissism into Nondual Being,” Int J Ment Health ddiction (2012) 10:368-285, https://www.uleth.ca/dspace/bitstream/handle/10133/3291/Sex%20addiction-Almaas.pdf;sequence=1
- Ibid 7.
- Ibid 6.
- See Constable, Thomas L., “Notes on Deuteronomy, 2016 Edition,” http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/deuteronomy.pdf.
- See Orlow, Avi Katz, “Time to End the Hate Song,” My Jewish Leaning, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/author/rabbi-avi-katz-orlow/.
- Nouwen, Henri J. M., Life of the Beloved, New York: Crossroads, 1992, 30.
- Ibid 63.
Photo by Abigail Keenan, from Unsplash