The Hidden Side of “Special”

For many of us, our first experiences of being “special” to others happens naturally with our parents in our earliest days on this earth. Whether it’s the excitement we sense from them as they welcome us into this world for the very first time (at birth); the smiles on their faces as they coo over us in those blissful first weeks of infancy; or the sense of pride they mirror back to us upon our earliest successes, whether at home, at school, or on the playground- being “special” is something most of us encounter before we even know what to call the experience.

Enjoying feelings of being special and unique to the people around us can indeed be a healthy source of developmental resources such as comfort, strivings for success, motivation to pursue our ambitions, and much needed succor when life’s challenges bruise us up. Early experiences with caretakers who make us feel special in uncomplicated ways tend to pave the way for the healthy use of “specialness” to manage the demands of reality and the rewards of intimate relationships.
But not everyone has it so lucky.

For some, the sense of specialness (that should be a birthright for all of us) gets exploited early on- or simply spoiled- whether by traumatizing caregivers who make us feel special in the service of their own needs (whether for ego, control, or seduction); by those who demand a hidden price in return for the “special” treatment (such as the mother who dotes on her son but also surreptitiously “guilts” him into failing to grow up or to launch his own romantic attachments); or by those who simply deflate our feelings of success, excitement, or grandiosity because of their own envy, fear, or sense of being threatened.

For others, it’s not the parent or others who create the ambivalence about “specialness”, but the child’s own insecurities about the self that lead to overstimulating wishes for such heroic or impossible successes, that inevitable feelings of failure or disappointment ensue when real life can’t accommodate to such high standards as the insecure “self” demands as compensation for painful feelings of insecurity.

And so we see people who harbor deep (sometimes unconscious) fantasies of success or perfection, but who express this in confusing ways.

Whether it’s walking around with constant anxiety, body aches, obsessions, insecurities, and painful comparisons to others- in order to mask shameful wishes for recognition, praise, or love- or simply obscuring the wish for success and attention by flying invisibly under the radar or holding back from acts of self expression or assertiveness, hiding a wish for specialness can certainly come with a price.

Good feelings may be reversed into gloom and doom; ambitions may be savagely crushed; rewarding relationships may be approached with fear…all by an internal saboteur who never lets up.

For some, this means endless tests in relationships; begging others to prove their love yet never quite feeling satisfied; constant jealousy; or perhaps subtle demands for the rules of normal relationships to be broken, or maybe for perfect understanding or connection all the time.

When no relationship ever seems to be enough- because nothing is ever special enough to fill the internal need for perfection that is coveted and craved, there may in fact be questions about one’s specialness at play.

For yet others, coming across as dependent, helpless, or victimized subtly draws us in to treating them in special or unique ways that start to confuse, surprise, or manipulate us. We try to pull out from the seduction of the “special” role we are offered, once we start to realize that “special” in such a case is really a prison, a demand, or a setup.

For some people, it manifests as stopping themselves from trying to get ahead, believing the inner critic that says things like, “You’re too old”, or “You’re not good enough”, or simply sabotaging success just when it’s at the door, or not even bothering to try because the fear of failure is so great.

So, how do we reclaim the healthy versions of “special”, the ways in which we are unique enough and loved enough without strings attached, impossible standards, or hidden demands?

Perhaps when we start to talk about the hidden parts of “special”, we can let go of the unconscious anxieties, shame, and secrets that rob us of its joy.

What do you think makes you special and can you claim this in a straightforward way?