Thursday, August 14, 2008

Terminal Uniqueness

The trend to reject "the mainstream" has become a mainstream activity heh heh!

In previous post, I highlight an interview with author Lander about his book Stuff White People Like. Lander says that "white people" (or it seems people in a particular income-upper middle class) have an obsession with being "authentic" or special. This concept is something I've been writing or thinking about with friends and family for years.

I was reminded of something I learned from therapy...that came from recovery communities (can be found in mental, emotional and substance recovery attitudes) and AA called "terminal uniqueness".

On one hand being an artist, an "original" or question authority is a positive attitude...but it can also be a negative. Sometimes wanting to be unique or an individual is unhealthy. Humans are designed to be social animals and although I believe in questioning authority I also value the community feeling of enjoying similar interests with friends and family. Sometimes, exploring the nature of reality, and questioning or rejcting the mainstream simply because it's trendy to do so, can be hazardous and a sign of addiction or imbalance in our souls.

Here is an online definition I found of "terminal uniqueness", a trait associated with difficulty in recovery and in addiction behaviours:

A term used primarily within 12-step programs. The meaning differs by context. The most fundamental of the definitions is a person's belief that he is so unique that the usual rules do not apply to him. Those who use the term believe terminal uniqueness to be a form of pride or egotism. While this sounds at first glance like a person who believes himself to be better than others, it does not have to be.

It is commonly used for the person who believes that nobody in the world has ever had problems as bad, sins as unforgivable, or circumstances as unusually grotesque as his before. "You people couldn't possibly help me, I'm too messed up. You could never understand what I've been through. And I'm an all-around bad person." Through talking to other people who have been through similar things, he usually finds that he shares both shortcomings and circumstances with at least some of them.

It can also be used for the person who wanders into an AA meeting and says, "I'm not like any of you. I never lived on the streets. I never resorted to crime. I was never a crack whore. I never did injectable drugs. I have a job that makes good money." As in the first case, prolonged exposure to others in the group reveals similarities the person was not expecting.

Terminal uniqueness is said to hold a person back from making the progress she needs to make her life better. In an artificially elevated or degraded position, she believes that the advice others give him cannot possibly apply to her. The possibility of her death if she does not improve her life gives rise to the word terminal.

A related usage of the term has been a cause for concern for some people. This is the reference to someone who believes he is so special that, for instance, he can skip some of the 12 steps or arrogantly make up his own way of doing things.

While there are real instances in which people use this mindset to evade responsibility, there is potential for grave misuse of the term. An alcoholic who wants to learn to drink moderately rather than abstain, or an addict who wants to quit using some other method than the 12 steps, might unjustly come under fire as being terminally unique. People can use the concept of terminal uniqueness to browbeat someone into avoiding any semblance of individuality at all.


mister anchovy said...

I worked someone several years ago who made a number of comments to me which suggested that she believed that art-making was an activity done by people which mental illnesses, meaning if you made art, you likely had a mental illness.

Candy Minx said...

I don't have much of an argument for that one ha ha!

I know I am completely nuts!

(meanwhile I remember reading a quote by someone famous, like Neitzche, that to not be an artist is a sign of insanity)


mister anchovy said...

ya, I think ole Freddy Neitzche was right about that one.

Malcolm said...

I picked up a copy of "Stuff White People Like" from the place where I work. After seeing the title, I had to check it out. It had me cracking up.