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What is ‘Terminal Uniqueness’ and How Can I Know If I Have It?

What is 'Terminal Uniqueness' and How Can I Know if I Have It? What is Terminal Uniqueness?

As someone recovering from substance abuse and addiction, I can say that I personally have dealt with periods of what is called ‘Terminal Uniqueness’ (also referred to as personal exceptionalism). This is the false belief that the situation an addict or alcoholic is facing is unlike anything other addicts or alcoholics have ever before been able to relate to, and it is considered ‘terminal’ because this way of thinking can get people killed. If and addict or alcoholic is unwilling to take advantage of the treatments or recovery programs offered because they are convinced that they are a special case, they are exhibiting terminal uniqueness. Terminal uniqueness causes the individual suffering from this mode of reasoning to clash with other people who are trying to help them the majority of the time.

Through this flawed logic, the addict/alcoholic is able to remain on a path to self-inflicted suffering and ultimately self-destruction. They may even have no issue with accepting the fact that the excessive use of drugs or alcohol will hurt those around them, but they still find a way to feel exempt from that fact. It is noted in 12 Step literatures we tend to try and find ways to prove we are exceptions to the rules. If this delusion goes unaddressed, it is possible to result in the death of the sick person. Personal awareness is key.

Signs of Terminal Uniqueness

Terminal Uniqueness is a form of isolation that so many in a program of recovery will relate to. If you are wondering yourself if you have this warped perspective, here are a few indicators. Many of which stem from pride.

1. Do you continuously compare and contrast yourself with others in recovery or with your opinion of what an addict or alcoholic is, typically to show that others just cannot understand your unique situation and how it affects you?

2. Are you a big fan of ‘one-upsmanship’?

Ex) “Well, you think that’s bad… let me tell you about what happened to me!”

“Well, I’ve never done anything that bad… I cannot relate so I’m not the same!”

3. Can you be a pouter if other people do not pay attention, notice, and acknowledge you for the uniqueness of your situation?

4. When someone suggests treatment or a recovery program do you often say things like:

  • I’m not like them
  • I need to do it my way
  • I’m different
  • I’d rather do it myself
  • This won’t work for me

Understanding Terminal Uniqueness 

I know in my story there were many things that I believed to be unique to my situation because in my life I had no direct contact with people who had experienced some of the same difficulties or situations. In fact a few of the things that happened early on in my life such a physical abuse, the deaths of a few people close to me, and the relationships and circumstances at home were actually the biggest excuses I used to drink and use drugs, and most people let me get away with it because I used that explanation of struggling with issues no one around me could understand.

Ultimately what I found is that none of these things were all that unique. Yes these moments in my life impacted me and I did feel these circumstances intensely. However the belief that it was bad enough not to do the right thing and change my life because I was special and my history was too different was invariably wrong. In recovery I heard so many stories, and so many different struggles and backgrounds and excuses that I discovered that thinking you’re unique isn’t even unique. Everyone has a story, we are all different, and we are all individuals. However if we are addicts or alcoholics, we are all able to find a solution and take suggestions. And if we can do that and not drink or use, we are all miracles.

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