“Ryan, what if you admitted to yourself that you are, in fact, special? What would life be like?”
Every now and then, my therapist will say something like this to me, and make me re-evaluate my whole life in the space of a few seconds. Let me explain further. The notion of being special is a tricky one for me. It is something I’ve been given by my mother as a life narrative; something I’ve felt at many points in my own life; and something I’ve absolutely rejected and avoided at many other points in life. It is one of my main personal mythologies, and only now, at 32 years old, have I started reframing its meaning to me, and appreciating the many dynamics it brings into my day to day life.
A personal mythology is just a Dramatherapy way of saying life story, mainly because it is a bit more than a story. There’s a sense of depth, reach, and longevity to it. A personal mythology goes beyond what we have done or experienced, it is deeply connected to the core of who we are. I believe that whilst we undergo profound changes throughout our lives, there is also a part of us that remains deeply the same. This part that remains the same, is a part that we get to know more of as we grow, on a deeper level. Some of our core issues remain the same, but we get to know them more deeply. If you go to therapy long enough, you’ll understand this well. For me, it’s not like I’ve ever stopped talking about relationships from my early years, but I’ve been understanding them more and more over the years. And so, for me, specialness has been a common feature of my core. I was first given it by others, due to somewhat miraculous circumstances around my birth, which was then reinforced by others around me throughout my entire childhood. I was bound to believe that I was special at some point.
During my adolescence, I received another personal mythology: worthlessness. This was given to me via many individuals during the relentless bullying I experienced in my teenage years. At some point, I was also bound to believe this about myself. If something happens to you consistently, over a long period of time, it will stay with you. No matter how conscious of it you are, it is there. That’s why trauma is not only caused by major events, but also by small events that occur over a long period of time. But the thing about the narratives that you internalise about yourself, is that they are internalised, therefore becoming part of you, taking more and more space in your unconscious as time goes by. This is why real change may take some time. Just like physical cancer, emotional and mental cancer may spread to many areas of your life, thus making it more difficult to remove. Not impossible, but more difficult.
In my 20s, I experienced a full-on war between these two, extremely conflicting, personal mythologies of mine: being special and worthless, all at the same time. This is why I never work from a black or white perspective or use words and notions like good and bad. Most of our lives are nuanced. Most of our lives are actually grey, rather than black and white. So, in my early adulthood, I achieved two degrees, moved to and lived in different countries, made very deep connections with people, whilst being the most self-destructive and self-hating I could be. How?
We are living and breathing paradoxes. Walking around the world feeling, thinking, and being opposite things in any given moment. That’s just who and what we are. And I would say that most of us have a version of this deep dichotomy inside of us. We are both able of accomplishing the most remarkable things, and the most destructive. What my therapist was trying to tell me with those questions, was that much of my past and current chaos was due to the fact that I kept avoiding my special mythology in favour of my worthlessness one. I was recently reminded of this in two ways. First, a good friend of mine has recently found a new job, after a long and patient period of searching her soul, being kind to herself, and testing her values. It has paid off, as it always does, but life is tricky and complex, and sometimes we don’t get enough time and space to give ourselves these moments to stop, reflect, and feel. I’m extremely happy and excited for her on this new journey. I believe that, in short, she was looking for her own specialness and reclaiming it for herself. The second thing was listening to a podcast interview with Esther Perel – one of my therapy idols – where she was saying that sometimes her most difficult therapy sessions were her best. The ones where she was feeling down and depressed, or experiencing some emotional turmoil, often end up being her most productive ones. She attributes this to actually enabling her to be closer to her clients’ pain, as she was also experiencing pain.
Now, I’ve been very scared of this in recent years. I’ve over-worked myself to a burnout, which almost made me quit therapy altogether, and I’ve been really scared to manage this dynamic in my own life. How many clients are too many clients? How many sessions are too many sessions? Am I being a good therapist if I’m not feeling well? What listening to that interview helped me with was this: I forgot about the grey. I forgot that during the period that I was burning out and thinking of quitting therapy, I was also undergoing some of the most profound changes in my inner world, battling with health issues and their subsequent emotional upheaval, and generally engaging with a new-found perspective about my life. I forgot that the burnout was not just about my therapy work, it was also about all the things that were happening in my life at the time. And whenever there’s an upheaval, the personal mythology that arises and takes over is the worthlessness one. I’ve been letting fear get in the way of doing more, of accomplishing more, of being special, because my personal narrative of worthlessness has been running the show, somewhat unbeknownst to me.
This is constant work. To remind myself that I’m special. That I’ve accomplished great things, and that I can accomplish many more. That I’ve actually got much to give, and to receive. I’m reminded of that Marianne Williamson quote:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
Embrace your specialness. Work at it. Remind yourself of it. In fact, try to surround yourself with people who can remind you of it. And sometimes, try to reach out and openly seek the help from those around you, who will remind you of how special you are to them, and this will help you remind yourself of how special you are, to yourself. It takes a village to do many things. Don’t forget your village. Use it. Invite them in. Be special with them.