Tuesday, April 6, 2021

20. No One Can Make You Feel "Special"

"If we think we are something special or not special enough, then fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety arise. We are the same."  --  The Dalai Lama 

In previous posts I’ve discussed ways I've learned about how to give and receive authentic love.  In Lesson 43, I shared my guide for beginning to love one’s self first.  In Lesson 33, I discussed the problematic nature of disavowing your own emotional responsibility in favor of blaming others for how you feel.  And in Lesson 27, I outlined the suffering inherent when one uses a romantic partner for identity and validation.  I've applied these lessons to gay men frequently in my Work over the past 25 years,  but I believe they can be applied to anyone who is sabotaging relationships this way. 

“But isn’t it important to find one person in this world who thinks you are special?”  

Let’s start by going further with the concept of “special.”  By definition, if one is “special” then they are separate from others, different from non-special humans, set apart and greater-than in a unique way.  At the same time, we have an epidemic of loneliness in the United States which presents much higher in gay men.  So there is a culture saying that you “should” feel unique and different from others; that that experience must come directly from a spouse or partner; and you'll never find that person unless you stay young and thin.  And then if you do find him, you’ll still have to worry about keeping him and make great efforts to ensure you don't lose him.    

If the ability to feel special derives primarily from another person, then it logically follows that one would be on the lookout and scanning for applicants to fill the job.  Meeting people and dating then becomes an activity with a clear goal: Find the one to make you feel special.  Conversations become job interviews, affections become strategies followed by the desperate anticipation, “will he call me, will he text me, what if he doesn’t want to see me again?” Beneath that worry lies the Big Fear, “What if no one makes me feel special?”

Now let’s say there is a connection, and that new guy really does want to make you feel special.  I’ve seen that go one of two ways:  (1) He completely fails at the task at hand, which results in disappointment, despair, and resentment.  (2) He succeeds at the task, but the chemical high of  “special” only lasts so long, and soon he must prove to you that you are special again.  Like any addictive drug, you build tolerance quickly, and you must keep upping the ante to get same effect.  So a dozen flowers becomes two dozen flowers, a weekend getaway becomes a luxury vacation.  There must always be a new way for him to prove you are special, which ultimately leads back to disappointment, despair, resentment, and sometimes violence. 

And then we wonder why depression and drug abuse is so common in the gay community.  

There is a much easier way of getting older, connecting with others, and prioritizing self-care. 

I believe that all living beings are uniquely suited to a particular contribution to helping the world become a better place than how we found it.  In this way we all have a “special” purpose, which paradoxically means none of us are actually “special.”  Everyone has an important and vital role to play in helping our communities become more loving and compassionate places to live.  This might be through your Work, it might be through your job, or some combination of both.  Whatever it is that helps you shine, to feel like you’re in the zone, to access your mojo, that is likely your relevant contribution to the environment around you. 

Courtesy of Adam's Nest
In my world, we ALL contain the loving presence of God within us.  When I say “God” here I am not referring to a traditional religious figure or critical judge who decides who is naughty or nice.  “God” for me refers to a generous abundant energy, not a judging entity.  I use the term “God” interchangeably with “Spirit” or “Light”.  In this world there is no true separation -- there is just infinite loving energy.  

Nearly everything we learn in this world, especially in America, reinforces the perception of separation.  When we feel separated from a loving experience of God it leads us to try to replace it by looking elsewhere -- primarily in a romantic partner.  This is the search that so frequently leads back to the disappointment, despair, and the resentment (and violence) mentioned before.  It is not another human being's job to replace God in your life.  That is your responsibility, your process, your Work. 

When we know and live this truth then there is no need or desire to use another person to make you feel good.  You feel good because you decide to feel good, not because of your strategies or schemes.  You shine because you have power to do so, not because another person gives you permission or validation.  You feel “special” because you know your life has meaning, because your contributions have relevance.  Just like everyone else. 

Letting go of needing someone to make me "special" opened me up to so many different ways of connecting.  After I stopped chasing charismatic narcissists in my twenties I focused on just being open and present in my interactions with other people.  It was so liberating not to "need" anyone or use anyone to make me feel anything.  It tuned out that the need to feel "special" or attractive or validated was literally a closed energy; it repelled healthy people away from me -- it stopped people from being interested in getting to know me.  But once I approached friendships and connections from a place of balance and joy,  without "shoulds" or demands, then I found there was an abundance of healthy friendship and fun available to me at all ages, in all locations.  

I know that this might be a conversation that is difficult to have, and some will reject it.  But I've also learned over the past twenty years, throughout my personal and professional Work, that there are many people who want to learn to feel good, break addictive cycles of "Special," want to feel abundantly connected to others in healthy ways, and want go get older with a sense of authentic power.  I've loved having these discussions over the years and look forward to having many more in the decades ahead. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at Damon@DamonLJacobs.com or 347-227-7707.

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