The Curse of Being Special

Mary H/ December 30, 2019/ Paul Brenner, MD, PhD

Over a number of years, I have encountered clients who demonstrate the curse of being told in childhood, how special they are. ‘Special’ can come with a dark side: anxiety, pressure to succeed, perfectionism, isolation and failure to meet expectations; and, in time, may lead to illness. The ‘gifted’ may either burnout or self-sabotage, in order to prove their family or teacher was wrong, or to validate how they truly feel about themselves.

The beauty in life is found in its imperfections, the source of difference and ordinariness. The expectations placed on the ‘special child’ are not only unrealistic, but impossible to achieve. Post childhood, these children find out that they are not alone. There are other individuals who are just as intelligent, just as successful, just as athletic, just as creative…more proficient.

The now adult becomes filled with a sense of failure, and may tend to self-sabotage. Too often, they may have illnesses that are difficult to diagnose and often associated with the gastrointestinal tract. Most recently, the gastrointestinal tract is referred to as the ‘second brain.’ The gut produces the same biochemical substances in response to stress, fear and pain; as does the brain.

In parenting, we don’t need to do anything other than love our children; and realize that they, like all children, are love made visible. We should teach them to accept their ordinariness and follow their dreams. We should teach them that there is no such thing as perfection. We should teach them that there is no such thing as ‘the perfect job’ or ‘permanent success.’ We should teach them to mimic life by living in the present and embracing uncertainty; for the only constants in life are change and the beauty that can be found in difference.