How "Terminal Uniqueness" Can Be Damaging to Treatment and the Recovery Process

When it comes to treatment and the recovery process, there are a few character traits that most people who suffer from substance use disorder (SUD) have in common. Some of these things are a destructive priority system, like how they might choose substances over a family member who is in need. One of the less talked about traits is referred to as “terminal uniqueness” and it can be an incredibly difficult trait to work with in the recovery process. 

What Is Terminal Uniqueness

“Terminal uniqueness” is a term used to describe people who maintain that their experience with substances is different from everybody else's. Someone who suffers from “terminal uniqueness” might say things like, “I drank more than everyone I know so I'm different from a normal alcoholic and what works for you won't work for me.” Perhaps not in those exact words, but the point is that the person believes they are so different from everyone else that how one person manages their sobriety will not work for them.

While it is true that one person's recovery strategies might not work for someone else, that does not mean that there are not aspects that can be taken and used. “Terminal uniqueness” tends to produce a close-mindedness and reluctance when it comes to entering recovery.

How Terminal Uniqueness Can Be Damaging

Several things can go wrong with a “terminally unique” mentality. Not only does it affect the person who has it, but it can also be damaging to other people in recovery they come in contact with.

Damaging to the Person

The most obvious person who is hurt by “terminal uniqueness” is the person who suffers from it. With this mentality, it might be extremely difficult to stick to a recovery plan or even enter treatment because they likely believe it is not going to work for them. To have successful sobriety, one has to want to improve because so much of recovery depends on one's drive.

Sobriety can be difficult to manage alone but few rarely consider that even detoxing alone can be dangerous. The process, if not done with some level of supervision, could even be fatal. So while a “terminally unique” person may be driven to get sober on their own terms, the process can be life-threatening when done unsupervised.

Damaging to the Group

Though it is not as obvious, people in a recovery group can be affected by “terminal uniqueness.” To have a successful group, everyone must share their stories and talk about things that have helped them improve. If everyone were to go into the group thinking no other person's strategies could apply to them, the group would fall apart.

Studies show that group therapy is essential for lasting recovery. Recovery is unique in that everyone has their own stories to tell, but it is the similarities everyone shares that make a group able to help keep fellow members sober. At the bare minimum, everyone has in common that they are sober and want to stay that way. Although the stories of how they got to that place may be different, everyone is in the same place mentally at that moment. “Terminal uniqueness” can break down these commonalities.

How Can This Be Avoided

The number one way that “terminal uniqueness” can be remedied is by having an open mind. This may be easier said than done, but having an open mind will allow recovering individuals to see the shared points they have with others. They must focus on finding common ground rather than what sets them apart from everyone else. 

Another mental exercise that may help “terminally unique” individuals break this mentality is empathizing with others when they share. In other words, try to put oneself in the shoes of the person speaking. People may find that there is something they can relate to.

If a recovering individual struggling with “terminal uniqueness” tries and still finds they are not relating to others, they may need to find a new group. It can be hard to try to relate to others when there is just no connection. To remedy "terminal uniqueness," one must find someone to relate to, perhaps in a group other than their usual one where there are other people with different stories to tell.

Ultimately, what group therapy participants should avoid is distancing themselves from the rest of the group. Be present and try to experience the moment. Group is a time to feel vulnerable and to share feelings, so if an individual cannot relate, they can be honest about this in the group. There may be someone who has also suffered from “terminal uniqueness” when they first entered recovery and they may have advice on how to overcome it.

"Terminal uniqueness" is just one of the many struggles that can come up in early sobriety. Finding a group of people you can connect with on a deep level can be difficult. Recovery support groups are essential to staying sober and being happy in sobriety. If you are struggling with "terminal uniqueness" and feel there is no one you can truly connect with, know that there are people who can help. NorthStar Transitions, located in Boulder, CO, can be the place to find that help. We offer support for those who are having issues with substance abuse at any stage in the process and can help you overcome feelings that tell you that other people's recovery strategies won't help you. If you or someone you know is in need of treatment, take the first steps by calling us today at (303) 558-6400

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