March 28, 2024

Ego Specialness: What it is & Why it’s Not Real.


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“Ego Specialness” is the idea that we derive merit, worth, honor, or respect from our contradistinction to other individuals or groups.

Hierarchy, rank, and status persist because of an egoistic need to stand separate from others. It is a striving to lift ourselves. But it is not born from self-love.

Percentiles rankings, gated communities, exclusive clubs, airline status, VIP entrances, red carpets, designer labels, beauty pageants, and more are constructed from the idea that fulfillment is obtained from specialness. The perception that specialness yields happiness, wealth, or worth is baked into our education systems and permeates industries from health care to wellness, finance, and more. It is the backbone of marketing and advertising strategy. It is the premise of the American dream.

The problem with ego specialness is that it is not just grit, brilliance, creativity, or talent that are at stake. Ego specialness is built upon the necessary degradation of another and, by implication, the degradation of ourselves. The “A” grade does not mean anything if everyone can earn it. The Ivy League education doesn’t count if everyone can have one. We know this. And so, we strive while confusing “exclusive,” “prestigious,” or “elite” with honor, respect, and worth.

What is more is that the quest for ego specialness is not the aberrant behavior of narcissists, the shallow few, the wealthy, or the politicians. Most of us who are considered “driven” or “successful” participate in some form of ego specialness. It may influence the car we drive or where we work, shop for groceries, or send our children to school. Even the purportedly “enlightened” or “spiritual” among us may be driven by an insecure need for status or distinction. But regardless of how you undertake your ego specialness, it is a scarcity mindset. It does not derive from a sense of abundance. It is at its core…fear.

But it is not required. Our survival is not predicated upon creating separation via specialness. To the contrary, our species and world are sustained through interconnection and a sense of oneness or unity. As humans, sustaining contentment comes when we develop individual values and personally align ourselves to spaces, places, or pursuits without adherence to external guideposts. As we align more solidly within ourselves, we energize creative force while developing capacity for authentic and vulnerable connection with others. What counts is the energy and intention that motivates our thoughts, words, and activities, not how we measure up.

I happen to have a long, deep, and complicated relationship with ego specialness. I candidly admit that I have been solidly churning miles on the ego specialness treadmill for decades. I was taught that specialness and distinction were positive and to strive mightily for more. By my mid-20s, I had graduated from law school cum laude, earned collegiate athletic achievements, and even entered and won a beauty pageant. The real accomplishment though was coming to understand that any effort motivated solely by a desire for status or achievement is, at best, a futile distraction, and, at worst, a draining and confusing enterprise that contributes to depression, anxiety, and a sense of low self-worth.

People who are deeply insecure or with narcissistic traits further confuse our relationship with ego specialness. We might participate in ego specialness to support and perpetuate the egoistic needs of others. Maybe we are striving within toxic or dysfunctional spaces or relationships. Perhaps we are unwittingly replaying the trauma of a toxic childhood by trying to prove or justify. Women are subjected to further limitation by being taught to diminish the “win” before we can even feel into what it is—and what it is not: “Be the best, but don’t think so much of yourself.” As such, the confusion and complexity of ego specialness persists.

But regardless of how we show up to ego specialness, it is always an illusory dance with fear. The long-term benefits are analogous to a pack of cigarettes or a diet soda. Participation in ego specialness gives energy and authority to ideas and systems that keep us small and stalled in realizing our potential and worth. The value of a win requires the countervailing significance of the loss. Elevating one way of being or doing thwarts our ability to see and claim something higher. But our power and worth are not defined by external comparison.

Despite what we may have been taught, or what is mirrored within popular culture or education systems, the truth is that when we seek to find a sense of worth, love, or respect by separating, elevating, or distinguishing, we necessarily give credence to unworthiness or lack. Ego specialness is a coveting and a yearning from insecurity and fear. It is a scarcity game. It is not our genuine or authentic selves. Ego specialness is not real.


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