It’s lonely at the top

So, I’ve been thinking about the ways that I may treat myself as special or different from other people. In RO DBT, we sometimes call this the enigma predicament, i.e., “I am not like other people” (see Lynch 2018, pg. 318 of the RO DBT Textbook and the webinar ‘The Enigma Predicament’, Level 2 of the Blended learning program).

  • “Normal expectations for behavior do not apply to me because of my exceptional pain and suffering”.
  • “I don’t need to conform to what society expects—because, unlike most other people. I am capable of creating my own rules”.

One aspect of seeing ourselves as different is having an expectation for different or special treatment. Just for fun we could think about this as our little princess (or prince) persona. There is a dialectic here: in some ways we are each unique. We may have different struggles, genetic factors, responsibilities, and past experiences, and yet at the same time we all are the same in sharing the bond of humanity. We all have current struggles, we are all trying to move forward from past painful experiences, we all have genetics we can’t change, and we all have current jobs we need to get done. So, I suppose for myself it’s not about denying our individual experiences, but rather about noticing times when we are emphasizing being “unique” in situations where it doesn’t fit or isn’t helpful. On face value, considering ourselves as special seems nice, but it doesn’t consider that it may mean that we are separating ourselves from the tribe and as the song by Randy Newman goes, “it’s lonely at the top”.

To practice some openness around this RO concept, I have started to notice small moments when I feel like I deserve something or am considering myself special and have asked myself “Am I truly owed this?” Here are some moments that I noticed that I may be expecting different treatment (and the emotional or relationship consequences that resulted):

  • So, I’m in the grocery store and the line is moving very slowly. I start to feel very impatient and have a sense of urgency. I notice this sense of frustration that this is “wasting my time” and I have important things to do (like returning client phone calls). I like to think of this as “helper entitlement.” If it was to talk it may say something like “don’t you see I’m very important in helping others and you should cater to my timeline.” Eeek. I didn’t even think about how the mom with several children in front of me probably also has an important timeline to keep.
  • I pull up to the building, and the parking spot I usually use is taken. I groan and roll my eyes thinking “who are all these people taking my spot?” (despite the fact it’s not actually legally mine). Whoops. I notice leaning into some self pity about my (truthfully pretty short) walk to the building. This one was interesting because I noticed some feelings of deserving it because it’s what I normally do. If this entitlement was to talk it may say, “Can’t you see I deserve this because it’s my routine.”
  • I walk into the phone store to change my service plan and ask if they can break the rules for me due to a time crunch. They refuse and bluntly tell me to follow the proper steps. I notice the judgment “this is terrible customer service.” There is this feeling like it’s their job to make this process less painful for me. If this entitlement was to talk it may say, “Can’t you see that I am overwhelmed and deserve to be saved from this discomfort?”

What an embarrassing thing to admit. And yet, as I have practiced openly sharing (with embarrassment signals) these experiences with friends (#usingtheREVEALSskill), I have heard them share similar stories in response with self-effacing laughter. Turns out maybe I’m not alone. And the more open I have been, the more I have found that we can tease each other about it. In some ways, it’s a rejoining the tribe experience to admit that I want special treatment even when I am not owed it. Maybe I’m not so special, and there is some relief in that because it comes with the warmth and relaxation of connection and helps me to let go of the cloud of negative emotion from normal day-to-day frustrations.

If you’d like to experiment with this RO concept, practice noticing times that you treat yourself as special or different in contexts where it isn’t helpful or doesn’t fit. With open curiosity and perhaps even a little humility and humor we can admit to ourselves that maybe we are just part of the herd and slow down and enjoy the company.

About the Author: Jamie Martin, M.Ed. Ed.S. LPC

Jamie is a therapist that specializes in working with personality disorders in Greenville, South Carolina. She implements the evidenced based therapies of standard DBT and RO DBT to help those with too little or too much self control. She is passionate about learning to appreciate the benefits and challenges of each personality style.