I call it the most insidious addiction: Being addicted to feeling special or important instead of feeling loved.
It has undermined me almost my entire life. It isolated me, and was one of the deep, underlying causes of my fifteen years-long clinical depression. And I believe that it is sabotaging most of the people I know in their 40s or younger.
I call it insidious because almost everyone who suffers from it seems unaware that they are addicted.
First, a definition of addiction, since so many people define the term differently:
Addiction is when you still crave something even though it no longer gives you pleasure or satisfaction. When I use the word, that’s what I mean.
Everyone wants to feel special, unique, important or powerful sometimes. That’s not the issue. The issue is when you still crave that treatment even after it has stopped giving you any satisfaction. When you crave it like I used to crave ice cream even after I couldn’t even taste it because my mouth had gone numb from the cold.
Now most people have no idea they are addicted. The addiction is so common that it is as invisible as air. So if you believe that none of this could possibly apply to you, here are twenty questions to ask yourself.
1. Do you try to save people? Needy people often try to say that they can’t possibly be addicted to being special or important–after all they “sacrifice so much” for everyone else. But if you are trying to save people, are you really looking to feel loved? Or do you want to be a savior–i.e., someone special, powerful and important?
2. Do you feel lonely around even your closest friends?
3. Do you feel like you are the star of the movie, and your friends are the “supporting cast”?
4. Would you rather be on social media than interacting in real life?
5. How much do you care about comparing your “success” displayed on social media to other people’s “success”?
6. Do you need to be associated with cool people, amazing organizations, or powerful families? Very few addicts are grandiose enough to act the way they think narcissists or “selfish” people act. Instead, they try to hide their addiction by being special by association. (I wasted decades of my life doing this.)
7. Do you hate watching your friends succeed? Well, no one is going to admit to that. But do you get jealous? Are you sure you’re happy for them, the way you’re happy for a sports team you are rooting for?
8. Do you need to have a unique identity or cool associations? What I mean is, do you try to order your tastes, hobbies and clothing choices to show how “different” you are? Back when I was miserable I used to spend hours each day doing stuff like this. Why? Because I wasn’t actually taking the risks I needed to, living the career I wanted, or taking actions aligned with my deep values. So since I wasn’t DOING what I need to do, I spent my time trying to BE something that I could admire. I replaced action with mere identity, which turned quickly into mere image.
9. Do you live a “resume life”?
10. Do you think that if you can’t be the best, then why bother?
11. Are you ashamed to see any flaws at all in yourself?
12. Do you believe you are only lovable when you are perfect?
13. Do you need to prove to the world that you are an achiever?
14. Are you convinced that you have no potential at all?
15. Do you get enjoyment out of “taking people down” or destroying what others have created? Yes I know, they “deserved it”. That wasn’t the question, though.
16. Do you think there is always something better and you are missing out on it? This is especially a question to ask yourself about relationships, but it can apply to anything.
17. Do you sabotage yourself by not going after what you really want, because if you don’t commit 100% then you have a built-in excuse?
18. Do you need anger to give yourself enough energy to get through the day or to get anything done?
19. Is your job bullshit, but at the same time, do you get a sense of superiority out of knowing it’s bullshit?
20. Do you meet people who seem perfect, awesome and amazing at first, but then when their flaws are revealed you can’t see anything but the bad side of them?
I ask all these questions because I lived most of my life with no awareness of my own addiction to feeling great, special or important. (Probably because I wasn’t great or important. But see, there’s no connection between feeling important and actually being important.)
The solution to the addiction is to love others, and also to go after what you really want. This confuses people because loving others seems selfless (it’s not, by the way) and going after what you really want seems selfish (it’s not, by the way.) In fact, not only is it the case that loving others and going after what you really want aren’t opposed, you cannot do one unless you are doing the other.
But this is what I will write about next time. For now, let’s just say that I’ve learned that addictions become less powerful the more they are exposed to the light. Thus, the long list of questions. When you ask yourself those questions, what do you start to see?