What is Terminal Uniqueness and Do I Have It? - Banyan Treatment Center

What is Terminal Uniqueness and Do I Have It?

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* updated July 28th, 2020

The recovery community has its own code of ethics, social norms, and even its own language.

There are terms and sayings used during treatment that are specific to recovery. One of those terms is terminal uniqueness, and if you are familiar with recovery you may have been cautioned against this thinking. If not, you may be wondering, “What is terminal uniqueness and how do you avoid it?”

Terminal Uniqueness Defined

Terminal uniqueness, also referred to as personal exceptionalism, is the false belief that your experiences with substance abuse are unlike those of other anyone else. Essentially people with a history of addiction often want to think that they are somehow different – unique – from other people with addiction and substance abuse problems. Terminal uniqueness may lead you to believe that other addicts are unable to relate to you or even that you are better than them. The history of the term terminally unique comes from AA and is often referenced in meetings.

While addiction is a different experience for everyone, and every individual is unique, addicts tend to have more things in common than not. Unfortunately, those who are terminally unique may not be willing to accept this fact. Instead of recognizing how similar they are, these individuals focus on the differences and often exaggerate them in their heads. This type of thinking can be damaging to their personal relationships as well as dangerous for their sobriety.

Signs of Terminal Uniqueness

Defining terminal uniqueness may be easy, but recognizing the signs of personal exceptionalism in someone you care about or especially in yourself is more challenging. We all want to believe that we are unique, but it can be difficult to determine when this way of thinking has become toxic and detrimental.

Signs of terminal uniqueness in recovery include:

  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Feeling like no one can relate to you
  • Trying to prove that other people are different from you
  • Overgeneralizing
  • One-upping others
  • Feeling superior to those around you
  • Needing more attention than others
  • Thinking the rules do not apply to you
  • Demanding special requirements

Not only are these symptoms of terminal uniqueness unappealing to others, but they can also hinder and even destroy a person’s recovery journey.

The Difference Between Personal Exceptionalism & Narcissism

Narcissism is an inflated sense of self-worth or admiration for oneself. Many people can act narcissistic at times, but when this type of narcissistic behavior is severe or routine, the person likely has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Signs of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • Excessive desire for praise
  • Exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Disregarding other people’s feelings or needs
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Thinking they are better than others
  • Believing that they are unique or special
  • Obsession with personal appearance
  • Idyllic fantasies on themselves

People with narcissistic personality disorder often struggle with their personal relationships, but mental health treatment can help.

While personal exceptionalism and narcissistic personality disorders are similar in many ways, they also have some important differences. Those who have narcissistic personality disorder and a substance abuse problem will usually struggle with terminal uniqueness, but terminal uniqueness deals with substance abuse specifically. Narcissism is also associated with a grandiose sense of self-importance whereas terminal uniqueness can take two separate paths. Personal exceptionalism is the idea that people are unique and may lead some people to feel superior over others while other people may feel inferior to others. In terms of addiction specifically, people who are terminally unique may believe that their addiction is not nearly as bad as their peers, or they could also believe that their problems are far worse than their peers’ problems and they require special treatment.

The Dangers of Terminal Uniqueness in Addiction Recovery

Terminal uniqueness is a dangerous way of thinking that has the potential to interfere with the recovery process in various different ways. Our Pompano substance abuse treatment center looks to recognize terminal uniqueness in its earliest stages so that the damages and setbacks can be avoided.

Some of the dangers of terminal uniqueness in recovery include:

  • Trouble with personal relationships
  • Lack of support from peers
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Not taking responsibility for actions
  • False sense of security
  • Refusing to listen to peers or accept their advice
  • Doubting the treatment process
  • Not getting help when needed.
  • Relapse

One of biggest dangers of personal exceptionalism in recovery is relapse. Along with lacking peer support and not fully giving into the treatment process, people who think that they are an exception to the way the disease of addiction works, despite having experienced the consequences before, are more likely to return to drugs and alcohol. They falsely believe that they will be able to control it this time, but they inevitably end up in the same – or worse – situation as before. Those who do end up relapsing may also take longer to recognize that they have a problem again and get the necessary relapse recovery treatment they need to get back on track.

If an addict or alcoholic is unwilling to take advantage of the treatments or addiction therapy programs offered because they are convinced that they are an exception to the rule, then they are likely terminally unique. This view of treatment as well as their interactions with peers will hinder their recovery process. At Banyan Pompano, we help those with terminal uniqueness change their way of thinking and educate all our patients on its dangers in order to build a community of support and empower our patients to find lasting sobriety.


If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse and/or addiction or you have recently experienced a relapse, help is available. Call 888-280-4763.

Alyssa who is the National Director of Digital Marketing, joined the Banyan team in 2016, bringing her five-plus years of experience. She has produced a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. Through strategic marketing campaign concepts, Alyssa has established Banyan as an industry leader and a national household name.

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