You can probably guess from those two words what that phrase means. It’s terminology used in psychology to describe, in short, someone who is full of themself. One of the problems we see in the pages of some memoir writers is this sense of grandiose individuality.
This has never happened to anyone else. Oh woe is me! No one has ever suffered as I have suffered.
Of course, that’s ridiculous. No matter what horrible travail a person has endured, the unfortunate truth is that others have undergone a similar fate. The harsh reality is that throughout time human beings have always lost loved ones in tragic ways, been riddled with debilitating diseases, tolerated emotional abuse, fallen prey to rape, gone hungry, lost their livelihood, and encountered the ravages of war.
Not that those things aren’t terrible; they are. It’s just that they are not, unfortunately, unheard of or even rare. That doesn’t make it any less painful to the individual, but it does mean that no one of us is alone in our misery. So when a memoir writer acts as though no one else could possibly understand what they’ve gone through, that’s simply not true. Consequently, that memoir will be of little, if any, value to anyone else, and not even to the writer.
I remember well my own plummet into grandiose individuality. My first husband died of cancer when he was thirty-three years old. I was twenty-eight and absolutely certain no other widow could possibly understand my misery. I was young. We’d had hopes and dreams together. We were going to travel, have children, and build careers. Widows, as far as I was concerned, were old, sexless creatures who hadn’t had all that much to lose with the deaths of their antiquated husbands. They’d lived their lives together. They’d made their dreams come true. Mine had been stripped away. My counselor, however, insisted that I attend a support group for widows. Petulantly, I relented and went.
I’ll never forget how shocked I was upon entering that room. There were fourteen women. Two were younger than me. The average age was forty-eight. The oldest was seventy-two. The youngest was eighteen. They’d lost their husbands in all manner of shocking and tragic ways. Some were left with small children to raise on their own. Some had no insurance. One believed her husband’s ghost lived with her.
So much for my grandiose individuality.
A good memoir either shows that the writer knows this or that they’ve discovered it along the way. A good memoir isn’t a pity party vying to make the reader feel sorry for the writer’s suffering. The value of a memoir is to inspire the reader, to show them that no matter what befalls them in life it’s possible to prevail. Here’s where it becomes a tough sell, because we live in a culture where psychology has tried to teach us that only the past matters. A good memoir shows that the future is in our own hands, no matter what happened in the past. A good memoir writer says, “I survived – after all here I am writing my story – and so can you.”
When you write, don’t let grandiose individuality suck up your story. Yes, you may have suffered. Yes, it was devastating. But are you alone? No.