Normopathy: the abnormal desire to be like others

Be normal. Do what others do. Wanting what others want. Pursue the goals that others pursue. Think like the others ...

There are two antagonistic forces in every person: one that leads to individuation and another that promotes socialization. We all want to establish ourselves as unique and authentic individuals, but at the same time we need to belong to a group and feel accepted and valued.

However, there are people in whom the force leading to socialization prevails. The need for social approval is so strong that it develops what psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas called normopathy.

What is normopathy?

Normopathy is "the abnormal urge towards an alleged normality," according to Bollas. It is therefore a pathological normality. These people do not practice introspection, do not develop self-knowledge and feel no curiosity about their inner life, rather they strive to seek social validation.

The normopath suffers from a particular type of anxiety: he is afraid to look inside and examine his psychological contents. Instead of exploring his concerns, desires and motivations, he focuses so much on integrating into society and adapting to norms that it becomes an obsession that ends up affecting his well-being.

How to recognize a normopath?

The person with a tendency to normopathy craves - more than anything else in the world - approval and social validation, even at the expense of their own individuality and authenticity. Indeed, he is afraid of individuality. She is terrified of disagreeing and being different.

This is why he always tries to fit in and be like others. The normopath can ask a friend what they think of a new song, dress or hairstyle before forming an opinion. Basically, he looks to others to tell him what to think or believe.

His dependence on external validation is so great that he ends up developing a "false self". That false identity is outward-facing, trained to respond to external demands and to silence one's own impulses and desires.

This search for normality becomes abnormal, causing him to lose touch with himself. The normopath has lost the vital connection with his feelings and internal states, which usually manifests itself through impoverished language. It is difficult for the normopath to put into words their experiences because they have lost the connection with their deepest self.

Bollas found that these people fail to make the connections between their feelings, ideation and experience, but immediately switch to behavior. It is as if they have some kind of operational thinking that quickly turns the idea into action.

In practice, the normopathic person does not remain "open" long enough for an introspective vision to emerge. “The process of exploring the inner world and using reflective thinking to uncover the unconscious and conflicts are clearly too slow,” says Bollas.

As a result, he displays hyper-rationality in dealing with others. However, lacking the necessary sensitivity and empathy, she cannot connect with people on a deeper level, so her relationships are superficial. They are the typical people who always try to please us and are kind, but we can't connect with.

In some cases, when the normopathy reaches extreme levels, the psychoanalyst Thomas H. Ogden refers to a real "psychological death" since there are whole parts of the psyche where affects and meanings cease to be processed. In fact, most normopaths feel a great inner emptiness. And the more emptiness they experience inside, the more they project outward.

So it is not surprising that normopaths function best when there is a strict protocol to follow. They are people who accept whatever their culture indicates as good, correct or true. They don't question those beliefs, ideas or values. They are afraid of disagreeing. They simply get carried away by assuming a passive attitude, thus allowing the mass to lead their lives.

The path that leads to normopathy

The ideal citizen that many companies want is the normopath, the person who adapts to the rules and follows the crowd without questioning anything. Indeed, we often assume - wrongly - that common opinion cannot be wrong. We assume that what is normal is correct and positive. This presumption leads us to think that what everyone does is politically acceptable and desirable. At that point, the opinions and reactions of the majority begin to establish the norm and exert a more or less subtle pressure on those who depart from it.

This means that all of us, in one way or another, have inoculated the germ of normopathy.

Therefore, the psychologist Hans-Joachim Maaz said that normopathy is "a socially accepted reality for collective neurotic denial and defense against emotional damage, which is present in a large part of the population".

But all this social pressure is not enough to develop normopathic behavior. In many cases, this desire to adapt at all costs is linked to traumatic experiences. Psychologist Barbara Mattsson, for example, found that people who have experienced war have a greater tendency to normopathy. These people strive to be "ordinary" as they crave a certain degree of normalcy in their lives, which gives them a sense of security.

Normopathy has also been linked to traumatic experiences that have generated great shame. Being rejected or belittled can generate enormous shame, an experience that can leave a wound so deep that it pushes the person to disconnect from their "I".

In fact, psychologist Joyce McDougall believes that the "false self" that normopaths construct is the result of the need to survive in the world of others, but without having sufficient knowledge of the emotional ties, signs and symbols that make them human relationships are meaningful.

However, this pathological condition is not only the result of social pressures and oppressions or personal traumatic experiences, but is supported by a deep fear of looking within.

These people experience severe anxiety because they do not understand their deepest impulses and desires, especially when these have been socially censored. They are afraid to look within because they don't know what they will find in the introspection process and they don't know how to deal with their shadows.

That is why it is difficult for them to reflect on the facts, to stop and think. They move through life with few tools, usually borrowed from others, so as not to get lost or face unexpected risks and surprises.

Technology certainly doesn't help. Spending too much time in front of screens deprives us of the intimate time and space needed for self-contemplation, during which our brains can make broader connections between events and our emotional reactions.

A "strong me", the antidote to normopathy

In normopathy the social is exalted and the individual is ignored. But the normopath doesn't always follow the rules or behave like a robot programmed to follow others. In fact, extreme normopathy is marked by breaks from the norm.

Some normopathic people end up exploding under the pressure of conformity that deprives them of psychological oxygen. In those cases, they are likely to react violently, turning against those patterns or groups they followed, especially if they feel rejected or disappointed.

To get out of normopathy there is nothing else to do than develop a "strong me" and accept the shadows we have inside. We have to open up to our self, explore it and rebuild it. With a curious and compassionate attitude.

To do this, we must get rid of the idea that normality is adequate, correct or desirable. We must understand that sometimes normality - understood as what is normalized, regulated and majority - can sometimes do a lot of damage. We need to recover the importance of dissent, reflect on our environment and validate our difference.

But above all we must stop believing that we are immune to normopathy, because as McDougall said all normal people, at least to a certain extent, "move around the world like automatons, act like programmed robots, express themselves in a flattened language without nuances, they have trivial opinions and use clichés and clichés.

“They tend to obediently obey an immutable system of rules of conduct that are alien to who they are and lose contact with themselves by reducing the distance between them and others to zero. They are people too adapted to the real world, too adapted to life, who lose all desire to explore, understand and know, and little by little limit their thinking to an "operational" functioning and stop using it to know what is happening inside themselves or in the occult world of others ".

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