Faking Normal

A plank in the 2012 platform of the Republican Party called for illegal immigrants to leave the United States of their own accord. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate that year, took quite a bit of flack for supporting the approach (grandly titled “self-deportation”) [1].

But this is not really a post about illegal immigrants.

What abuse victims have in common with illegal immigrants is that we both self-monitor. We are, in other words, inclined to observe ourselves closely in the effort to project an acceptable image, an appearance of “normalcy” and control, whatever the turmoil within.

“Travel Caution,” Author Jasonctillman (CC BY-SA-3.0 Unported)

By itself, self-monitoring is not a bad trait. Even people who have never been abused worry, from time to time, whether their feelings and responses are normal. We are taught from childhood to play nicely with others, and not run with scissors. Those unwilling to adjust their behavior to society’s norms are likely to be aggressive and uncompromising.

For abuse victims, however, self-monitoring involves more. For us, it provides camouflage, and is the tool which allows us to fake normal.

Self-monitoring is a natural response on the part of victims long berated for their thoughts and actions, for their very existence. Victims cling to it, rather than trusting themselves to behave in an appropriate manner. That is understandable. Like illegal immigrants, we would prefer to go unnoticed.

Unfortunately, ongoing assessment of our own performance distances us from the present moment, depriving us of real enjoyment and the zest of living. Every thought, every word, every action must be guarded, as we continuously analyze and re-analyze ourselves in the attempt to “fit in”.

While constant self-monitoring deprives us of spontaneity, it does facilitate acceptance by others, at least on a superficial level. Self-scrutiny to such an extreme can, however, become an obsession. We may inadvertently craft a new form of bondage for ourselves, censoring every breath [2].

There are a number of factors for victims to consider in deciding whether rigorous self-monitoring has outgrown its usefulness, and is no longer beneficial.

“Normal” covers a broad range. A hundred people may react differently to the same event, and all still be normal. Rarely is there anyone else monitoring our responses once the abusive relationship is behind us…let alone monitoring them to the same extent we are.

Often, the conclusions we draw from our emotions are more troubling to us than the emotions, themselves. Those conclusions are likely to be shaped by the major events in our lives, abuse included. But our conclusions are not necessarily accurate.

“I got angry at the ice cream man for ‘no reason’. Therefore, I must be ‘crazy’.” Perhaps another man in a white shirt once did something terrible to you, then bought you ice cream afterwards. Perhaps there were other similarities to your abuse of which you were not consciously aware.

Given the way the mind works, we will not always know why we acted the way we did in a certain situation. Freud used the iceberg analogy, with much of our motivation permanently hidden from view.

Hardly crazy then, just afraid that the abuse secret will out.

The thing is, we are not illegal immigrants. These are our lives, just as this is our country. We have every right to be here. We have every right to expect appropriate behavior from those around us. Our behavior is normal for someone heavily impacted by trauma.

Self-deportation was an unrealistic solution to immigration reform. Self-monitoring is an unfulfilling solution to abuse recovery.

There are better choices than faking normal.

[1] The Washington Post, “The ‘Self-Deportation’ Fantasy”, 1/28/12, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-self-deportation-fantasy/2012/01/25/gIQAmDbWYQ_story.html.

[2] There are two exceptions to this: The first is depression. Abuse victims are highly prone to depression. Though we need not monitor ourselves 24/7, some degree of self-awareness can be helpful. That way, we can address the problem of depression early. The second exception is the inclination to do harm to ourselves or others. If such thoughts or feelings arise, they should prompt us to seek immediate medical attention.



Filed under Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Politics, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

8 responses to “Faking Normal

  1. Very good analogy and explanation. Much insight written here. Will reblog. Thanks for sharing. Blessings to you.

  2. Reblogged this on Cyber Support Group and commented:
    “We have every right to expect appropriate behavior around us.”

  3. Dear Anna,

    Funny, but this describes my experience in Protestant churches I have been involved in to a tee! Abuse comes in many forms, but for me the worst of all is the one that cloaks itself in the righteousness of Christ as it accuses those whom He loves day and night. “It is for freedom Christ has set us free, be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

    • Thank you, Michael. You are always so open about sharing your experiences. I completely agree. Abuse does come in many forms. But Christ offers victims hope and a new life. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

      Your friend,

      A. ❤

  4. Such a thought provoking post, Anna. Thank you for your keen insight and being willing to share it. Hope you’re enjoying country life.

    • You’re too kind, Levi. Yes, I am enjoying country life. 🙂 The area is so beautiful. The fields have been harvested, and I am reminded of God’s bounty. If I do not get the chance to tell you, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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