Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Normality versus Abnormality - Defining the Difference

We all question our normality at times. As human beings we are bound to have negative feelings that we're not proud of. We don't always act rationally with sufficient restraint, and so on. Of course, normality is a very vague term that only refers to a generally accepted consensus in the environment we know best. But as such, it does have some validity and we should allow ourselves to learn the lessons this very fact has to teach us. It's about us in relation to others - how can we get along better? Let me say first of all that the fact that we question ourselves is already a sign of mental health, because our inner censor is at work. This is not the case with deeply disturbed people who need to enhance their self-importance to ridiculous degrees in order to maintain a sense of self. To acknowledge flaws would be too catastrophical to them. They wouldn't be able to live with the suspiscion that they are not the perfect human beings they wanted to be. If we feel so inclined, we can feel sorry for the sad history that has made them into such people, but the world is full of them and very often all they need to do is just get a grip or seek help.

We may not always know with confidence whether we're acting within the framework of normality ourselves, but we usually recognize seriously and detrimentally deviant behaviour in other people. I am not saying all deviancy is bad, because the world needs many different kinds - I'm talking about the kind that harms other beings. This is yet another reason for studying other people; it may be a bit of a new age adage that we're only responsible for ourselves and should not concern ourselves with others since we cannot change them, but my opinion is nonetheless that by looking at others we may get a perspective on our own thinking and feeling. This is how we can identify patterns in ourselves that aren't working for us or for other people in our vicinity. In fact, if we look mindfully, we can see ourselves in other people as if we were looking into a mirror. What we dislike about someone else is often something we dislike in ourselves. If we didn't, we'd probably feel pretty neutral about them. Sometimes they disturb us because we are forced to take a stand; we have to decide whether we should be around these people and if we decide their presence is unwholesome to us, we may have to take steps to distance ourselves from their sphere of influence. All this can in truth be quite tiring. I for one have gotten a bit tired of worrying about other people and have decided that some people should simply not be bothered with at all. People are always going to disappoint us as they rarely meet with our expectations. There are times when it's best not to think about others too much but just get on with one's own life the best one can.

I have written extensively about manipulative people so whoever is interested in more is referred to older posts. I have been quite interested in this phenomenon but I think this should be my last post on the subject. Truth to say people who feel the need to manipulate are sorry people with unhappy lives, and the best you can do is leave them to dwell on their own issues. They have problems that don't have to be yours as well.

My husband had an affair with a woman some years ago but recognized after four and a half months that she was not quite "right". He ended the affair but she wouldn't take no for an answer. She became obsessed with him and wouldn't leave him alone. She would do whatever it took to get him in bed with her. When he found me she stalked me online, in the most vile manner. She infiltrated into my private FB account and when we found out, she sent my husband stories about her perception of who I "really am" in order to warn him. When this didn't work, she sent me some derogatory story about my husband, including accounts of their sex and how she would love him forever and ever. Her page was full of spiteful comments about my husband in Dutch (easy enough to run through a translator). She's still sending me anonymous manipulative comments online, obviously with the intent of creating unease. Perhaps she thinks I don't see through these games or understand that she's behind it all. The last thing that came to my notice was that she had forced her way into our house on the morning after our wedding when we were at a hotel. My mother was at the door but completely taken by surprise when this woman "with the mean eyes" ran upstairs uninvited to have a look at our home. The truly sad part is that this woman is a preacher. I don't suppose her God is particularly pleased with her transgressions.

As a side note, nobody that I know in this little town is impressed with her as a human being or a minister. Needless to say, they are sick and tired of her  rants about having been badly treated by my husband (who wouldn't hurt a fly). Among other things, she bought some stock for her shop from another local business and never paid for it. And this is not all... But she would probably not be able to see what she's doing, because presumably, in her mind she's not doing anything wrong. I am guessing that hiding behind a facade of spiritual authority in the role of a preacher is her way of justifying her existance in some way while trying to make sure no one sees her darker aspects. We have seen these kind of people over and over again - history is full of them. Religion is the greatest excuse and weapon humans have come up with, ironically the very anti-thesis of true spirituality.

Sometimes, people who want to be an authority within a church feel that as they consacrate their lives to God, God ows them something in return. They think they can expect God to be supportive of whatever they decide to do, and all means are sanctified. Some members of a parish believe that the authorities have been sanctioned by God, and this makes them especially vulnerable to manipulation. Some people are practically asking to be manipulated because they don't want to think for themselves.

While I don't know what drives the woman my husband had an affair with, she did actually do me a favour because she put normality in a perspective for me.

In extreme cases, people with sociopathic and/or narcissistic tendencies step beyond the boundaries of normality and common decency in ways we simply cannot ignore. Unfortunately, many live among us and therefore it's important to recognize the signs even when they are good at fooling people with their ingratiating ways. Intuition is your best guide. But I would also say that one sign of this type of personality disorder is the unability to let go of other people and instead continue to act as if they had a right to possess their victims, who should bend to their will. They are the first class bullies, with very little ability to feel empathy and understand other people's feelings - yet they love to tell other people how to run their lives because this is their power trip. The other sign is that there is no ability to see one's own wrongdoings, in fact there is a tendency to think that God or Satan or whatever entity inspire them is exclusively on their side, very much as fundamentalist religious terrorists or a cult leader would think. I don't think a normal person would be able to continue as an "authorized" advocate of deep religious values of truthfulness, kindness and love if they were able to acknowledge that they had these kinds of problems. If nothing else, this certainly is the greatest give away.

The term "sociopath" has nowadays been replaced with "antisocial personality disorder". Wikipedia says:  "...common characteristics of those with Antisocial Personality Disorder include superficial charm, shallowed emotions, a distorted sense of self, a constant search for new sensations (which can have bizarre consequences), a tendency to physically or verbally abuse peers or relatives, and manipulation of others without remorse or empathy for the victim. Egocentrism, megalomania, lack of responsibility, extroversion, excessive hedonism, high impulsivity, promiscuity and the desire to experience sensations of control and power can also be present. This type of disorder does not relate to assaults of panic or to schizophrenia." In other words, people border on the abnormal when their anti-social behaviour is excessive and harmful to others.
Artwork: digital photograph by author, all rights reserved 2010