Saturday, March 19, 2016

THE MASK OF NORMALITY - When "Normal" is a Good Thing

There is a common idea of what's considered "ideal" or "normal," in a society, and people living in that society are expected to fit that mold. But why?

Normal has its purpose. It keeps the peace and creates a common level of understanding. If everyone on earth completely dropped their "Masks of Normality," the world would probably be in chaos.

Now, I'm all for expressing oneself without fear of rejection or condemnation. But there is a time and place for every behavior. If you acted freely in every situation around every type of person, you could create a lot of enemies and hurt your reputation.

"Weird" Gone Wrong: Don't Be Bob

I had befriended a fellow aspie many years ago. We'll call him "Bob" for the sake of privacy.

Bob had no shame and no mask. #nofilter

He loved musical theater. So much so that he would sing and dance in public.

Kinda like this.
...inviting a lot of weird looks.

Kinda like this.
He wasn't embarrassed by his behavior because he didn't understand how other people perceived it. That didn't make it any less awkward for others around him.

Bob would always speak his mind. It was helpful in understanding his intentions, but he could be brutal when you got on his bad side. He was very cruel to me when I told him I didn't want to be his friend anymore, even though I explained my rational reasons.

Bob could have avoided losing a friend if he had masked his aggressive attitude, or better yet, sought to change it. Additionally, if he had listened to my explanation, he may have learned how to adjust his behavior in the future to avoid losing more friends. That would have been an appropriate time for him to set aside his need for self-expression to address the necessity of adapting to others.

"Normal" is Necessary!

It is necessary to have a level of normalcy. Without it, we would be rejected and avoided, like Bob. Some may confront or criticize us for being too different.

So when is normal a good thing?

Here's an example: workplaces. You have to put your best foot forward in order to get a job and to keep it. You must be formal and socially competent in an interview or you might not get the job. And while you might be more casual and relaxed around your coworkers, you probably have to be careful what you say when your boss is around.

This applies to social relationships as well. Whether it's friendship or romance, relationships require compromise. If you act the same around everyone, someone is bound to be offended, avoid you, or think you're weird. I'm all about keeping the peace; and this is why I believe that acting "normal" according to each situation is perfectly reasonable.

Finding a Balance

Life is all about balance. So how do you balance being "normal" and being yourself? As someone with Asperger's Syndrome, the struggle is real... like, really real.

We tend to go to one extreme or the other--either we oppress our true selves and give up what we want to meet expectations, or we express ourselves too much and drive people away. Some of us may swing from one to the other.

The key is not acting the same around everyone. I have certain people I talk to about certain things, and I act differently depending on who I'm with and where I am. How I act also depends on the current situation.

Safe Zones

The two things I need in order to express (facets of) myself appropriately:
1. Safe People
2. Safe Places

For instance, I probably won't make dirty jokes around my more modest friends because they may not welcome that side of me.

Rather, I'd only make them with people I am comfortable with who enjoy those types of jokes, probably in an environment where it wouldn't be a problem (i.e. I wouldn't make them in a preschool or a nursing home). Safe people, safe places.

Or, if I know someone is an atheist, I probably won't discuss religion with them. And if I had a religious disagreement with someone else, I wouldn't bring it up again in order to keep the peace.

Instead, I'll discuss religion with fellow Christians, or at church, or in my "Christian with Asperger's" Facebook group because it's meant for that. Safe people, safe places.

A good example of a "safe zone" for me is my gaming channel. It's one of my outlets for silly humor (which I cannot survive without).

       YouTube Letsplays                     Twitch Streams

Outlets for my "Aspie" Tendencies

Of course, I do have Asperger’s traits or “aspie” tendencies, so I need an outlet for those, too. For instance, verbal stimming. This involves meowing, making silly faces, and other silly noises like screeches or even fake "farts."

But I only do those things around people I am comfortable with who accept that behavior. I would seem very immature if I did that around everyone!

I used to meow a lot as a kid because I was obsessed with cats. But I stopped suddenly for years. In retrospect, I think I just didn't have an outlet where I felt like I could be myself. I also wanted to be viewed as mature. Those meow-less years were some of the saddest of my life, honestly.

I started meowing again when I met a new friend who I felt comfortable being myself around. I can verbally stim again as I used to, which is very freeing for me. Nowadays I mostly meow around my family, my fiancé, and several other close people in my life.

As reasonable as it is in some situations, acting in a way unnatural to you can be exhausting. What seems to help is having different "safe zones" where it's okay to take off the mask and be yourself. While you still can't be entirely unfiltered, I think it's great to have people who accept most facets of your personality. These people are likely to be our family, best friends, or romantic partners.

It's nice to have a break from acting "normal" every once in a while. In any case, it's part of the balancing act of "normal" vs. "natural." As long as you have a place to be your natural self, acting normal isn't so bad.