Updated: Mar 29
As it was anti bullying last week it feels appropriate to blog about ‘normal’.
If you don’t agree with the following statements (and you’re perfectly entitled not to agree) then I’ll save you a little time; this blog is probably not for you!
‘Normal’ doesn’t imply right or correct, it just implies usual practice. Right is right, even if nobody is doing it and wrong is wrong even if everybody is doing it.
‘Normal’ is a relative concept – just like truth!
‘Normality’ is defined simply by making the determination that there are more of you than them…
‘Normal’ is what happens for you and your family, when you go into your house and close your front door behind you.
In a world where everyone is vying for attention, all of the time, what IS ‘normal’?
Mainly, bullying occurs when one person deems another to not be ‘normal’ by their standard. We don’t bully people who are bigger or scarier than us usually, we bully people who we perceive to be weaker or more vulnerable than us – less ‘normal’.
Bullying is a fact of life. It shouldn’t be, but it is. People bully for all manner of reasons but there’s one thing at the centre of their thinking that’s unarguable – the person they’re bullying is perceived somehow as ‘different’, an easy target… Basically, bullying is just socially acceptable oppression! People who perceive themselves to be more ‘normal’ than someone else, feeling secure enough in that privilege to demean and criticise another person.
Let’s be absolutely clear at this stage that bullying is not just a schoolyard problem. Bullying in the adult world is rife too and much, much more harmful, simply because adults feel it’s ok to challenge children, but they WON’T challenge other adults. Failing to challenge ANY undesirable behaviour only emboldens the perpetrator of such behaviour and, worse still, reinforces their view that they were right.
We’re all bullies. Anybody who says they’ve never bullied another person is lying. Why am I so confident in that assertion? Because we feel it’s ok to belittle, patronise and dismiss those who we’ve deemed to be different to us – it’s become socially acceptable. Just ask yourself when was the last time you snapped at or shouted at one of your children unnecessarily and failed to apologise?
Also, it’s a quick fix. We can quickly and easily make ourselves feel better by making someone else feel bad; We believe we can make our own candle burn brighter by extinguishing someone else’s…
We sadly live in a time where our social culture is so focussed on promoting everybody’s right to BE different that they’re missing the point totally…. Highlighting difference can only serve to further divide us and if we keep on dividing people, what’s ‘normal’ going to look like then?
Yes, advocating for acceptance is the right thing to do, but not at the expense of those who don’t fit your particular ‘target audience’. If we advocate for people with green hair to be treated the same as those without green hair, what we actually do is further highlight the green-haired people for even more targeting and probably abuse. Even if unwittingly, what we’re doing is raising awareness of their DIFFERENCES, not their SIMILARITIES, and we know that difference is usually at the root of bullying, not similarity. After all, it’s our differences from one another that define our view of what’s ‘normal’ or not!
What we also do is increase the competition - the ‘whataboutery’…
Especially for groups viewed as minorities, the third sector is incredibly important – Services for green-haired people are probably run by The Green-Hair Charity and as soon as they begin to raise awareness of those with green-hair, all those other charitable services who work with people with blue, orange or pink hair, suddenly need to up their game too – there’s only so much money to go round and each service must fight for their share; they must prove that blue, orange or pink haired people are more worthy of funding than those with green hair. Hardly the right environment for improving tolerance and acceptance…
Birds of a feather flock together.
We’re brought up to be so fearful and wary of those who AREN’T like us that we’ve ended up normalising bullying on a stratospheric scale! It’s not unlikely, is it, that our green-haired friends will start to hang out with other green-haired people – people who implicitly and explicitly understand all the crap that goes along with having green-hair in a world that clearly favours people who DON’T have green hair. This group of green-haired lovelies have an instant connection and rapport by virtue of the fact that they’ll have had similar experiences of being singled out for their green hair.
ANYBODY who has found themselves in the position of being in the minority, will recognise these feelings as truth. The bullies have a vested interest in maintaining their position so they will argue that this is not the truth, not ‘normal’, ergo undermining someone else’s ‘normal’ in order to superimpose their beliefs about what’s ‘normal’ on someone else.
Adults are worse bullies than kids.
In children, bullying isn’t challenged as it should be because it’s still seen as ‘character building’ and perceived generally as children making a big deal out of something trivial. I don’t know how often I’ve heard adults tell children to report stuff, only for that child to be told by the same adult to stop telling tales… The adult is deciding what is or isn’t important to the child.
In adults, bullying isn’t challenged because people don’t want to stand out and make themselves targets, or risk their own standing or friendships – thankfully those adults now have social media and virtue signalling, so they can not intervene or stand up for victims, safe in the knowledge that they can get on social media later and their sympathetic friends will agree with them that it must be awful to watch…
Most of us were told that bullies were cowards and that all one had to do to overcome being bullied, was stand up to them. Easier said than done when your bullies include the adults you’ve been instructed to trust… This argument has evolved over the years away from the idea bullies are cowards and towards the idea that hurt people hurt people.
There are times when this is true.
There are far more times when it is not.....
Absolute power corrupts absolutely and in order to be a successful bully, you must perceive yourself to be more powerful or ‘normal’ than the person you’re bullying. You must start from a position of assumed superiority and importance.
History tells us that our dealings with people perceived to be not ‘normal’ are centred around fear. It’s certainly not centred around curiosity…. Nobody ever locked someone up in an asylum because they were curious about their sexuality, or their religious or political beliefs, they locked them up in asylums because they didn’t want their own ‘normal’ challenged by anybody who might have a chance of changing perceptions. They certainly didn’t lock people up because they were keen to broaden their own understanding of difference…
Let’s take a minute to unpick one of the more ‘socially acceptable’ forms of bullying – something that people do without a second thought because it’s ‘normal’ for them.
Social Media Bullying: Take a brave pill, pop on to Twitter and you’ll see the egregious bullying that goes on around political beliefs. Apparently, it’s perfectly ok to throw slurs and insults at people who don’t share your political views, and to make (usually completely unfounded) assumptions about a person’s political views based solely on your opinion on one comment they made on a thread four years ago.
If the Twitterati decide you’re a “F*cking Gammon Tory” (and, if you’re white, middle aged, educated and live in the South of the country, apparently those assumptions are fair game), then woe betide you – you are set for a lifetime of harassment and bullying, legitimised by the herd-mentality and the bravery that comes from anonymity. Remember please, these people aren’t school children, they’re self-professed educated and responsible adults…
Now, pause for a moment and remember that these people probably have children. Those children will be being bought up in an environment where openly hating and being threatening and / or dismissive towards someone else because of their political views, is perfectly acceptable…. Encouraged, even. They’re growing up in a house where bullying is ok.
Those parents would doubtlessly argue that they’d not stand for their children being racist, or homophobic (say), but the fact is that the encouragement and legitimisation of ANY judgement-based opinion, IS bullying.
We could end bullying tomorrow, but we won’t. We won’t because being unkind to someone else gives us a buzz…. We feel better about ourselves when we’re criticising someone else.
Imagine you’re standing on a chair. Another person comes and you try to pull them up on the chair with you. You can’t…
Now ask the person on the floor to pull you off the chair. They can. Easily.
The moral of that story is that it’s FAR easier to drag someone else DOWN, than it is to drag ourselves UP. Pulling our own standards up is hard work. It requires effort and active engagement with the process of change. Change is scary – fact.
‘Normal’ doesn’t imply that something is right or correct, it just implies usual practice, remember?
What’s ‘normal’ for one person may not be ‘normal’ AT ALL for another. We can see evidence of this all around us, all the time; especially now in our multi-faceted world – our view of what’s ‘normal’ is being challenged all the time.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we should all be learning all the time; in fact, there is clear unequivocal evidence that challenging our view of ‘normal’ brings with it positive change and impact. As our understanding of something grows, so does our acceptance of that thing, usually.
We’ve seen more social change in the last 75 years than in any preceding century and especially since the turn of the twenty-first century. ‘Normal’ in the 1990’s was a very different thing to ’normal’ now!
Our view of what’s ‘normal’ comes from our upbringing and the way that the outside world responds to us.
If we were bought up in an environment where we were surrounded by love and positivity, our view of the world will be mostly positive and full of love – our brains have been wired for acceptance and openness. When we present ourselves to the world, we’re likely to do so confidently and with the expectation that the world will respond to us in kind – with positivity and love.
We learn that people are fundamentally good.
If we were bought up in an environment where we were surrounded by fear and judgement, our view of the world will be mostly cynical and suspicious – our brains have been wired for safeguarding and survival. When we present ourselves to the world, we're likely to do so with little confidence that the world will see the good in us – we expect the world to treat us badly.
We learn that people are fundamentally bad.
In this respect, humans are self-fulfilling prophecies – we get back from people what we give to them, so if we’re perceived as sullen and aggressive, people will withdraw from us. If we’re perceived as bubbly and friendly, people will gravitate towards us.
Of course, it’s not that straightforward, but it’s basically true.
All of us are what we are because of where we came from – our early experiences, right back to before we were born, shape our view of the world and have an impact on our brain development. A brain wired for survival and safeguarding literally functions differently to a brain NOT wired for survival and safeguarding.
‘Normal’ is one of those words that’s really hard to define objectively – our view of ‘normal’ is largely subjective - it depends on our view of what’s ‘normal’! There are general things, sure – it’s not ‘normal’ to go round stabbing people in the face, for example, but the nuances of ‘normal’ are so broad that the very concept of ‘normal’ can ONLY ever be subjective, not objective
We could unpick ‘normal’ forever – there are so many things that are the-same-but-different in every home that the idea of ‘normal’ becomes less and less ‘normal’ all the time! A few very quick examples of this might be:
In SillyLand – Bottom wiping; the comic, Jason Manford, talks about this in one of his shows as being a ‘room-splitter’ – something that’s guaranteed to split the room. Ask yourself, do you stand up and reach round to wipe your bottom, or do you stay sitting and reach through?! The fascinating thing about this, he says, is that one half of the room has NO IDEA that the other half exists! Each half of the room would view the other half as not wiping their bottoms ’normally’, and he’s right! It’s funny because it has no real-world consequence.
In the real world, room-splitters can have very serious consequences… Just think of our earlier example of how comfortable people are being hideous to one another just because of their political beliefs. The word that springs to mind here is BREXIT. Families split, communities severed, politicians stabbed to death…
Our view of ‘normal’ is mostly made up of unconscious thought processes. We measure own our level of ‘normal’ against other peoples to a degree, but we tend to be confident in our own ‘normal’ as being, well, ‘normal’… If we come across someone who wipes their bottom differently to us, we tend to view THEM as the weirdo!
So. In a house where there’s Domestic Abuse, ‘normal’ will CONSISTENTLY include fear, judgement, violence, aggression, threat, fighting, arguing, poverty…. The list goes on.
In a house where there’s no Domestic Abuse, ‘Normal’ won’t consistently include any of these things.
The brain development of a child bought up in an abusive environment WILL be negatively affected by the abuse. You’ll remember our D blog where we talked about how DA affects children? The abuse invades every inch of their ‘normal’, and their blueprint for life; their very sense of self, includes those feelings of unworthiness, threat and violence.
The scariest thing about ‘normal’ for children living with abuse is that they don’t recognise that their lives aren’t ‘normal’. They don’t know any different. They’d argue that a home without violence is the abnormal one; ‘normal’ comes from the predictability of usual. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether the behaviour at home is good or bad, the predictability of that state is the thing that creates our view of ‘normal’.
We’re getting better at understanding the impact of trauma and early experiences, but DA remains one of the last taboos; we don’t talk about it for so many reasons…. It’s none of our business, the victim should just leave, survivors are usually SO good at hiding it that we don’t know it’s happening, victims and survivors are ashamed and embarrassed so they don’t speak out, the abusive partner is viewed as ‘old school’ or ‘traditional’ rather than abusive…
This is crazy when we think about it! We know that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men suffer DA and consequently, every single one of their children does too. Each of those children grows up with their brain function altered and wired for surviving, not thriving.
We know that our survival brain – our fight / flight reflex - trumps all other brain function – if we sense we’re in danger, nothing else matters except survival of the threat. Our logical, reasonable brain is rendered useless in the moment of threat; survival first, reason and logic later.
When we are easily triggered into survival mode – as a consequence of traumatic experiences, usually - we call this state PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and we’re very respectful of it as a rule. Nobody questions the idea that fireworks are triggering for soldiers, for example; that’s a logical, linear line of process that we can follow and sympathise with, even if not empathise with.
Children born into DA, know no different. They’re not triggered by a particular event like a firework exploding – their ‘normal’ state is constantly heightened; they’re perpetually triggered. We call this state CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). In other words, their survival brain is in full force, all the time.
Let’s go back to PTSD. We can separate the sufferer from the event – the soldier experienced horrific things and the sounds and sights they encountered became subconscious warnings of imminent threat, learned in a way designed PURELY to enable survival.
People who suffer from PSTD will speak of triggers and flashbacks – which are frighteningly real in the moment – events, sights or sounds that provoke our nervous system – our fight or flight reflex – to kick in and overpower the logical, reasonable parts of the brain. It takes a long time, commitment and perseverance to overcome and learn to manage these reflexes but it is possible because the sufferer recognises the difference between survival mode and ‘normal’ non-survival mode.
People who suffer from CPTSD can’t be separated from the events that traumatised them. Their ‘normal’ was, in and of itself, traumatic and that level of trauma is now embedded within them as ‘normal’. This must mean then, that they don’t have a non-survival mode to return to.
Now, this would be tough to live with for an adult who has choices – an adult can choose to stay home to manage their anxiety, they can choose to self-medicate with all manner of things from drugs or alcohol to food, sex or gambling, they can choose to attend therapy or they can choose not to attend therapy….
But children don’t have those choices. We make them go to school every day – there’s a punitive legal system in place to punish their adults if they don’t, children can’t self-medicate and, if they’re offered therapy, they don’t usually have a choice in the nature, duration or their attendance at said therapy.
It’s no surprise then, that we’ve a whole generation of traumatised children who’ve grown up into traumatised, frightened and aggressive adults – after all, living with abuse and violence teaches us very quickly that attack is the best form of defence, and if their trauma is ‘normalised’ in this way, they can’t possibly recognise themselves as traumatised, can they…?
All the usual management techniques employed by adults for managing trauma aren’t readily available to children so every time we try to ‘help’ them, we further reinforce their belief that ‘normal’ means people doing stuff TO you rather than with or for you. None of us likes having our choices removed – it tends to make us defensive…
Remember at the start we said that our view of normal is influenced too by the way the world responds to us? That the responses of others potentially have the power to reinforce or not our view of ourselves and our normal?
Let’s think for a moment about what that looks like for a traumatised child in the education system.
The child doesn’t know it’s traumatised – its trauma is its own ‘normal’. The child’s view of the world, then, is dictated by this belief about themselves – that angry, aggressive and frightened is ‘normal’ for everyone. Then they get to school and they realise that other children don’t behave as they do and that their behaviour is identified and labelled as aggressive, challenging, disengaged, uncooperative…
The world is reinforcing their view of themselves, of their view of ‘normal’ as unworthy, difficult and unlovable.
They’ve become the self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s assumed by those who haven’t grown up with trauma, that everyone’s view of ‘normal’ is as theirs is – un-traumatised. And because superficially at least, this is proven – of a class of thirty children, most WON’T behave in a way that would indicate trauma – the idea that ‘normal’ means non-traumatised is reinforced, and just like that, we’re continuing to create an environment that ensures the child will never feel able to challenge that sense of identity safely. From their point of view, they’re just being continually highlighted as Abnormal.
Safety is the key to overcoming trauma. If people don’t feel safe – and on bonfire night soldiers don’t – then how can their survival brain ever disengage? Especially if they’ve no alternative. The soldier, is able to reason and recognise when in their ‘normal’ non-heightened state, that there won’t be fireworks every day – they can look forward to, and back on, times where there are / were no fireworks.
The traumatised child has no such privilege, the only thing they know is trauma and because the expectation of everyone who ISN’T traumatised is that that child OUGHT to know better, they’re never given any alternative – a way to do it right – they’re just consistently told they’re doing it wrong. That’s a really successful way to reinforce the child’s view of failure!
Let’s normalise the idea that there’s no such thing as ‘normal’.
Let’s normalise the concept of ‘normal’ as being relative to the person using the term.
Let’s normalise the idea that children living with abuse are traumatised and that their view of ‘normal’, isn’t what most of us would believe.
If you’re a professional – particularly in education – let’s normalise the idea that children aren’t good or bad, they’re traumatised or not.
Our collective view of ‘normal’ needs to shift. If we don’t start to accept that ‘normal’ just isn’t, we run the risk of further traumatising people who we’d genuinely like to help. We need to stop asking “what did you do that for?” And start being interested in, “why did you do it like that?”
If you or your child need help or advice with any issues around DA please check out our Domestic Abuse page or get in touch with us at JLTS - we can help!
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