Christopher Bollas is a known and respected British psychologist who got his start in the United States. He was the first graduate in Adult Psychotherapy at the University of Buffalo, later studying under some of the greatest 20th century theorists including Erik Erikson and John Bowlby.

Dr. Bollas quickly distinguished himself in the field, authoring many books on psychoanalysis including a scholarly tome called The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Unknown. Therein, he explores a child’s earliest experiences and considers those primitive memories that shape development and form the foundation of unconscious thought.

Out of this weighty manuscript comes the idea of Normopathy. Normopathy is what Bollas considered the state of being obsessed with fitting into society to the point of having no personality at all. A normotic person pursues conformity and societal approval at the expense of the most basic expressions of individuality.

Normopathy is an extreme preoccupation with trying to blend in and many people experience it in some form at various times in their life, especially when trying to hide behavior that they believe others will condemn. This is when we clam-up and become extremely self conscious, hyperfocused on others and our appearance to them.

Normopathy becomes a problem when it causes anxiety or anger that interferes with daily functioning. Like a psychopath, the normopath is out of touch with reality. He or she lives in an imaginary world were the pursuit of normalcy and fitting in trumps personal functioning, individual well-being and success. In other words, they focus so heavily on others that they lose contact with themselves.

Dr.  Bollas writes about extreme normopathy, which occurs when an individual is prevented from achieving their goal of normalcy and is exposed as different. Unable to blend-in, the normopath experiences emotional crisis, described in the book as a mania, and resorts to violence or dangerous behavior.

At the root of normopathic thinking is a strongly-held belief in the importance of fitting in, even at the expense of personal development and creativity. This worldview leaves one acutely vulnerable to others’ validation and acceptance. The normopath often feels crippled, unable to speak, emote or act. This leads to social anxiety,  avoidance of new situations or people who are different from themselves.

People suffering from normopathy are intensely aware of others and react when people step out of the norm. For example, seeing an individual wearing a mismatched outfit or clothing out of season (white shoes after labor day!!) will trigger a reaction ranging from discomfort to anxiety or even disgust. Normopaths perform best where there is a strict protocol to follow. For some, it can cost them a job or interfere with relationships.

A normopath is constantly seeking outside validation. He or she may ask a friend what they think about a new song, dress or hairstyle before forming a personal opinion. Often he or she will find themselves at a loss, looking to others to inform them how to think or believe.

There is treatment for dysfunctional normopathy that does not involve multiple visits each week to Dr. Bollas’ psychoanalytic couch. Rather, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy is a short-term weekly therapy that helps the normopath explore their individuality and restructure their self-image. The patient will learn to challenge automatic thoughts, eschew irrational beliefs and reconsider their world view.

Over the course of treatment, the patient will become intimately aware of themselves, with knowledge and acceptance of personal strengths and weaknesses. Over time, the individual begins to appreciate and trust his or her individuality and decreases reliance on others’ approval.

Why chase normal when you can be yourself?