The lure of indistinguishability

All my life I have wanted to blend in. I have wanted to be understood, to feel safe, to be able to tolerate a bit of vulnerability without needing to retreat for days to recover, and to be accepted for who I am. I have tried so hard to look the part, talk the talk, be one of the gang. It’s possible people do actually perceive that I have achieved that, but in my mind I have not. I have always still felt on the outside and uncomfortable, no matter what I have done to fit in. 

I don’t think I am the only person to feel this way. I don’t even think this is something unique to neurodivergent people. I think it is something that is common all over the world, and it is perpetuated by our capitalistic society.

We are bombarded with teasers that tell us we need this, or that, or the other thing, in order to be up to date, cool, trendy, accepted and ultimately to be happy. We need to have the thing, be the thing and look like the thing to be considered right. The goal of these teasers is to get us to spend money (that we often don’t have), and often it works, but there is another outcome that is much more dangerous than consumerism.

Our desire to be accepted, fuelled by society’s reinforcing message that we must fit in at all costs, is creating an environment in which it is normal to modify ourselves in order to feel good about ourselves. We believe that if we can just look, act and be like everyone else it will solve our problems. We will be accepted. We will be happy.

Everyone wants to be happy.

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image is a background of white rocks lined up with each other behind an opaque brown box that contains the words “there is an internal incongruence created every time we change ourselves to suit others expectations Michelle Sutton”

What we fail to acknowledge is that there is an internal incongruence created every time we change ourselves to suit others expectations. There is another chip taken out of our personal integrity every time we do something simply to fit in, when we would rather do what we are comfortable doing. We lose more of our own identity each time we conform, and we unwittingly become part of the problem that is growing generations of insecure and self loathing individuals all pretending to be overjoyed with their lives.

It is a sad thing to realise, that so many of us have bought in to the idea that blending in is desirable, when really there is nothing wrong with diversity.

It is a frightening thing to realise that as a result of this there are now entire industries reliant on this mentality and exploiting it in order to take money from parents in exchange for normalising their children. We see it in shops, in after school activities, clubs of all kinds, in our education system and in the medical profession.

It is hard enough to deal with as a typically developing child, who actually does have some capacity to engage with whatever the current accepted normal is. It has the potential to be life destroying if you are a disabled person who simply cannot mimic the majority determined normality.

As you read that last paragraph, please understand that I am in no way saying that anyone should have to conform, but that for those who simply cannot, for those who watch others engaging in this discourse, for those to whom the acquisition of acceptance by normality is unobtainable, the lure of indistinguishability- no matter how harmful it is- is strong and it is pervasive.

As adults, even when we realise the harm it does to us, we often still struggle to ignore the pull to conform. When, as a child, we desire to fit in, and on top of that know that our parents want us to appear normal just like our peers, we will likely do anything we can make it look like we have achieved that goal. No matter what the cost is to us.

So, Parents, please think about what messages you are sending your children. Whether they are neurodivergent or not, we parents need to be careful to nurture our children’s unique characters and personalities. The health of their minds and spirits is much more important than society’s push for conformity. We have all felt the incongruence of lost integrity as adults, and the responsibility lies with us do everything in our power to protect our children from experiencing it.

If your children are neurodivergent, it is especially important that you interact with them, and the people around them, mindful of the messages you send about their differences.

Do you really want to send them to a school that separates them from their peers and claims it is for safety? Do you really want to usher them off to therapy sessions designed to teach them to mask their valid coping strategies for the comfort of other people, disguising it as being so they won’t be bullied? Do you really want your frustrations at life not being as easy as you expected to make your child feel guilty for existing, while saying you love them but not their disability?

Your words and your actions as a parent are powerful, and you can use them as a safety net for your child, or you can use them to dangle the lure and trap them into believing they will never be acceptable until they do not look like themselves any more.

As an adult who is just now at 41 years old truly beginning to learn how to stand against the lure of indistinguishability, I am asking you to please think long on this, and choose wisely.

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