Who wants to be ordinary? The word has unpleasant connotations; like something that offers little that is good or substantial. And yet it is a word I often think about and return to in my clinical practice. It could even be one of the primary goals of therapy: to become ordinary.
In the world today there is more and more in place to protect us from being ordinary, that is, to protect us from being ourselves.
We have an almost infinite number of television channels, live streaming of every conceivable film and box-set and console games set in technicolour virtual reality. The whole world is modelled on making us all feel special. And it is within reach for us all, if only we have just enough about us to win the latest talent show broadcast at primetime, or to garner enough Youtube followers or win the Lotto – after all ‘it could be you’.
All this presupposes that being simply ordinary is wrong; that being ordinary is settling for something less than. However, being ordinary in the truest sense of the world means being able to be in relationship with our inner world and make decisions and life choices – choices based on desire rather than the need to shore up our defences.
What is ordinary?
If being ordinary has little to do with accepting the mundane or second-rate life, then what does it mean? Being ordinary means being in the real world, rather than retreating to a ‘fantasy world’ each time the real world becomes uncomfortable. Or in some cases retreating from the real world to avoid it even the anticipation of discomfort.
I have previously written about manic defences enlisted in order to protect us from discomfort. And whilst this blog in essence remains about manic defences, the use of certain defences to avoid ordinariness and strive for the extraordinary are a particular subset in the cluster of manic defences known as narcissistic defences.
Neglected children always construct a story of specialness
Whether it is story of being ‘special’ to a parent who leans on them for emotional support, or it is specialness born out of surviving a difficult childhood, being special or extraordinary can be a short-term invaluable solution to feeling helpless, hopeless, enraged and depressed. Or even mad.
Being extraordinary shores up the empty core of the neglected and abused child. It enables them to cope and to construct a ‘pseudo-self’ so they can navigate the world. At least for a while.
A special kind of defence
There is an argument that as a society (western), we are becoming increasingly narcissistic: focused on consumerism and fantasy rather than connection and relationship.
The consumer world makes it easy to ‘sell’ specialness or the attainability of extraordinariness. Even in the western spiritual model specialness is promoted through maxims such as ‘you are unique’; ‘you have a special gift to offer the world’ and so forth.
What’s so bad about being extraordinary?
Life should not be a choice between being extraordinary or being nothing (feeling like one does not exist). Being ordinary is not the contrary of being extraordinary, at least not in psychotherapy. Being ordinary is the third position.
Being ordinary is a mature position of being able to withstand and navigate real life without flights of fancy; it is a position whereby we can make decisions from a position of strength and desire rather than from an ongoing defence of the fragile self.
In tangible terms, being ordinary means living a real and fulfilling life without a constant need for external validation and approval. Without being defined by Facebook or Instagram ‘likes’.
Being ordinary is an authentic position and one through which we may have extraordinary experiences if we are lucky, but they will be rooted in reality.
All in all, it seems to me that being ordinary has really become something extraordinary in the modern world.
Mark Vahrmeyer, UKCP Registered, BHP Co-founder is an integrative psychotherapist with a wide range of clinical experience from both the public and private sectors. He currently sees both individuals and couples, primarily for ongoing psychotherapy. Mark is available at the Lewes and Brighton & Hove Practices.
Further reading by Mark Vahrmeyer –