Normalizing - Normalizing is a tactic used to desensitize an individual to abusive, coercive or inappropriate behaviors. In essence, normalizing is the manipulation of another human being to get them to agree to, or accept something that is in conflict with the law, social norms or their own basic code of behavior.


Aggressors often work to make their victims feel less sensitive to, or more accepting of. offensive behavior by minimizing,  down playing or mocking any negative reaction to inappropriate acts.  In turn, victims often normalize bad behavior (the other person's and their own) by buying into the aggressor's logic and lowering their own standards.  They learn to accept as normal what they once believed to be unacceptable, wrong, or dangerous.  Normalizing is achieved when the victim no longer questions a behavior as inappropriate and starts to accept the perpetrator’s assertions that a questionable behavior is, in fact, normal and “healthy.” 

Examples of Normalizing:     

  • A cheating spouse who convinces their partner that affairs are harmless to the marriage.
  • Someone who enlists the help of a friend to destroy their own property in order to collect the insurance. 
  • A pedophile grooming a child for sexual activity: "It's not wrong if we love each other."   
  • The slacker boyfriend who sells pot out of your house: "This shouldn't even be illegal... who is it hurting?"  

What Normalizing Sounds Like:   

  • “Stop being so judgmental.”
  • "Your friends never had any problems with it."
  • "What a stick in the mud. You need to lighten up!”
  • "Why can't you just let it go?"
  • "Just relax... if you don't like it, you don't ever have to do it again."
  • "Don't you trust me?"
  • "This is God's plan for you ..."

What it feels like:

The process of normalizing (usually a sustained effort over time)  may touch off deep inner conflict in the person who is the target of normalizing efforts.   The reason for this ambivalence is that normalizing requires a person to adjust their personal standards, and accept, participate, or collaborate in bad behavior in order to receive a payoff or reward.

In other words: the target knows the behavior is inappropriate or wrong, but is motivated to indulge it, because doing so generates the promise of some desired object or situation that the target yearns for (or already has), and does not want to lose. The motivation could be anything: money, sex, grades, acceptance, favor, or the promise of love.  Normalizing is in many ways a type of mutual extortion, and can not work if there is nothing of value at stake.

Being in a relationship with a personality-disordered individual has sometimes been compared to an addiction. One of the side effects of being addicted to another person is the lengths some non-personality-disordered individuals might go to in order to preserve their connection to the very person who is doing them harm.   Denial about the extent of the abuse often becomes core to the non-personality-disordered individual's own psyche.  He or she may begin to normalize, or justify abnormal behaviors in the other person in order to make those behaviors seem less disturbing, The non-personality-disordered individual thus adopts codependent and enabling behaviors, and may even begin mirroring some of the bad actions they once objected to.   In this way, the addicted person is able to increase their own tolerance and negative coping skills, and stay connected to their drug of choice. 

Losing perspective on what is acceptable behavior weakens your own self-esteem and judgment. Once bad behaviors are normalized and accepted in your own mind, you will be vulnerable to further abuse and at risk for engaging in activities that are unhealthy, harmful or illegal yourself. 

What NOT To Do: 

  • Don't fall for false flattery, or verbal seduction.
  • Don't let someone else convince you to engage in any activity you know to be dangerous or wrong.
  • Don’t compromise your boundaries.
  • Don'tbecome blind to the negative consequences of bad behavior.
  • If someone is trying to coerce you in to doing something you are uncomfortable with, do not try to argue with them - get up and leave.
  • Don't blame yourself for how the other person is behaving
  • Don't stay in the room if the situation becomes physically, verbally or emotionally unhealthy.
  • Don't go it alone or keep what you are experiencing a secret. 

What TO Do:

  • Do recognize that normalizing for what it is: Manipulation.
  • Do listen to your inner voice.  Learn to distinguish between what you know is right and what someone else asks you to accept.
  • Do work on boundaries.  If someone is pressuring you to accept something you are uncomfortable with, walk away. 
  • If it's illegal, dangerous, or has the potential to harm yourself or others, report it to the proper authorities.
  • Do discuss what you are going through with supportive, understanding friends, family, therapists or a support community.