BEING A MISFIT: DEMYSTIFYING THE MISNOMER



Society tries to function by specific, fixed patterns. There are some unsaid and unwritten norms that have been passed on through generations. These norms have developed a whole lot of expectations for people. These expectations range from how people should behave, what they should look like, how they should interact, to even the kind of skills that people are supposed to have.
Anyone who does not meet these expectations is directly or indirectly pressurized and made to go along with these norms. Many conform to these pressures and alter their behaviors and attitude, even if that may not be being themselves. Many, however, do not comply. They do so either by choice or fail to comply after trying to go along, initially. Perhaps they back out, realizing that they cannot put on an act for too long.
The people who do not comply or are unable to do so are referred to as the ones who do not fit in. They are given the label of being a misfit. This label is not in any way a positive connotation. It is more in terms of a belittling sense. Going along with the norms of the society, behaving more in the sense of what is being expected, is something that is liked and accepted. If not, then the person is supposedly not fitting in, and thus, is a misfit.
The terms misfit or not fitting in are referred to in a sense that people are like pieces of a larger puzzle. If an individual is behaving in a manner that is expected and thus, acceptable, then that person fits in perfectly just like a correct piece of a puzzle. If the person is not behaving as expected, then he or she is made to feel like an incorrect or inappropriate piece of a larger puzzle, which does not fit, and should be replaced or discarded. The term misfit is then something that is dehumanizing, and thus, demeaning and disparaging.
Keeping aside the dehumanizing aspect of the term, doubts do come up on even the existence of the idea of someone being called a misfit. In the sense that why does even anyone have to fit in, in the first place? And that, why cannot a person be just the way he or she would want to be, without complying to the societal expectations, and be demeaned for that.
Something on these lines has been suggested by the founder of the school of individual psychology, Alfred Adler. Adler suggested that each individual is unique, and this uniqueness should be emphasized. To elaborate on this, he gave the concept of style of life. Style of life, according to Adler, is the unique way in which individuals pursue their goals. Once this style of life develops, it remains consistent and becomes difficult to change. Established in childhood, this style of life determines all kinds of behaviors, even in adulthood. The perceptions, attitudes, interpretations are all assimilated according to the unique style of life of the individual. All that is not in accordance with the style of life is ignored by the individual.
Extending his ideas of uniqueness of individuals and style of life, Adler also gave the concept of creative self. The concept of the creative self suggests that individuals have the ability to create their own personality. As opposed to the earlier mechanistic ideas, Adler suggested that the individual, using heredity and the environment, actively constructs his or her personality, leading to uniqueness, completeness, and wholeness. The creative self transforms the individual into a personality that is dynamic and uniquely stylized, giving meaning to life.
Therefore, according to Adler’s concepts of style of life and creative self the idea of being a misfit does not exist, and the negative labelling associated with it is incorrect. On the contrary, as Adler had suggested, by being unique and constructing themselves creatively, eventually turns out to be fulfilling. It leads the person to be dynamic, develops a sense of wholeness, and gives meaning to life. The negative connotation associated with being a misfit, can instead be seen as someone who has a unique style of life and a high creative self.
Similarly, a person supposedly being called a misfit can actually be said to be someone who is low on self-monitoring. The social psychologist, Mark Snyder, refers to self-monitoring as the monitoring of behavior in social situations. Self-monitoring is the individual difference in the ability and motivation to regulate behavior to social and interpersonal interactions.
People who are high on self-monitoring interact more in terms of the appropriateness of the situation. They are concerned about how others perceive them, and mold their behavior to suit the expectation of others. Consequently, they are not consistent in how they behave, and their behavior keeps on changing according to the type of people that they interact with. High self-monitors are said to be highly responsive to social and interpersonal cues.
On the other hand, people who are low on self-monitoring show a lesser concern for situational appropriateness. Unlike high self-monitors, low self-monitors do not indulge in manoeuvring themselves, and are thus, more consistent in their behavior with respect to varied situations and people. Further, instead of being responsive to social cues, they go along with their inner beliefs, attitudes, and emotions.
What is usually referred to as being a misfit, can actually be seen as someone who is low on self-monitoring. The so-called misfits are often criticized for not behaving as per societal expectations. This can be viewed as being less responsive to social cues, like low self-monitors, and being consistent with their beliefs and attitudes. Because of being low on self-monitoring, they may not want to or be unable to mold their behavior according to others, and be the way they want to be.
Keeping this in view, it becomes incorrect to criticize and devalue a person who is supposedly not fitting in. Such people are being low on self-monitoring, that is, they are being consistent in their behavior, and are thus, being more transparent and trustworthy. Because they go along with their beliefs, attitudes, and emotions, they can be said to be more aware of these inner self-aspects. Therefore, they have more self-awareness, which has been found to have a number of positive aspects such as being able to cope with uncertainties, being able to deal with adversaries, being empathetic, and having meaning and direction in life
Going along these lines, it can be said that the people who are referred to as misfits, are actually nonconformists - characterized by behaviors that do not conform to existing ideas and practices. Being a nonconformist or nonconformism has been associated with a lot of positive attributes. Nonconformists are known to be involved in divergent thinking – developing multiple, unique ideas, and using multiple methods for problem solving. Divergent thinking is an integral aspect of creativity.
Further, the humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, has suggested nonconformism to be an important characteristic for self-actualization. Self-actualization is the desire to become completely what one idiosyncratically is, and to become what one is absolutely capable of becoming. It involves self-fulfilment and working for the welfare of humanity.  
Similarly, the humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers suggests nonconformism to be important in order to discover one’s true potential, what he termed as becoming oneself or fully functioning person. Rogers believed that people should not try to conform to the expectations of others. Individuals, according to Rogers, should instead come to terms with who they are, trust their own experiences, and accept that others are different.
Both Maslow and Rogers, thus, give a lot of emphasis on nonconformism to be able to discover one’s true potential and live a fulfilling life. For them being different, or what is labelled as being a misfit, is not something that should be evaluated negatively. It is rather something that helps a person grow and excel.
It can be clearly seen that the label of being a misfit actually has a lot of positive attributes associated with it. However, the demeaning label of being a misfit often causes a lot of distress for such individuals. In the society people are heavily criticized for being different, for having goals in life that are unique, and for wanting to live their life in their own way. Such people are negatively judged by others, face a lot of dislike, and find difficulty in being accepted.
It is due to this that many people try to change their behavior in order to get social approval, and get that acceptance from others. They try to do all that they can in order to fit in among the larger society, even if it means not being themselves, resisting their natural tendencies, and inhibiting their positive attributes.
In the long run, this turns out to be detrimental. No matter how much they try to fit in, they are still not being their natural selves, which makes them experience discomfort, leading to stress and anxiety. They tend to put too much pressure on themselves, and yet, no matter what they do, they still feel out of place, because they are not being themselves.

There is often too much emphasis given on social approval and being liked by everyone, which may drag one into sameness and monotony, limiting personal growth. The idea of not fitting in, not getting social approval, and being different may seem to be undesirable and unlikeable, but it does not restrict and limit the individual. There is nothing wrong in being different, in being disliked, in being unique, and in being oneself. It is always better to stand out instead of trying to fit in an yet feel out of place.
A misfit is someone who is actually unique, a nonconformist, low on self-monitoring, which have been found to be associated with positive attributes. It is these positive attributes that help an individual grow in life. Trying to fit in, to get social approval, should not come at the cost of personal growth, and inhibiting of natural tendencies. Sometimes, instead of trying to fit in, it is better to step aside and move away. There is nothing wrong in being a misfit; being a misfit is actually a misnomer.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, an independent researcher, and conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor in Psychology at the Department of Applied Psychology, Vivekananda College, University of Delhi, India.

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