Next To Normal

Posted by Leonard Citron
May 24, 2020

How often do we ask ourselves if our behavior or the behavior of others is normal? The more important question is what does one infer by the idea of “normal”? What is normal anyway and if we are not normal then what are we?

Normal has become a very loaded concept, if we are not normal than we are abnormal, if we are abnormal than there is something wrong with us. It is a very black and white way of thinking about this concept. And heaven forbid in some areas of your life you don’t conform, this can be the trigger for an array of negative emotions including anxiety and depression. So let’s break normal down and see what it actually means.

My definition of normal (and shared by Wikipedia) is that it is conformance to an average. So let’s suppose the majority of people sleep 8 hours per night, the average therefor is 8. Now what if you sleep 5 hours or 10 hours, you are not conforming to the average but does that mean there is anything wrong with you? If we have trained ourselves to think in either/or terms than we have a problem. This style of rigid thought if fertile ground for our irrational beliefs. For some, it can be the end of the world if they do not fit the norm, and of course they should, and if they don’t they must be flawed. It stands to reason.

If you think back, we are force fed this hogwash from the beginning of our time here, remember in school, there was always one kid who did not conform, they were the weirdos, something was wrong with them. This message is reinforced repeatedly in our society and is a big part of what keeps us therapists in business.

So let’s suppose and I know this is going to sound daft, but what if, normal really only is conformance to an average and it means nothing more than that. There are always going to be outliers, some people will sleep 5 hours and other 10. Some men will be 5”5 tall and others 6”6 tall. But just because you are not like everyone else does not mean there is anything wrong with you. Can you accept that in some areas of your life you are not the average and that is just OK?

Often in therapy, many roads lead back to accepting yourself in your entirety. This idea of normal has become another external gage to rate ourselves, which I am sure, if we ran the tests and gathered the data would show causes more distress not less. So you have a choice to make here, do you want to be normal and continue to worry about being normal or be abnormal and leave those concerns to the rest of the lemmings?

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