Apr 16

What Is Normal? Am I Normal? Are You Normal?

When it comes to the field of mental health, what is normal? And should we care?

Albert Camus once said, “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” Trying too hard to be normal can be exhausting, in other words.

Most of us, though, do routinely wonder—in a non-energy-draining kind of way—if something we did or said or embody is normal. Am I normal? Is this normal? Is that normal? It seems it’s actually normal to wonder what’s normal.

So, if you’re someone who prefers some semblance of “normal”…what is normal, anyway? Some proposed definitions:

“Normal” as a phrase is a subjective opinion – it might be “normal” for one person to put their socks on before putting on their pants, but another person might view that as completely strange behavior; ultimately, neither person is wrong in their method but rather just different (Sage Neuroscience Center).

In psychology and psychiatry, it really means average or typical, but we too easily think of it as a synonym for how everyone is supposed to think and feel (Jim Kozubek, Scientific American).

The term “normality” describes actions that are common or expected in a group of people. It is the condition of falling within the range of what is normal or expected. Being adaptable, practical, and socially acceptable are characteristics of normal behaviour. It is behaviour that enables people to successfully interact with their surroundings and meet their daily needs (Mind.Plus).

On the other hand, these selected quotes indicate possible problems with the concept:

It is past time that we rethink what we mean by the words “normal” and “abnormal”…Indeed, it is a real question as to whether those words can be sensibly used at all, given their tremendous baggage and built-in biases and the general confusion they create” (Eric R. Maisel, PhD, Psychology Today)

There’s no such thing as normal. There is no definition of normal. Normal is subjective. You can’t—and shouldn’t—force yourself to want something ‘normal’ and stop wanting what you truly want. It’s a sure way to make your life miserable Alessandra Hazard, Straight Boy).

If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be (Maya Angelou).

Well, what about being normal in relationship to others? The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship (2013) uses the “normal” word twice in its title alone. I think it’s normal to speculate, therefore, that highly educated authors Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte represent those who care quite a bit about this concept. If you too are in this category, you might want to check out their book. (I haven’t.)

Is it obvious yet that I lean in the direction taken by Holly Parker, PhD, Psychology Today, who lists five reasons to be careful about assessing normality?

  1. It might not always be so healthy to be “normal” by the group’s standards.
  2. “Normal” can be a moving, biased target.
  3. What you might think of as abnormal is actually quite typical.
  4. Abnormal can be wonderful.
  5. Trying too hard to be “normal” can get in the way of living your life.

Me, I often prefer “common.” As in In my professional opinion, that thing you do or feel or think is pretty common.

Or the concept of “health.” Such and such behavior is healthy, such and such not so much.

And I think my point of view is pretty normal, actually. 😉