The Myth of Being Normal

Throughout your life you have probably heard someone say to you, “why don’t you act normal”…

Throughout your life you have probably heard someone say to you, “why don’t you act normal,” or maybe “you aren’t normal.”  When you hear these phrases, you mind races to create an image of what normal is. We equate that word with happiness and fitting in. Ultimately, being like everyone else.

What if you were to find out that being normal is not a real state for how you act or who you are? Perhaps that whole mindset rose from other ideals and became a de facto measurement of all things in the human condition.

Let’s take a look at the Myth of Being Normal.

Where does being normal come from

Normal is a term often used in medicine that indicates deviations from a set pattern that often are manifestations of an underlying pathology. As an example, if you don’t feel well you go to the doctors and they take your temperature. If it falls outside of a “normal” set of markers, it can indicate an underlying problem. From there they take other measurements and catalog them against other normal markers to make a decision about your health.

The same is said for mainstream psychology. You meet with a doctor, they listen to you and judge you based on what is considered “normal” to decide if you are a deviant/sick or not. The treatment they offer works like healthcare, in that it is a way to modify behavior to put you back to a healthy state. This type of thinking is called allopathic and it is often referred to as conventional medicine. But it pervades into our daily lives as well and becomes the basis on how we treat others.

Here is a way to make sense of that.

Let’s say you are normally a diligent worker, you are working to complete a task. You started out strong but you spend more time surfing the internet, binging Netflix, or chatting with friends. You start to think these things are not normal and you start to question what is wrong with you, why are you working on your task? You decided to bring it up at your therapy session and your counselor tells you that you have a procrastination problem and you should reduce distractions. By doing this, you will become “normal” again. If that doesn’t work, you start looking for other modes of help and may even engage your therapist again for additional help.

What if the problem is you being “normal” but is in fact an intelligent resistance to how you are approaching your task? Maybe there is a better way for you to approach it to keep you focused.

What if it’s another person who normally is very jovial and pays attention to things around them. You wonder what is wrong with them, is there too much stress in their lives? After you try diagnosing what’s going on you start to give them ideas that will restore who they once were and how they are interacting with you. But, what if their change in behavior represents a resistance to their normally accommodating style that their needs aren’t being met by how they are interacting.

Whenever something seems to differ from the norm, we diagnose and try to treat what’s going on to get them back to normal. This is an allopathic approach.

Normal vs. healthy

We have grown to confuse the terms healthy and normal to be the same thing. The biggest difference is that “healthy” refers to a person’s wellness. “Normal” is a subjective standard of what one should be. Normal refers to an average and those done apply to every person. After all, what is healthy for you may not be as healthy for someone else.

Healthy is an objective term. It denotes either good or bad health and those things are quantifiable.Healthy is not always indicative of whether you are skinny or fat, muscled or not. It has a host of complications that make it what it is and those things can be measured and calculated.

That starts to change when we see things like exercise and diets being labeled as healthy. People are not cast from a mold, each of us is made of up similar items but once they are together, the sum is greater than its parts. You can have different height, weight, and shape and still be considered healthy.

We often confuse “normal” for the term “guidelines.” Many guidelines are a good measure of how to do something, whether that is health related or how to do a small task. Those guidelines do represent how a majority of people should do a thing, but it is not all inclusive.  Those guidelines should be a reference or starting point, From there, they can be tailored to unique situations that is the human condition. 

Why we should stop using normal

Words have immense power over us. They allow us to form opinions about our beliefs or what others mean. They give us context to understand complex topics and define things for us.  They can be good and very bad, all at the same time. And, the words you choose can be very telling about your world view. Normal is one of those words.

I mentioned above that “normal” was a subjective term. It can suggest a collective sense of normalcy and forces a value system where any deviation from it is unsavory and intolerable. That is why you hear people, so often, say, “can you just act normal?”

Too often, the usage of the word normal is an indicator of a narrow minded or lack of exposure to the world at large. 

I was born in the south and one thing I hear often, when I talk to people from Ohio, is why don’t I have a normal accent. The response precludes that everyone has the same accent they do because that may be the dominant one they experience. Clearly, southerners do not sound like mid-westerners. It also indicates that one is more desirable than another, the desirable one being that from the person asking why you aren’t normal. This often left me feeling less positive about myself. Throughout my life I have been taught that sounding southern indicates that I am not as smart as others or as worldly. All from my accent.

Believing that human attributes are normal implies, at best, a naive understanding of the world around you. At worse, a narrow-minded and bigoted perspective for all of humanity. After all, Hitler was looking for his ideal of normal in his bid for world domination.

The human tapestry

It has taken me almost 40 years to understand that humanity is a rich tapestry of people. By that I mean each one is a unique thread needed to create the greater pattern at large. If it was all normal, the resulting tapestry would be bland and limited to one thing. While it would be functional, it wouldn’t be appealing. 

None of us are exactly like anyone else. Even if we are twins, both people are not 100% the same. We have our own likes and dislikes. There is no normal, when it comes to people, its an illusion to make us feel good and fit in.

This relates to all things, even sexuality and gender.

Keep in mind that the word normal became a word in the mid 1840s, normality came in 1849, and normalcy almost a decade later in 1857. Such a new word has an immense hold on us but it was never meant to define people, human behavior, or society, it was a term for mathematics. Normal is both a fact in the world and a judgment of what is right. This is where the usage came in to describe the human condition. We use it because it simply worked better as a descriptor than other competing words.

What is even more shocking is that the first usage outside of math came in the 1800s by a group of white men in academic disciplines of comparative anatomy and physiology, e over the human body. It was first used to describe the state of functioning organs. From there, the rest is HIStory where it came to mean upper-middle-class, straight, able-bodied, and mentally fit married white man with approximately 2.5 kids.

Embrace the differences

Remember that normal is defined as usual, regular, common, and typical. Why would anyone want to aspire to be common or typical? Each of us is made up of unique and different experiences. Yes it can be hard to show up and be your true self when it may be rejected. What we need to learn is that we dont have to wow everyone, just ourselves.

How do you feel about the word normal? Do you dance to the beat of your own song or do you try to fit in because it is easier? Do you think, as a whole, humanity should embrace the differences and leave normal to define health issues or math? Let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear your take on this topic.

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