Ce n’est pas normal – This is not normal
Normal = usual, typical, standard
Abnormal = away from normal, away from the norm
What is normal? What is normal behaviour? What are normal reactions? What are normal feelings? What are normal looks?
The Oxford Dictionary says that the ‘norm’ is something that is usual, typical, or standard. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary documents the medical definition of norm as ‘an established standard or average: a set standard of development or achievement usually derived from the average or median achievement of a large group: a pattern or trait taken to be typical behaviour of a social group.’
Therefore, anything abnormal is a deviation from the norm. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says abnormal is ‘deviating from the normal or average, such as abnormal [=exceptional] strength or abnormal powers of concentration; unusual in an unwelcome or problematic way, such as abnormal behaviour or abnormal test results.’
Abnormal psychology is ‘a branch of psychology concerned with mental and emotional disorders (such as anxiety disorders, phobias, depression, and developmental disorders) and with certain incompletely understood normal phenomena (such as dreams and hypnosis).’
Medical practitioners have been trying to explain normal and abnormal physical and emotional behaviour for ‘thousands of years.’ Accordingly, there have been countless ways to treat ‘abnormality.’
The ‘problematic’ part of anything ‘unusual in an unwelcome or problematic way’ is defining ‘unwelcome’ and ‘problematic’ because there are a myriad of factors to be taken into account. An ‘abnormal’ behaviour for one person might be quite ‘normal’ for another – and that’s when clarification is added, such as – culturally, communally, socially, regionally, globally, in households, etc. – i.e. it is culturally normal for that to happen. Time is usually defined too. Abnormal behaviour could occur once, sometimes, often, weekly, yearly, always, over the previous year, etc.
If ‘normal’ is the average or standard on a continuum set at zero (0), then how far from zero is a behaviour or feeling or action considered to still be ‘acceptable’ – 5 points from zero or 100 points from zero? How does society measure this level of acceptability – through social media, a democratic vote, protests and public outrage, criminal intent, written in law, a meeting of medical practitioners, etc?
Typically, deviating away from the norm means that, for an individual, their daily life is impacted in some way and usually over a period of time – such as, anti-social behaviour, acts of aggression, unhealthy and long periods of seclusion, ‘acting out’, criminality, impediments to daily functions, inappropriate relationships, lack of communication, lack of motivation, lack of feelings, limited or dysfunctional work behaviours, inability to leave the house, physical manifestations etc. – there are many ways that someone’s life can be impacted: anything that is a deviation for that specific person, or a deviation from a legal, financial, social, cultural, relationship, psychological, or mental norm.
Definitions of normal and abnormal also come from individual perceptions – i.e. how you perceive yourself and others, and how others perceive your behaviour or action. For example, in many countries same-sex relationships are legal, and largely socially acceptable, but individuals have their own perception of ‘acceptability’ and their own levels of tolerance which impacts how they interact – based upon their own cultural, religious, familial, personal, or other beliefs. Also, acceptability may change over time – what was acceptable 100 years ago (due to ignorance, or it being untold and unknown, or for many other factors) may not be acceptable now.
Normal practice is still difficult to explain, even with dictionary, medical, psychiatric, legal, and societal definitions.
As guidance, ask yourself these questions:
- Is is legal?
- Is it harmful?
- Is it typical or usual?
- Is it socially acceptable?
- To what degree is it not socially acceptable?
- If you act on your decision, can the action be altered, changed, reversed, or stopped if you change your mind?
- Are you as prepared as you can be for the consequences of your action?
It’s like the time I decided not to shave my armpits – this occurred for years, over summers and winters. It was perfectly legal, and not harmful to anyone, even myself. In my community at the time, it was not usual for a woman to have hairy armpits, and nor was it socially acceptable by most. But, it was only marginally not socially acceptable – e.g. only a handful of people commented on it, and no-one physically or emotionally abused me. The worse thing that was said, or implied, was that I did not look ‘feminine.’ It did not cause me distress, nor anyone else. And so, I could comfortably continue my decision for as long as I wanted, in summer, at the beach, in the spa, wherever I wanted.
This example may not be true or similar for everyone identifying as a woman. Each person has their own experience. While this may be a trivial example to some, it may be a triggering example for others, for which I apologise. Most decisions in life are difficult, with challenging factors. The point is that I asked myself the above questions, and made a conscious decision about my action, and accepted the consequences knowing that I had a support group of people and I could reverse or change my action/decision at any time.
People might be struggling with inner thoughts about whether they look ‘normal’ or feel ‘normal’ or act ‘normal.’ Inner thoughts may distort some perceptions about self, identity, and appearance – which may or may be factual but is very real in someone’s mind – and which others may or may not share. These negative thoughts may be ongoing, come and go, or be triggered by a comment – a comment that usually comes from a person’s own insecurities. In response, American actress Leighton Meester, said, ‘Even when people are so judgmental about what you wear or your weight, you just have to step away and be like, ‘I’m a normal, fine human being.”
For some people, being ‘normal’ has positive overtones, but for others, being ‘normal’ is negative. Normal, for some, means conventional, the same as others, traditional, and not standing out. Some people don’t want that. As Mokokoma Mokhonoana said, “A ‘normal person’ is what is left after society has squeezed out all unconventional opinions and aspirations out of a human being.’
Some decisions are not ours to make. Some are made at birth, and through life’s external circumstances – natural and human-made disasters, country laws, government decisions, parental decisions, etc. Subsequent decisions about how we react to circumstance are usually ours to make.
If you are under the age of consent, parents and guardians make decisions. Hopefully, you will have some input into the decision-making or your reaction and coping mechanisms to handle life’s challenges.
If you are an adult, and others are making decisions, are you going to lead, follow, avoid, fight, or flee … etc? You can go through the list of questions above, and make decisions to gain ground.
There is research on a range of topics that aid decision-making, assessing reactions to decisions, and coping with them. Negative coping mechanisms might be drugs, excessive alcohol, inappropriate relationships, etc., so seek assistance if you are spiralling downward too quickly and too low – if you realise what is happening to you (or others point it out). Seek assistance if your triggers are becoming unmanageable. Also, be aware that addressing one element might awaken another issue.
As author Woody Norris acknowledges, ‘I had a terrible fear of not being normal – of not seeming normal. So, I went to the library and read every psychology book I could find. Anything about how normal people behave.’ People have now substituted the library with online articles, social media messages, and images to gain ideas, perceptions, and impressions about what ‘looking normal’ and ‘being normal’ is, but these may themselves be distortions or provide mixed messages designed to sell products and lifestyles. Life gets more complicated with information or image overload.
‘Normal’ is different for different people.
“When you finally accept that it’s OK not to have answers and it’s OK not to be perfect, you realise that feeling confused is a normal part of what it is to be a human being.” – Winona Ryder
“Too many parents fail to understand that there is a difference between fitting in and being liked, that there is a difference between being ‘normal’ and being happy. High school is temporary. Family is not.” – Alexandra Robbins
“There are no norms. All people are exceptions to a rule that doesn’t exist.” – Fernando Pessoa
“Almost everyone prefers normality because normality brings comfort and security. But when you think about it, normality hinders the reason why you are on this earth.” – Euginia Herlihy