Life has its ups and downs and everyone may have moments where they question their emotional stability. No one lives a normal life because the idea does not exist and it cannot be scientifically measured. However, there is an emotional balance that people try to maintain and therapists often encourage people to ask themselves if they feel “their normal”. As people age, they begin to realize that their lives are for the most part relatively stable and somewhat predictable. This article is for the general public who ask themselves: Am I Normal? And includes a self-measure questionnaire which enables people to answer this question.
What is Normal?
Definitions of normal differ by circumstance, time, country, and person all of which adjust according to evolving societal codes and benchmarks. People frequently recognize normal in comparison to abnormal and to be normal in the purest form is good while abnormal is bad. Those who do not conform to the common standard have the label of being sick, abnormal, eccentric or disabled, which points the way to stigmatization.
Normality is the state of being average. Intrapersonal normality is behavior that is typical for an individual and the behavior is consistent with the most common practice for that person. Researchers call conforming to the norm thoughts and reactions that are the most common in a society. Normality endures because the concept has a basis on societal norms and whether someone is normal is up to how people view themselves in contrast to the views of society. While attempting to determine and quantify normality is a great start, all definitions face the dilemma of whether researchers are even describing an idea that exists since there are so many diverse ways of observing the concept.
When abnormality makes someone in the society feel uncomfortable it is the exceptional person who will laugh it off to relieve tension. Society’s rejection of being different and the pressure to normalize may cause shame in some people. Mental illness is particularly misunderstood and this determination oftentimes taints opinions of the one seeking help. The medical community and families try to help people live a standard life; however, the pressure to appear normal creates a conflict. Society influences and defines the concept of normal which affects millions of people and has real world consequences. The treatment of every single mental illness from anxiety and depression on through bipolar and schizophrenia originates from how society views “normal” and “abnormal.” This may be the time for people to rethink the terms because they apply to the behaviors and emotional states of human beings.
People guide their actions by peer standards and then measure the suitability of behaviors by how distant they are from the social average. However, this perception of the norm might or might not be the most commonplace behavior. In some instances, the individual may falsely think the social benchmark is one thing, when, in fact, only a few people may hold their assumption. The social averages that lead the way for some are not all the time common for everyone. Behaviors that are atypical for nearly all people may be thought of as being commonplace for a subculture or subgroup. For example, a usual college student behavior may be to study and obtain good grades, but for a sub-division of athletic students, normal behavior may be to go to practice and pursue athletic activities. Sub-divisions may strongly deny “normal” behavior, instead substituting society norms within their own group.
For most people, being average is ideal because there are influences from external sources to conform, as well as, pressures from the fundamental desire to feel accepted. Sometimes someone will appear emotionally healthy while they may be struggling and experiencing the world in a different manner. A person with a mental health problem has all the freedoms, but may not be able to show and experience common thoughts, emotions and behaviors. These peculiarities may not be associated with their sense of identity, especially if they are unwelcome anomalies.
Nearly everyone wants to be emotionally healthy and people strive to be regarded as such because not having a bond with the general population leads to feelings of loneliness. Applying a label sets in motion the belief they may not have as much in common with the world at large, and this makes most feel ill at ease. To diagnosis someone means that people have a label along with the accompanied social ramifications which include being a part of or not being a part of the larger community. This concept sets in motion the scene for someone to be included, excluded or stigmatized by the larger society. Therefore, applying a label sets the scene for people to believe that they do not have as much in common with the larger population. When abnormality has a diagnostic label, it is understandable for that person to accept some components of the sick role or have the stigmatization that also springs from some physical ailments.
Four Factors related to the Definition of Normal
- There is no deviation from the research or statistical norms. Researchers measure many facts, such as knowledge, weight, height, and eye color and most people fall within the middle range. How would the world be if all were all considered normal? Do all people need to be the same or average?
- There is no deviation from social norms. Every culture has established standards for acceptable behavior. These standards usually change with time, vary from situation to situation and from culture to culture.
- There is no maladaptive behavior. Meaning, any behavior that affects the well-being of the individual or the community in which they live. This concept refers to any severe behavior that is outside of the norm of their culture, such as an attempted suicide.
- What are the levels of personal distress? Personal, subjective feeling states.
Labeling and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
A vast number of disciplines have attempted to define the concept of normal with the results being that there is no one meaning of normality. The prevailing puzzles of answering ‘What is normal?’ are questions related to sociology, psychology and philosophy. The most extensive effort to sort out normality from abnormality originates from clinical psychiatry, in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual. Diagnostic tags are proliferating, and mental disorders seem to be adding ever more territory. At the same time, many people with and without diagnosable ailments are forming their own original ideas on what is normal.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) provides a persuasive symptom based identification method, which consists of efforts that includes life stressors or environmental triggers. The symptom focus gives an allowance for the diagnosing to be swift because symptoms can be easier to observe than life crisis points or event histories. Some of these life crises and event histories may conjure up what may be a brief and common mental state in response to an environmental situation. The DSM points to how normality is dependent on the symptoms, not to how normality may change throughout a persons history and how it may relate to value judgments.
The American Psychiatric Association has revised its diagnostic and statistical manual and the subsequent version, DSM-V. Labels may increase and mental disorders may add more sections to the book, but to call this a psychiatric power clutch or “bible” is exaggerating. The true drive behind the generation of labels is the growing capability of technology to view people as mental health professionals have never been able to in the past. Nevertheless, the concept of a change in the normal calls forth unease as to force normality is to persuade conformity. To increase diagnostic categories produces anxiety and some question the idea of anyone being emotionally fit.
Judges of psychiatry complain that many cases fit in no obvious section and patients are given labels like “anxiety disorder not otherwise specified.” Such people nevertheless frequently continue to be at risk for many serious complications and these conclusions are the result of expanding these categories. These mental health judges object to the profession medicating people who have no diagnosis. Researchers as well as clinicians in medicine have narrowed typical reactions, like quirks and peculiarities to become difficulties that people dread and insist upon wanting medications to change. Critics state that physicians are attempting to move someone from a common, but disfavored personality state (anxiety) to another common, but rewarded state (calm). However, such a view is a swift leap from critics who are analyzing a narrow view of normalcy to declaring that all physicians over-medicate.
Labels can be important even when medication has no part in therapy. For example, a woman complains that her child is too busy. Does the child have ADHD or is the child interested in just pursuing many projects at the same time? There is no evidence in the literature that states that the generation of diagnoses has done any harm to someones identity. However, parents who might have once thought of a child as being unusual once diagnosed may view him/her as having Asperger’s. Parents may also become increasingly aware of a few unusual tendencies in themselves. A diagnosis even if imprecise can produce comfort along with providing a way of changing behaviors for directing the problem at hand.
What is a Chemical Imbalance?
Research technology is modifying the perception of psychiatric ailments. Methods of examining brains, neurons, and cell connections, along with using powerful computer models associate with many observed fluctuations in function pertaining to disease and disability. The nerve connections people form, the neurotransmitters that develop, genetics, the symptoms people suffer may be linked to a vulnerability that associates with a disorder.
Life is a bio-chemical and bio-electric process that occurs for a limited period of time ending in death. There are situations, such as a crisis, which can cause a reaction in the brain that creates a release of a chemical. The relationship these chemicals have with each other creates a feeling. It is how people perceive and react to the crisis that defines what emotions arise and the intensity. Life stressors create an emotional crisis that can generate a chemical reaction. Therefore, there are many levels of emotions and how people react to the crisis that relates to the body’s physiological-biological life. It is the individual that is in the crisis that controls how they respond to the tension. The feeling of being emotionally centered occurs, when the chemical relationships (brain controls), and how people manage life’s stressors (which they control) balance.
Treating a chemical imbalance often requires a combination of several different approaches. In the event of depression or anxiety, prescription medications may be ordered to either direct the production of neurotransmitters or compensate for the lack of transmitters. The medication helps to reduce the symptoms over time thus allowing the client and physician to move towards a more permanent solution. Therapy is helpful in treating the underlying cause of the imbalance especially when life stressors are the problem. Learning how to manage anxiety is essential for a full recovery because prolonged periods of stress can diminish the body’s ability to absorb or produce nutrients/chemicals efficiently. Treatment often includes lifestyle modifications such as daily exercise to stimulate the production of endorphins which help to elevate mood, using supplements to infuse the body with nutrients that provide the building blocks for neurotransmitters and adjusting dietary habits to ensure the body receives adequate nutrition.
When people ask a therapist if they are normal they are assuming that therapists have an easy way to measure the concept. There is no such clear way to determine normal, except what is typical for the culture, age group and life circumstance. The idea is ever changing in life, depending on life transitions, age, culture and the community in which they live. For example, the next time people leave the house observe others and pay attention to all of the different types of people there are in the world. There is no one personality type that professionals view as being normal. The notion is a concept, a conclusion which cannot be measured. If one ever wonders if they are normal the answer is it depends. Emotions allow people to experience strength, compassion, love, joy, sorrow, envy and a full range of feelings and sensations. Mental health professionals possess their own ideas about who needs help and these ideas are in dispute because they cannot be measured or quantified.
Am I Normal? A Self Measure
If people consider themselves being better than average, improvements with counseling are likely, though the costs may outweigh the benefits. If people view themselves as average, they could benefit from counseling and/or some suggest medication. If people feel worse than average, I think they should seek professional help. This is just my opinion because people are in charge of the decisions involving their contentment in life. Although, I am a bit sad about this one, because those who are worse than average could improve and ultimately feel better and increase their quality of their life. At this stage, to achieve the best treatment outcome therapy and medication may be included in the recommendations.
In the feeling states below, people can be considered better than average, average, or worse than average. (Circle each category to obtain your overall rating)
- Better: I am happy many times during a typical day, and this joy is a consistent, steady feeling.
- Average: I am at times every day where I am happy, but think at times these moments require effort or coaching.
- Worse: I have happy moments, but I think that I need much more pleasure in my life. I am generally sad.
- Better: I never feel sad for any length of time.
- Average: I feel sad now and then, perhaps for a few days at a time, but not more than a couple of times a month.
- Worse: I am often sad and may fear that the sadness will never end. I have thoughts of despair and lack hope. (If there are any suicidal thoughts, receive help immediately by calling the local crisis hotline or 911)
- Better: I receive the human, social contact to satisfy my needs for other people.
- Average: I do not feel intensely lonely or feel this way more than once a week.
- Worse: I sometimes feel intense loneliness, deprived of human contact, emotional support and care.
- Better: I resolve most disagreements and argue less frequently as the relationship unfolds.
- Average: I have disagreements and they are often not resolved. Verbal abuse is rare, and there are no threats of violence or physical abuse.
- Worse: There are many arguments involving verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse or threats of violence.
- Better: I am almost never afraid unless I am in real danger.
- Average: I feel the fear and anxiety regularly, but the situation is tolerable and I am not in danger.
- Worse: My fear is so frequent that it limits my activities and my ability to enjoy life.
- Better: I am aware that I like myself, at times genuinely accept myself. (I have that internal proud strut like feeling)
- Average: I do not necessarily accept myself, but I do not hate myself either.
- Worse: I have periods of self-hate where I cannot even look myself in the mirror or, look into someone’s eyes.
- Better: I rarely worry about my safety and feel safe in my surroundings.
- Average: I occasionally worry about my safety, even when my world is safe.
- Worse: I worry about my safety daily, regardless of how safe I may be in the world.
Feeling Accepted Scale
- Better: There is at least one person in my life who knows and accepts me for just being me. I have friends who know a lot about me.
- Average: I try to gain acceptance by fulfilling other peoples expectations at times. I hide qualities which I think other people may find offensive.
- Worse: I think that I do not deserve to be accepted. I may try to gain acceptance by doing what I think others like me to do, just in order to please.
People can identify an area where discipline is lacking and determine where they stand in the present, acknowledge and accept the starting point, and then create a training program to improve. It takes different exercises to build discipline in improving communication, sleep, work and food habits. As people navigate through difficult times toward a better future, it is useful to examine some tried and true ideas regarding life. Encouragement is based on focusing on strengths rather than a weakness. The tools of encouragement are ideal for creating a stimulating learning environment which relies on mutual respect and dignity. Receiving encouragement is a key factor in restructuring and improving anyone’s ability to change their lifestyle.
Why People Want to Feel Normal
As quoted, by Helen Keller “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”
People like Helen Keller are not afraid of failure or rejection because the path to the goal seems clear enough and for some this alone is a stimulating challenge. Others may occasionally make some progress, however, most of the time they have difficulty getting into a flow state, and do not understand the roadblocks. This lack of progress often happens with long-term goals that require an action, like transitioning into starting a new business or losing weight. To create a happy life that is truly worthy, people will have their own self-approval rating because acceptance from others is irrelevant. Self-approval will open the support mechanisms of the universe which will flood your world with plenty of validating evidence.
Some people believe normalcy is a condition that is desirable although they are rarely able to explain to me the reasons why. Thinking in this fashion leads people in the direction of abandoning the dream in order to fit in and be common. For those who ask “Am I Normal” I would like to remind them that there is no measurable standard, just what is typical for the world in which they live and people must at times adjust this average accordingly. The desire to be normal can be just too overwhelmingly dominant in life. When you realize that there are many others who feel the same way much of the pressure to fit in is let go and research findings show that people become happier as they age. To some extent as people mature they begin to relax, just be themselves and tend to grow out of this wondering if they are normal phase.
However, those who are most valued are people who step out of the box and amend the rules, even if they have an accurate diagnosis. People who step out of the box are not the ones who make minor improvements, they are not the norm, they are not the average. Why not, strive to be a bit abnormal, focus on strengths, focus on thoughts, ideas and beliefs, and some of you may end up with a way to improve the world.
© Dr. Cheryl MacDonald
Health Psychology for Everyday Life the book
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