Is that Normal?

30 Aug

Normal. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” Secondarily, “Occurring naturally and not because of disease, inoculation, or any experimental treatment.” And then a third definition, “characterized by balanced well-integrated functioning of the organism as a whole.”

Of late, I’ve fielded quite a few “Am I normal?” inquiries.

The question represents a common misconception and bias- that we are often alone in our struggles, that we must somehow be special or unique in our experiences, and often that no one could possibly understand what is it we’re going through.  Why do we worry that we’re not normal? Because we inherently want to be liked by people. We don’t want to stand out from the crowd.  We derive our sense of self from our interactions with others and our social context. It’s the reason that peer pressure is so powerful, especially as a teenager when we’re trying to figure out how we are compared to others. “I don’t want to be an outcast. I want to be accepted. They are going to reject me if I don’t. I better do what the crowd is doing.”

On the other hand, I can remember when I was around 14 years old and would get irritated when my younger sister would copy me. And yet in my life now I will  mimic the actions of others that I find to be useful to me. My sister at that time was watching and mimicking me…integrating her sense of self through relating to me. It makes me sad now thinking of how I’d reject her when she’d do what I was doing. She wanted to be like me to be closer to me, to feel accepted by me. They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. I realize that now. It’s not that I was annoyed she was doing what I was doing– it was so important for me to be someone, to be noticed, to be considered a separate person. I wanted to be Kori, not “the girls”, as my sister and I were referred to. Perhaps we were both searching for the same thing, just in different ways. Acceptance. A sense of self.

We all in some regards want to be normal then. We want to fit in. Some people more than others. I have tended to stray from the status quo….still perhaps rejecting the common tendency to think, be, and feel like other people do. But I also tend to think more about how I think– you think that has anything to do with my role as a mental health therapist? Ultimately I think I moved toward this profession because of who I was beforehand-  interested in how things work in our heads and why they work that way. I was intrigued by how our minds operate and what makes each of us so unique in what we come to believe.

When my client asked if she was normal as she relayed her experience to me, I was grateful that she even felt comfortable enough to ask. There was, and often is, some embarrassment in the revealing of behaviors that seem “off” in some way based 1) on what one knows others experience or don’t experience; 2) what one assumes other experience or don’t experience and 3) what one feels is relevant in their own lives. Her behavior felt foreign to her and so she needed reassurance that she wasn’t the only one to go through what she was. Embarrassment becomes a factor when we anticipate others thinking something about us– only a lot of embarrassment is based on errors in judgment.

I can say that I don’t want to be normal, but when we’re talking about medical issues, noticing things about our bodies or aspects of our behavior that may seem different than what we’re used to can be important signs or symptoms of something that genuinely needs to be addressed. If I notice a mole on my arm that has grown larger and is asymmetrical with odd coloring, I’d think, “That’s not normal,” and it would spur me to get it checked. This is what my client did with me, only on a behavioral level. A level of discomfort that she had not been through before signaled  her to check in with someone she knew with experience.

What I love about this, and what I want you to take away from this post is how she approached her situation in a non-judgmental way. Asking “is this normal” is a pretty neutral question as opposed to “Is there something wrong with me.” My client came to me from a place of inquiry, observation, wonderment. She was intrigued. Rather than putting a meaning to it, she sought to find out IF it was meaningful.

This is the skill of mindfulness. This is the skill that allows us to not get swept away by emotion. This is the skill that allows us to approach situations like scientists, as unbiased as possible so we can problem-solve.

I love the question of “is that normal?” It gives me an opportunity to ask  the question back, “What if it’s not?” and to gain an understanding of what the individual’s beliefs and worldviews are about who they believe themselves to be and who they are in the context of others. Because we are different around different people.

At The Diet Doc we have a tag line– Living Above the Crowd. In a society where so many people live in auto pilot mode, not thinking, engaging in impulsive behaviors, and behaving mindlessly, we teach people how to be the best versions of themselves, to be the fit individuals among the throngs of overweight people, to ask questions and be educated, to approach their lives with openness, and to explore their own purpose and meaning. We want them to create their own definitions of normal.

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4 Responses to “Is that Normal?”

  1. Kathy D. August 30, 2012 at 2:54 PM #

    Nicely stated, Kori! Ever since I started the Diet Doc program that is exactly the way I feel. Like I’m living above the crowd — I too like not being “normal” because the norm is not healthy. I’m new to this living above the crowd stuff but I like it!

    • kpropst August 30, 2012 at 4:09 PM #

      Kathy! You have been abnormal from the start! Haha. I was drawn to you because of it. You found your way onto the unbeaten path and haven’t veered off it since we met. Now you’re marching to the beat of your own drum with a leaner, healthier, more energetic body and mind! 🙂

  2. markfunkhouser August 30, 2012 at 10:32 PM #

    Yes, I heard the only normal is a setting on the dryer 🙂

    • kpropst August 30, 2012 at 10:49 PM #

      Funny. I don’t think I even have that setting on my dryer!

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