My clients often ask me, in various ways, am I normal? Is this behaviour normal? It seems to be one of people’s greatest fears, not being “normal”. Why do we want to be normal? What is normal anyway?
When my clients explore these questions we seem to find that normal is a subjectively determined idea. That is to say that my “normal” may look very different from your “normal”. If this is the case, then how can we strive to be normal? How would we know when we go there. I generally recommend that rather than shooting for normal, they ask themselves what is important to them. What values do they consider important? We also look at whether or not they think they are doing the things they think are important and, if not, what is holding them back or keeping them from honouring those values. This can make it easier for clients to see what they would like to change and make plans to get there. In essence, this is confidence building.
An example of change in this way may look like the client identifying that they really like people who are reliable. They appreciate reliability. But, upon further examination they find that they regularly do things that could have others seeing them as not being reliable. For example, they always say yes when invited to see friends, go on outings, when they are asked to help out with something but when the time comes they don’t show or cancel at the last minute. This in-congruence is often uncomfortable for the individual who really values reliability but knows they are not exhibiting this through their actions. Their assessment (judgement) of themselves around this is often negative and this causes them to feel less worthy of love and acceptance from others, often referred to as low self-esteem.
Ironically, I find that the most common reason that people are unreliable in the way described in the above example is because they are not realistic about how much they canwant to do and they under-estimate how disappointed their friend will be if they say no. Surprisingly, human beings tend to just move on and ask the next person on their list but many people think, over-simplistically, that they will lose the friendship or be liked less if they say they can’t attend or help out.
As we explore this further we see that the individual also wants to be liked and often says yes to most things they are invited to do or help out with so that they won’t ever disappoint people who do the asking. Unfortunately, it is not humanly possible to do everything and help with everything we are asked to do. That is, most of us don’t have enough time in the day or energy in our gas tank to honour all of these commitments. I find that clients who do this, and there are many, end up frequently cancelling or, worse, “no-showing” because they can’t bare the thought of disappointing the person they previously said yes to. this is just one example of slef-esteem is shape and the goal of being “normal” very relative to the individuals involved.
This topic, “What is Normal” and the far-reaching ideas that surround it are too much to cover in one blog so I may make it a series. I have included an article from Psychology Today called What is Normal as an added commentary on what behaviours are seen as “normal” in the field of psychology.
Link to Psychology Today article: What is Normal?
Dawn Cox is a Registered Clinical Counsellor seeing individuals and couples in person in Victoria BC or online via Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout.