Not a week goes by without hearing questions like, “Is it normal to…?” or “Am I normal?” I suppose most of us want to know we are normal. And, if we’re pretty sure we’re normal, we want to know if our spouse, child, parent or friend is normal. We need reassurance relative to normalcy when things are unfamiliar, new and unpredictable. Getting the reassurance we need is often difficult and confusing because there are several good definitions of “normal.”
First, normal can be defined as average. So, if most of the people on my block are smoking crack cocaine and I spoke crack cocaine, then, I’m normal. Or, if most 60 year olds have arthritis and I have arthritis then I’m normal. I conform to the average life experience on my block.
Second, normal can be defined as asymptomatic…having no symptoms. As long as I am symptom free, I’m considered normal. So, although I have an undiagnosed brain tumor, if I don’t have headaches or blurred vision, I’m normal.
Third, normal can be defined as functioning optimally or, above some predetermined level of functioning. In modern psychiatry, panels of experts convene periodically to draw lines between function and dysfunction. So, if you meet the set of criteria the professionals decide are necessary then, you’re normal. If you don’t meet the criteria then, you’re not normal and need treatment.
Fourth, normal can be defined in transactional terms. So, what do we call it if I am in bed with the covers pulled over my head, in the fetal position, crying my eyes out? Clearly, I'm not "average" because it's unlikely many around me are doing the same. There's no doubt that I have symptoms and I definitely fall below most experts' definition of normal. But, if my loved now died yesterday, I'm normal.
The important thing to remember when wondering about normalcy is that there are several definitions. And, they are not always compatible with each other. So, pick a definition and check yourself out. If that doesn’t work, pick another definition. Eventually, you’ll come to a clear determination of your normalcy.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.