It’s normal to normalize what is normal and to want to be normal yourself. But why do we focus so much on being normal? We live in a beautifully diverse world that is ever-changing. Perhaps being “normal” is what we believe we have to do in order to connect with others. It wouldn’t be surprising given the societal pressure to fit in and exist in binaries. While there are many unifying elements of humanity, the human experience is dynamic and varied. Humans are not “this or that,” they are everywhere in between. Individual difference seems to be undeniable, so how can we really establish a collective sense of normalcy? Why can’t normal just be a setting on the dryer?
In the pursuit of being “normal,” we assess our surroundings and make efforts to assimilate. When you prioritize being “normal,” it usually leads to sacrificing or pushing away parts of yourself. First and foremost, that act has psychological implications on its own. Imagine a vulnerable part of yourself that was rejected by others and then exiled by you. Can you have compassion for this imagined part of yourself? Because jeez - talk about a double whammy. It would be similar to shaming a child and then locking said child in a dungeon. Your parts have to belong to you before they can find belonging amongst others. Further, by giving space to all parts of yourself, you increase your chances of fostering meaningful relationships. Strong connection is born out of mutual authenticity.
Quite frankly, in my experience as a therapist, I have found that prioritizing being “normal” backfires for many people and often produces the opposite of what was intended. I believe that loneliness takes form in two ways: the loneliness that comes from being physically alone and the loneliness that someone feels while still being surrounded by other people. In my opinion, this second form of loneliness is more profound. It is this second form of loneliness that comes from sacrificing or pushing away too many parts of yourself in the pursuit of being “normal."Loneliness surfaces when part(s) of yourself go unseen and unheard. Think of that child locked in a dungeon.
A good portion of my own psychological pain comes from feeling inherently different from those around me. At some point, it became clear to me that I could harness my differences and instead find meaning in them. I feel better connected to my place in my world when I choose to be myself. Besides, why not be yourself? Everyone else is already taken.
As a therapist, I am grateful to be part of a movement that makes it (more) okay to be different. But why stop at mere tolerance? I want to encourage the celebration of difference. If everyone was normal, wouldn’t that be boring? If everyone was normal, wouldn’t that inhibit societal growth? And don’t we need America to grow? On a macro level, it’s important to note that as we keep prioritizing normalcy, we also keep maintaining systemic oppression. The concept of “normal” creates the conditions for otherness to exist and when otherness exists, oppression of “the other” is a likely outcome. Especially in countries ran on capitalism, a system that requires winners and losers.
Maybe instead of focusing on a collective sense of normalcy, it would be more effective for each of us to consider our own personal senses of normalcy. What feels normal to you? Or a clinician might ask – what is your baseline?