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Am I Normal?

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Am I Normal?This is a common theme I hear echoed from a lot of people I meet.

“Am I normal?”

“I can’t wait to feel more normal again.”

“Must be nice being so normal …”

The problem is, I don’t know what normal is.

I suppose for some of the people, they mean “without the symptoms of my disorder.” That makes sense, especially as some symptoms of some disorders can be pretty severe and debilitating toward living their everyday life.

But then I realize that even people without a diagnosed condition still don’t often feel “normal.” We live our lives, we have our stresses, we hate our bosses or the 9-to-5 routine, we get into arguments with our significant others. Is this “normal?”

38 Comments to
Am I Normal?

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  1. Heh. This was a recent topic on Philosophy Talk.

    http://www.philosophytalk.org/pastShows/Normal.html

  2. The best description I’ve heard of normal was “a setting on a washing machine.” I love that!

  3. What a wonderful article! I always feel like other people are normal and I’m just weird. But I get what you are saying here, and it makes sense.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is a great post. It’s a question I spend a lot of time obsessing about and I’m guessing I’m not the only one. You want to know how you measure up. How do you compare what’s going on in your head to what’s going on in the head of the guy next to you? And the real message of course is – don’t bother trying.

  5. Indeed, I suspect it’s a part of our innate human nature to want to measure ourselves against others. Which, if done occasionally and not as a major part of one’s self-worth, is probably okay.

    But when we try and measure ourselves against this ideal of “normal,” we’re committing a fallacy of thinking, because there is simply no such thing. Once we accept that, perhaps life can be a little bit easier because what we strive for is simply improving our own lives on our own scales, measuring only against ourselves.

  6. What’s normal is simply answered by statistics. But is it desirable? Remember that the exceptional is never normal, and normality can mean something soul crushing.

  7. Thank you, that was just what I needed to hear right now. I mean it.

  8. “The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.”

  9. I am a hairdresser….and what I thought was not “normal” in my life or what I thought was “normal” in my life… Just remember, you that are having doubts about your “normalcy”, is that everyone has a story, believe me, I hear them all. And come to find out, I am pretty normal!!

  10. Being laid off and out of work now for almost 3 months; I often get up and think “this is not normal” getting up with no place to go after 35 years….however after reading this article “not one of us alive is normal”. Thanks for the article it is what I needed right now. Back to searching for work!!

  11. liked this article very much. i think u said true that what we see is not always like that.

  12. All I know is that “normal” is not the norm. Norms are statistical constructs==bell curves and all that jazz. Everyone has their pain and their joy. Some folks are better at hiding it or accepting it than others–and their ability to do either varies from minute to minute. Ward and June Cleaver messed us all up.

    At this moment I feel extraordinarily sad–and in ten minutes I may feel full of joy and wonder because my older dog has a wheelchair and can now run again.

  13. The most freeing thing I ever did in my life was stop trying to be normal. It seems so ridiculous to me now. To me normal is boring and it’s agreeing to missing out on a lot of the more beautiful things in life. Never be afraid to color outside the lines or make up your own songs.

    What is important to me is being healthy. I want to be around to enjoy being “abnormal” as long as I can, and that isn’t always easy.

    It may not be normal to fight for yourself and be an advocate and a partner in your own healthcare, especially your mental health. But it is right.

    Learn the difference between caring what is normal and caring what is right and the health and the happiness will follow.

  14. Whew! I feel better…Thanx for the thoughtful comments. I will definetly share.

  15. I found this article to be very informative, if you have to try and be normal, that’s not normal. There are certain behaviors that were acceptable when I was a child, such as the friendly neighborhood drunk. I found out ten years ago that one of those friendly drunks had touched both of his daughters sexually (intercourse) and the one I was dating was searching for normalacy. I knew she was messed up when she rushed in to take a bath after having sex with a man her dads age. I’m back with wife and I never look back. The behaviors we exhibit towards one another are behaviors that are acceptable to us.

  16. I love being myself people tell me I’m weird and I am weird but I love it.
    Normal is trying to make other poeple believe that your life is running almost perfect. Weird is when you stop worrying about what others will think about you and just be the person you are show your true colors. Some people won’t like you and that’s fine but the rest will love you for who you are and you’ll be happy with yourself because you can finally be free to be yourself.

  17. Hi
    It’s funny that I read your article. My boyfriend of six years said because of all trials and tribulations we went through all theromance went out of our relationship, and it also affected our sex life, and he ended it with me. I can tell you I don’t feel normal.

    I do lead a very predictable life with kids and a teaching job, and I wonder if that is nomal? I guess you’re right, there may not be a normal.

    Thanks for your insights.
    Nancy

  18. Just last week, I asked this same question? There is you and you are special in your own way. Knowing yourself and valuing yourself maybe normal to you, even though others may not value you. You are not responsible for the opinions of others about you, only what you think of yourself. We are all created differently and we have to embrace these differences about each other. Please, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about a murderer or an evil person, I’m speaking of individualilty of a person, and that can be hard especially if we think the other person is abnormal, so we make these assumptions of others based on that they are different. I once heard a Preacher say that he is different, but not dysfunctional, I agree with that statement and believe a lot of us are afraid of accepting the differences of others. Love you for who you are and know that God loves you because He created you in His image and after His own likeness.

  19. The grass IS always greener, but it is just as hard to cut!!!

  20. Normal is when good and bad are concurrent yet good is desired and bad is not.

  21. DOC: Allow me to quote Joe Ances[Rodney Dagerfield's closest friend who would critique his jokes]“Normal is what EVERYONE is —until you get to know them”

  22. It seems like to be normal one has to give up individuality. Peaple say its not normal not to have many friends, but friends always want to make you over, into who they think you should be that is very confusing. To be normal do what you want within reason.

  23. I think there are things that are “normal” and things that are not. I believe it is the way you choose to live and respond to everyday life. Is bickering with a friend or family member normal … Yes. Is it normal to beat them up when you bicker … NO. Is it normal to have bad feelings about something or someone … yes. Is it normal to act on them in a violent hurtful way … NO. Is it normal to hear about bad things happening yes but I do not think those bad things are normal. Is anyone normal no. No one is perfect no one is normal but I do not choose to say weird messed up things or act in a way that is weird and messed up. Some people may but that doesn’t make it normal. Maybe what I just said doesn’t make sense but I hope you get what I’m laying on you.

  24. Is Dick Cheny normal? George Bush?

    Don’t worry about a thing!

  25. To XInsomniaX: You have hit the nail on the head. A more true statement has not been made. Bravo!

    Live and let live!

  26. I have a necklace with a pendant that says, “The only normal people are the ones you haven’t met yet.” So true. Still, I keep wishing I was “normal”. Which for me means not bipolar, no OCD. But that “normal”, I shall never achieve.

  27. Normal?I have been searching for that feeling for years.Feelings of success’and failures,physical and emotional daily roller coaster rides.Thoughts and ideas of others constantly bombarding me.Who is right? who is wrong?I have come to the conclusion that nobody knows what normal is so they come up with titles like bi-polar.(show me a person who isn’t to some extent)I found it alot easier to take life as it comes and deal with it in a way that will not hurt anyone and be as productive as possible to keep myself pointed in the right direction.(Whatever that is!I wish I had a compass)

  28. Yeah…but I have suicidal ideation, and it’s strong. I really don’t think that is normal because I have asked people and that isn’t even a thought to them. I want to speed up the process to die. I don’t have enthusiasm for other things. I feel like I lived a full life already. I’m 38.

  29. All feelings are normal. They came from some where. When you stop thinking it is you thats messed up, think about it again and maybe repressed emotiions of a life time will surface to give you the answers to Why you thiink you are not Normal, I personally hate that word anymore.

  30. I think it’s normal to be abnormal…if that makes any sense.

  31. I don’t know what’s normal. I just know what my heart tells me isn’t healthy. I have a fiance who probably isn’t normal. She sleeps her days away….is nearly paralyzed with indecision, hates her body, worries about fading beauty, cries herself to sleep, creates her own set of job and life challenges by her behaviors and mounting unaccountability, drinks almost daily, takes prescription pills to sleep and to stay calm, blames her every challenge on others…mostly me…because I won’t cooperate now that I recognize how I’ve helped her do all this to herself in our time together. Her behavior goes back many years before meeting me. And I don’t live a lifestyle that’s condusive to this at all.
    So why did I choose to write about this here? Because, it’s as good a place as any to answer such a tough, but basic, question. What’s normal?

    I believe it’s normal to love, to feel joy, pain, fear, pleasure and not mute those feelings all the time. It’s normal to not want those we care about to suffer…so many of us go to great lengths to try to ease that pain…to give of ourselves those things they seem to be missing. It’s normal to feel massive, crushing guilt and sour dissapointment when we fail at living for someone else. It’s normal to feel the shame that comes with that failure. Because surely, if I love this person enough, they’ll get it and come to a point of healing..RIGHT? NO. Not unless they determine that for themselves.

    So again, what’s normal? To live, to question, to wonder, to act even when you’re not certain at all. To live and let live. To give and give. To do things in the face of knowing nothing better to do. And to get up tomorrow…tired….and do it all over again.

    For me….Normal is all about hope. So, I hope I’m normal. I hope being normal is a good thing. I hope normal presents me the chance to see the good things in life I want to see.

  32. Great article!! I love it!! My husband is always comparing our life to others, and saying things like “our life isn’t normal, or 1 out of 10 people would do things this way or that way, or they’d agree with me.” I’m always telling him that he can’t really know that because he doesn’t know how others truely live, or how others think, but he tells me I am “crazy,” that it’s just the way “society is.” I guess it appears that I am not so “crazy” afterall, am I? Go figure!!

  33. I believe that everyone is living their lives the way that is “normal” for them. For instance: I grew up in a life that was “normal” to me at the time, and as I knew it, but now in my life,I can see that compared to what I do now and the way that I live now, that was not normal!

  34. Yes, grammamjj, I totally agree with you on how you thought in your early years that everything was as it should have been, but growing older or up, whatever you want to call it, there were always reasons and causes for how you thought, felt about yourself, esteem issues that maybe were not truly yours, but pput on you by others. id. family etc. I finally learned to live for myself just the way I was and am and guess what, I have more caring friends and other family members who never brought their opinions up until much later, but they all saw situation as not so perfect. Trust yourself or get into a group or therapy or just live your own damn life the way you feel good about and you will find yourself much more content and proud of who you really are.

  35. What is the author’s advice for those of us who *do* have a disorder? A “range of life experiences where we can live the life we want, without significant health or mental health impediments” is simply not possible for all of us. Predictability does not exist for someone like me. It is so hard not to compare myself to my peers who I perceive to be so much happier, more successful and confident than I am. If only I could achieve that…

    TB

    PS To the editor: “their” should be “they’re”

  36. try also reading “why normal isn’t healthy” by Bowen F. White M.D… just for additional scoop in the article.

    reg

    pls change their to they’re, readers might be confused…

  37. And by “normal” we mean balanced! I use it all the time.

  38. I actually take a bit of offense to this concept. My wife is very sick with a severe mental illness. Her experience, and likewise mine as her husband, has been extremely abnormal, and so in contrast, there is such a thing as normalcy. I think you can only talk about “normal” not existing when you’re dealing with a “normal” population, which is to say a flawed group of people. But when you’re talking about major mental illness, in which people are more broken than flawed, you’re in a whole new world. I’ve expanded upon my thoughts in much more depth at my blog, you can get to it through this link. http://bit.ly/dfJlx4

    While I admire the attempt to make mostly-well people remember that it’s not worth longing for a perfect life that doesn’t exist, it ignores the experience of extremely unwell people who have suffered tremendously.

  39. I actually think everyone who has commented here is right (as contradictory as that may sound). On one hand, we all have issues, we have all experienced suffering and we all have flaws, and whether or not these experiences fall into what is “normal” doesn’t matter because they are a part of life. To some extent.

    But if this were completely true then psychologists and mental health professionals wouldn’t exist, because our job revolves around treating people with mental illnesses and making them more “normal”. So obviously while a certain degree of suffering is normal, there is a point at which it becomes a serious problem that needs treatment, and I’m glad that point has been raised too.

    It’s great to see so much thought has been given to such an important issue :)

  40. Who’s to say what’s normal?

    What I know for sure is this: everybody has their “bag of sh%#’”…everybody has different abilities to handle the items in their bag, so small to me may be overwhelming to others…however there are those in denial and they seem to set the bar for normal in a way that makes us question ourselves.

    Beware of this person who tells u their life us perfect…..their bag of sh%#* is far larger than any of ours will ever be!!

  41. I also get the question a lot – What is normal…? It is indeed an interesting question, but can be answered based on past principles, but we also have to take into account the “new world” that brought in new things that are normal. Normal depends on the group we are approaching as in every group there are things that are normal that are not normal to another group. If we zoom further out however, normal can be pinned to the average mind and the thoughts of such a mind. Average mind being derived from the majority of the population. I would exclude the African Countries and other countries that have tribes where the local people have still traditions of their own and have not yet been integrated properly into the modern world / rest of the world. Let’s ignore these for now.
    Now, a normal person would consist of having a middle class job, maybe none or a well paid job, but still has a lifestyle where she/ he can afford a living. Will have an orderly live with a daily routine that this person adheres to. He / she will have the intention to marry and maybe have a child or two, maybe more. Will belong to some kind of religion or be an atheist. Might or might not do sport on a regular basis to tone the body. Have a healthy appetite, maybe more then he she should or less than average. This is all still normal. Has thoughts about other ladies or men and may fantasize about sex a lot or other weird fetishes. This is also still perfectly normal to the human mind, but normally gets suppressed. Having thoughts of all strange things are also normal. The abnormality comes when some of the thoughts become actual desires and needs, whereas some strange thoughts are still normal, even when they become a desire. Some people think of killing someone, then they might get the desire, but that is where it stays. This is already a slight abnormality, but could also be seen as something normal that is taboo and hence gets suppressed. However, when it becomes a need, then we can talk about abnormal.
    As a normal person you feel your average up and down and if you suffer under depression you have probably been helped with drugs and it works for you. Possible.
    Normal has many guidelines and their mind fits quite well into the system.
    Now that we have discussed normal, lets pull everything out of proportion… The human mind is vast and many things were suppressed in the olden days and were forbidden and were totally abnormal… then the modern age came and many exploded as what once was abnormal, taboo, forbidden, was now allowed… suddenly people saw how much they have in common / shared with others and what they felt was abnormal suddenly became normal, even denial / self-denial is normal… Normal is moving with the age / era / decade we live in.
    The mind is capable of so much and should be seen as normal as it is the human mind which is nature and nature is normal in all its abnormalities. But nature makes no difference, it is only the human mind that creates these border lines, which not even humans can pin down. But if nature is normal and treats everything as normal, then why can’t we. Aren’t we part of nature too? Does nature not treat its abnormalities as normal too? So, who are we to judge what is normal and what not? If it does not fit into our way of understanding or into the way of the masses, we see it as abnormal… just because it does not fit into our small minds of which we only use such a small percentage, does not mean that it is abnormal… it just says that we don’t understand and have actually no idea of what is normal and what not. If we would use our full capacity, everything would be normal and then we would probably be not here anymore as we would either have destroyed each other or just seize to exist as human beings… who knows.
    Ultimately it is us, our minds and the lives we create that create abnormalities with all the emotions that control us . Maybe. I am not here to assume, only discuss. That is what humans do, they research, discuss and give their opinion, hence, even when we are not specialised researchers or medicals, we still have a right to an opinion.

  42. I think it’s different to be normal and to be common, and to be normal is balance. To be different, to be special is suffering. Someway all of us are different, it’s individuality, and that difference is in expression, not about complexity. To be normal is equilibrium into our own individuality,

  43. I meet like the worthy info you provide for your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and appraisal formerly writer change here regularly. I’m fairly trustworthy I testament instruct plenty of new nonsensicality rightish here! Unexcelled of fortune for the incoming!

  44. Normal is being content with yourself without hurting yourself or others in the process. It is living up to your full potential by taking all that you have and doing the best you can with what you have. That means that you must have some type of concept about what is good, better and best. We choose nothing at birth and must “Play the cards that God has dealt us.
    The main thing is what separates us from other created beings is that we have “Free will” and we exercise it one second at a time. Human beings have confused the difference between, normal and perfect. So normal is basically being in complete peace with God, yourself and others, accepting what you cannot change about yourself or others and being wise enough to choose the way you live in the same way you choose your friends. Now you must decide what is the meaning of “friend”.

  45. Interesting article. I would like to just share a few things with anyone who is reading these comments. First of all when someone asks themself if they are normal it depends what aspect of their life they are reffering too. Are they normal psychologically, do they have normal penis size , etc. There are certain standards, social values averages in which people gauge each other. If someone has a learning disability or mental handicap they are deemed as being not normal in my opinion, does anyone disagree with me?

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