Oh, it’s so easy for people to attach pejorative labels onto individual quirks. So, if you’ve been wondering (or been told), you’re nuts, weird or wacko, listen up! None of us is as “normal” as we seem. We all have mannerisms that are a bit quirky; traits that are a bit peculiar; idiosyncrasies that make us — us. So, are you normal or nuts?
Oh wait a minute, I’ve goofed; “nuts” is not politically correct! Forgive me! Before I get a slew of hate e-mails, I’ll correct myself. Are you normal? Or, do you “suffer” from a “disorder” for which you need treatment, often with prescribed drugs?
If you haven’t surmised it yet, let me state my bias. We diagnose way too many normal behaviors as disorders. If your behavior is not up to par, or you’re struggling with some aspect of life (and who isn’t), something’s wrong with you, says the ever expanding mental health system.
Shy? You have “Social anxiety disorder (SAD).”
Perfectionistic? “Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).”
Anxious? “Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).”
Difficulty focusing? “Attention deficit disorder (ADD).”
Recovering from a trauma? “Post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD).
And the list goes on and on, growing whenever the diagnostic statistical manual (DSM) is updated.
Let me tell you one thing that is absolutely true. The boundary between normal and a mental disorder is fuzzy. Yes, if you’re a paranoid schizophrenic, you’re mentally ill. But if you’re experiencing the emotional pangs of life that emanate from a challenging childhood, a struggle with loss, guilt, shame or anxiety, or you’re frustrated with your relationships or career or parenting, should you really be considered anything less than normal? Or, if you have an inborn tendency to be shy, perfectionistic or anxious, should you be labeled as SAD, OCD or GAD?
So, let me suggest a new approach. Whatever may be troubling you – unless you’re about to harm yourself or someone else — try thinking of yourself as “normal.” (This doesn’t mean you’re perfect, nor do you need to be.)
- You may be shy about attending social events or speaking up in front of groups. And still you may not be “suffering” from “SAD.” But can therapy teach you how to calm your nerves, be more sociable and develop more self-confidence? You better believe it!
- You may be a perfectionist, working hard to make things just right, often needing to do “just one more thing” to make whatever you are doing a bit better. And still you may not be “suffering” from “OCD.” But can therapy teach you how to live a better-balanced life, aim for excellence, not perfection and appreciate a job well done? You better believe it!
- You may be anxious about your career, your children, your relationships, worrying about whether anything bad will happen. And still you may not be “suffering” from “GAD.” But can therapy teach you how to relax, reduce your worries, and focus on positive events? You better believe it!
So yes, you may be normal. And still you may experience unpleasant emotions and distressing dreams. Can you do anything about them to feel better and lead a more gratifying life? Lucky you; you don’t need to be “nuts” to benefit from the rich resource that we call psychotherapy.