Once in awhile I wish that everyone in the world could spend a week in my chair, listening to people describes their lives. What I think they would find, besides a real chance to help others, is that things they believe are “wrong” with them, are really completely normal.
Our culture does a pretty terrible job educating us about normal human functioning. In fact, after 12 years of school, and then 10 more years of college and graduate school, I never once had a single full lecture on “normal” or “healthy” functioning. That fact alone helps me understand some of the questions or fears my clients have.
Before we go any further, one thing I want to note is that all of the experiences below can still be unpleasant, and we can benefit from learning new perspectives and approaches. Additionally, if the things below are
b) endure over long periods of time
c) are difficult to cope with
then they may start to exceed normal/healthy functioning, and can benefit from counseling. Otherwise, the following are normal experiences that people often see as signs that “something is wrong” with them.
1. Inner Voices: Due to media portrayals of people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personality disorder) and Schizophrenia, a lot of my clients are afraid to tell me that they have internal voices guiding their decision-making and behavior. The fact is that we all have internal “voices” or motivations, and it is completely normal to experience this.
2. Internal Conflicts: I wrote about “Resolving Cognitive Dissonance” previously, but another worry many clients have is inconsistency in their behavior or personality. We actually know very little about how the mind works at this point in history, but current belief is that we have two somewhat distinct personalities within the same case that operate in different ways. To put it simply, we have a dual-processing system with one part processing information on a conscious, logical, and deliberate level, and a second part processing the same information at the same time on an unconscious, emotional, and automatic level. This gives rise to all sorts of hilarious (and agonizing) internal conflicts and impulsive behavior that is very normal.
3. Relationship Anxiety: My clients that are forming new romantic relationships often express anxiety in the first few days to months about what is happening. They experience some worry about being liked and accepted for who they are (including their flaws and shortcomings) by their new partner, and often assume that “no one else” including the new partner worries about this stuff. That would be wrong, this type of anxiety is 100% normal (and even helpful).
4. Attention Problems: A lot of people worry about whether they have ADHD when they have problems focusing on concentrating on something. Certainly attention issues can be a marker of something that does need more intensive care, but in the vast majority of these situations, the material the person is struggling to focus on is often seen as “boring”, “exhausting”, or “grueling”. In these situations, who would NOT have a problem sustaining their attention?
5. Responses to Loss: Our culture has so pathologized negative emotional states that even normal grieving processes or other responses to loss are seen as disordered. Going through a period of sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, or guilt in response to a disruption of your life or a major loss (person, job, relationship, identity, status, home, health, etc) is completely normal. The key difference here is that more harmful states emerge when the coping with these things is unhealthy (substance use, dissociation, escapism, etc) or they become very severe and prolonged.
6. Social Anxiety: Another collective myth is that “everyone should be able to just walk into a party where they don’t know anyone and be relaxed”. This, along with some others about public speaking or performance situations are just not true. Almost everyone, unless they have substantial experience in doing so, would have some kind of anxiety in these situations. Even the most extroverted and socially confident people have some experience of anxiety in novel social situations, and current thought is that this may even be a part of us at biological/instinctual level.
In conclusion, if you are experiencing any of these things, hang in there, it is a normal part of the human experience. If these things become more severe or difficult to cope with, or you want to learn how to master your individual experience with them, then counseling can be a great help.
PS: I am back!