Am I normal?
Am I normal? That is a very familiar question in therapy and then counsellors become appointed as an 'objective judge' who can determine 'normality'.
Yes, we do have knowledge on mental health, we have studied the diagnostic criteria.
And yet, we are often left feeling perplexed when we hear the question: 'Am I normal?'
It is not that counsellors cannot answer based on our knowledge, experience and studies but it is that as therapists, we often feel there are some other important questions waiting to be uncovered behind this question.
Some of us are worried that we may be criticised as not being normal, we are afraid that the world is going to see us as crazy. Some other of us are feeling not normal because our cultural values and beliefs do not match the ones of the country we live in. Some of us want to be seen as not normal in order to have a sense of being unique and special. Sometimes we are trying to find our individual path against the norm or in other cases we want to belong to a group of people even if that group is seen as not normal. Some of us also want to be not normal because we perceive normal as inferior and mediocre.
For example, a client described how she was arguing with her partner every day and declared “This is normal though, isn't it? This happens to all of us in relationships, doesn't it?”
Why did this client need me to verify that this behaviour was normal? We explored this with the client and she uncovered that she was afraid of being stigmatised as abnormal, crazy or irrational. The client had experienced intense stigma since her childhood because her father was diagnosed with manic depression. The client was left feeling very different, abnormal and unacceptable because of her father's diagnosis. She needed to feel that it was acceptable for her to be herself, to have her thoughts, to feel her feelings and to behave as she wanted to behave. Acceptance, understanding and exploration of the client's subjective experience helped her feel more connected with herself and others and facilitated her engagement with a new relationship where arguments became rare occasions.
There are various underlying questions and assumptions behind the question 'Am I normal?'. Some of the most common underlying questions are: 'Am I lovable?', 'Can I connect with others?', 'Can I belong and communicate with others?'
The answer is: It is okay to be you and express yourself. You can be understood, accepted, and loved.
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