Some days counselling seems to have a theme; today it was how to be “normal”. Everywhere there seemed to be something to do with what normal actually means. Articles I read were about normality or normalising situations. Clients I saw expressed wishes to be normal. The radio spoke about what normal is.
This got me thinking about how we see normal, how we measure ourselves against some unspoken morality, standard or behaviour that we look upon as proof that we or someone else is normal. Someone may do normal things such as go shopping, wash the car, wear nice clothes, smile at the right time, speak with a neutral accent, drive a tidy car or whatever it is we look upon as normal. But what we see is just the exterior of another person: inside they contain anxieties, worries, self-destruct mechanisms, negative beliefs and longings, just like us.
We look at others and think ‘I want their life, it looks peaceful, it looks perfect, it looks happy’. We crave something that looks better than our own life, something that perhaps seems to hold more promise or achievement, status or respect, love or passion. Yet the person we are looking at might be looking at us and thinking the same things.
We all know couple who have split up and we have thought: “Why? They were so well matched”. Yet we know nothing about their measure of normality or how imperfect their life was for them.
What we are unable to see is what our life looks like from the outside, from someone else’s stand point. When a friend tells us we are lucky and that we have a wonderful, blessed life, we get busy telling them how awful it is, how we have worked hard to get there or how life has dealt us a hard hand and that we deserve a little luck now. Somehow we are unable to accept that we have something worthwhile, something to appreciate just for what it is.
Learning to appreciate and enjoy exactly what we have, without thinking it isn’t enough is a tricky lesson but one worthwhile studying if not putting into practice. It is a lesson that ultimately brings stability and happiness, and after all that is often what we think we see in others’ lives; the very thing we long for but haven’t learnt to create for ourselves.
Perhaps the need is not so much to be normal, but to be able to recognise how normal we already are. Every person we think of as normal has learnt, possibly subconsciously, to act out the role it takes to live their life. If we can understand that even they have an unseen life sheltered from the world, just like us, then we have the possibility of reaching a stage where we can begin to appreciate and celebrate our differences, embracing our own version of the world and know that it is as normal as anyone’s.
‘When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained’ said the writer Mark Twain. Perhaps “mad” is too strong a word here. But the principle applies to “normal” too.
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