Here’s a tough one . . .

Most everyone you ask admits normality is a pretty high standard to meet in society today. Some say it doesn’t exist. Some explain it in terms of statistical averages. Personally, I believe normality irrelevant: you are you and if your behavior or symptoms causes you great distress than you have the right to seek improvement for your life, whatever that may be. However, we’re a society with a heavy focus on blatant separation between right and wrong, satisfactory and unsatisfactory, acceptable and not acceptable. I appreciate the order this philosophy creates, I despise the stereotypes it fuels.

On that note, a peculiar posting on PsychCentral caught my eye just a few days ago in relation to normality. For those not familiar with the site, it’s a place with forums for those who suffer mental health issues to find support through their peers. It’s also a source for information, news, research, and some fun quizzes with results I wouldn’t recommend putting much faith in. But the saving grace of this site is the “Ask a Therapist” option. The idea is simple: ask a question about a particular mental health related issue in less than 400 words and wait a few weeks for a licensed professional to respond.

At least once every ten posts I scroll through, I see a common title: “I want to kill people”. If you read through a few you will see the person is often plagued with thoughts of mauling a neighbor or stabbing a stranger or fantasizing about dismembering a group of friends. They understand society does not accept such a form of behavior and prison/jail time is often their deterrent for acting out on their urges.

One story caught my attention not because of the disturbing nature of the content but because of the response posted. This professional described perfectly the statistical definition of normality and even gave a little side note on how many standard deviations are accepted for a measure to be considered “normal”. I do not in any way condone murder, nor do I believe urges to kill is a good thing, but the way this professional worded her response irked me. Firstly, she says “Let’s look at what normal really means” snd then goes on with her statistical definition. But how can the definition of normality be defined with any sort of mathematics without getting theoretical? Math is meant for describing natural phenomenon, not socially constructed ideals. Perhaps that’s why statistics was invented in the first place.

Or perhaps what’s needed here is a change of term. “Average” seems much more fitting. Negative connotations are connected with the word normality; if you score “average” on a test you neither did good or bad, you did as well as the majority of the people in the class, but if your professor threw your test down in front of you and said you did “abnormal”, most people would uncomfortably view that deviation from “normal” as bad. It’s what we’ve been taught. I dislike both terms “abnormal” and “normal” because it’s another socially dictated dichotomy. The term “average” at least hints at a spectrum of options and humans surely are a very full spectrum of behaviors. How can “normal” even exist given the uniqueness of the human brain? Sure, there are similarities in behaviors and thought patterns, but even the most conservative research psychologist has to admit there are deviations from “normal” within behaviors already labeled “normal”. It’s like a Russian doll here, people!

I don’t think it’s very professional to label anyone’s thoughts “normal”, regardless of their shock factor. I also don’t think it’s very professional to boldly state “most people do not hear voices in their head” when it’s a known fact that many people do. The individual in the post was well aware these “voices” were not external, they were internal and they were coming from her. Yes, a hard concept for someone to understand if they’ve never experienced a conscience. All sarcasm aside, although these “voices” had emotions of their own, a better explanation besides the all too common THEY’RE CRAZY or THEY’RE SCHIZOPHRENIC would be they’re terribly stressed, especially when mentioning symptoms like pulling out their hair, biting their nails, or the fact that they must always occupy their hands with something. Whether they’re stressed over constantly fighting the urge to kill, or stressed over not killing is irrelevant (as dark as that sounds). The brain comes up with ingenious ways of protecting itself and pulling apart emotions into separate portions of the brain is not a new concept. It’s not “abnormal” and it’s not “normal”, it’s simply the best alternative this person’s brain can find to make sense of everything. Perhaps this is their brain’s way of staying “healthy”.

What is a “happy and meaningful existence”, anyway? Is that the same as being told the way your brain works is “wrong”, that it’s not “normal” and then going through years of people pushing you to be like them? Once again, I’m not condoning everyone go on a murderous rampage or spend hours fantasizing about death and dying, but i’m a firm supporter of taking care of yourself in a way that benefits you best. I talk often with people who struggle with their psychiatrists dumping loads of medications onto their plate or who feel their therapist is disrespecting them and they’re often confused on how to go about dealing with it. For most of us the obvious idea is to leave, but these are professionals who are supposed to support you and uplift you, people you want to believe in as their client. The unfortunate truth is there is no quick fix. Both client and doctor should be deeply involved in the treatment; this means the psychiatrist or psychologist or therapist takes into account their clients opinion, feelings, and history and the client must be able to openly express their opinion.

So here’s a side tip: Don’t be afraid to argue with your doctor! I’m not saying march in there with your hands on your hips, throw your pills over his head like confetti and moonwalk out of the place, i’m just saying if you don’t agree with a treatment suggestion, speak up. There may be a misunderstanding or a way to resolve the situation.

Given all that, this professional may have just been over exaggerating her opinion as a scare tactic. Therefore, I believe the most important thing to remember here is that normality is a dichotomy and in humans that just isn’t possible; we’re too diverse! Everything varies along a spectrum–how we think, what we eat, what we believe, how our brains work, how we define gender–which means, yes, there will be individuals like monks who sacrifice their life for ultimate peace and there will be individuals among us with urges to kill. It’s simply a fact of life. Whether it’s wrong, right, normal, abnormal, acceptable, not acceptable are all constructions needed for social control. After all, dichotomous views are much easier to comprehend than understanding that anything in humans is possible. So let me know: do you agree? Disagree? What do you guys think?

Link to the article I reference:

2 thoughts on “Here’s a tough one . . .”

  1. Very acute analysis. I love both it and your writing style. I hate when people try to place everyone in a nice neat little box. I too have that little voice that speaks to me, it’s called a conscious. Tell leads me out of and away from danger and informs me when I need to do something a little bit differently. I actually have conversations with myself, both internally and externally. It is how I process difficult decisions. It does not mean I am abnormal, just that I have an acute sense of who I am. I refuse to allow anyone to dictate otherwise. Thank you for teaching others a lesson sometimes too well hidden.


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