Something that I often hear during therapy is “is this normal?”. Sometimes it comes out during the first session, other times it can take a few weeks to warm up, but for most clients, this question will come up sooner or later. So this week I would like to take a step back and look at what exactly is normal? And maybe more importantly, what isn’t normal?
First of all we need to consider the context. If my son falls off the monkey bars and his arm is bent at a right angle, it is safe to say that is not normal. This is a black and white case of normal versus abnormal. However, when it comes to mental health things become a whole lot murkier. Who knows what is normal and what is not? And wait a minute, who even gets to decide what is normal and what isn’t?
Like I said before, the concept of normality is all very context-specific. However it has been my experience that when it comes to mental health, people really aren’t so different from one another. Personally I think that sometimes “normal” is just a social construct fuelled by a culture that is continuously striving for perfection. And to that end, normality basically becomes an idea of what other people find acceptable. I think that the focus should be less on what is “normal”, and more on what is workable.
I love the concept of workability because it takes the focus off what others think and believe; and shines a light on what is going to get us where we want to be. And if something is unworkable, we can see it as something that is getting in our way from living how we want to live. Is it “normal” that I organise my social life around watching The Bachelor? Look, probably not. However, is it workable for me? You bet it is. It’s my down-time, it is light hearted, and it just makes me feel good. So why not?
As we all know, sometimes our issues aren’t as trivial as whether or not we should be investing our time in The Bachelor. Sometimes there are thoughts that are unwanted. Sometimes we develop behaviours that don’t seem like “us”. Sometimes our brains will tell us things that are plain confronting. The thing that we need to keep in mind is that at some stage everyone will experience thoughts that catch us off guard. Does this mean that they are all unworkable? Should we be worried about them? The short answer is: not necessarily. Whether it is a response to overwhelming emotions; our brain problem-solving our way out of a tricky situation; or just a random cognition that pops into our minds, often we don’t have much say in when they show up. Most of the time these thoughts will come and go like any other. However if they don’t, or if they start getting in your way and stopping you from living how you want to live, this is when they might be crossing over into unworkable territory. If this is the case, it might be the time to consider some support.
If you are interested in discussing any of the points further, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will answer any questions you may have.