What is Normal, Anyway?
We’ve all heard it before. We might have even said it ourselves before.
“I’m not a normal person.”
“How I grew up wasn’t normal.”
“I didn’t have a normal childhood.”
Whether you’re guilty of saying those things, or some variation of them, what you probably don’t realize is that what you deem normal, or abnormal, someone else might look at as completely normal. The problem is, normal is such a relative term and it’s often abused and misused based on our own perspective. Patty Mohler, LMHC, has a theory that if we start to view our behavior as healthy or unhealthy, rather than normal or abnormal, we can better understand whether or not we are doing things that are self-destructive or harmful to ourselves or others.
Patty Mohler: Hello, and thank you for joining me today. My name is Patty Mohler and I’m a licensed therapist here in Jacksonville, Florida. Several weeks ago, I was leading a process group on early childhood and several of the clients found that the conversation was interesting and asked me to record it; so let’s give it a try.
The conversation was about how people were born and raised. Several of the clients were referring to their lives as “normal.” And I asked the question, “What was normal?” You see, I’m not sure there is a “normal,” because what was normal for me growing up is not normal for you. What might be normal for you growing up, might not be the same as your very next door neighbor.
I asked the gentleman in the room who was talking to tell us what he thought his “normal” was. He went on to tell us the story about how he grew up in a crack house. You see, this was his “normal.” His father had left several years ago and his mother was addicted to cocaine. It was his responsibility, he told us, to make sure when he woke up that his mother had enough cocaine in order for her to feel “normal.” He also had the responsibility of getting his little brother and sister fed and dressed and off to school, all before he went to school. He went on to tell us that he didn’t get very good grades and that he really struggled with concentration. But he explained to us that watching people put needles in their arms, lying, cheating, manipulating, finding space in the crack house to lay their heads, was all part of his “normal.”
The woman across from him said, “But that wasn’t my normal. My normal was that I grew up in the Midwest. I grew up on a farm. I got up every single morning at 4 a.m., seven days a week at 4 a.m.” You see, it was her responsibility, she went on to tell us, to go get the eggs from the hens, feed the chickens, give the pigs their slop, and let the cattle out to graze for the day. This and many other responsibilities were hers, all before she went to school, and yet, she felt this was her “normal.” I’m not sure if I would rather have his “normal” or her “normal.”
One of the things that I try to encourage my clients here in my practice to introduce and to use are two new words instead of normal. Start to make decisions and choices by the words “healthy” and “unhealthy.” You see, life gets extremely easy when those are your two choices to make decisions. I’ll give you an example; I do have clients that are in recovery and I have one gentleman who goes to a particular AA meeting every single day, and he has two choices. Choice A, is to go down the street that leads directly to the AA meeting. Choice B, several blocks away, also goes directly to his AA meeting, however, on Street B lives a drug dealer. So the choice for my client became, “Which is the healthier choice; to go down Street A, or to go down Street B and be tempted by the drug dealer every single day?” Hopefully, the client is able to make the healthier of the two choices.
I believe that you can use this “healthy” or “unhealthy” choice in every area of your life, whether it’s mind, body, spirit, relationships, or financially. When I’m helping a client with their finances and discussing how they feel about money, one of the things we talk about is whether they’re going to pay their rent or they’re going to buy the brand new iPad with all the bells and whistles. Hopefully the client is able to see that, “I need to put a roof over my wife and children’s head,” and that’s the healthier choice, versus the iPad. Now, “If I pay my rent and there’s money left over, maybe that is a healthy choice for me.”
I also think that you can do this in relationships. Sometimes, we all have that friend that we love so much but when you leave them, you feel heavy and drained, and your spirit is low. Maybe it’s not a healthy choice to hang out with that person if you feel that way every time you leave them. Maybe the healthy choice is that you limit your time with that person, and for some of you, maybe leading that person out of your life is what you need to do to have a healthier lifestyle.
I’m just asking you to consider this; start using “healthy” or “unhealthy” as you make decisions as you move through your life and see if it gets simpler for you. Now, don’t hold me to every single minute of your life has to be like that. You see, I know that there’s going to be times that you come home and you’re starved and there’s a plate full of cookies right there and you decide to eat all of them! Was that a healthy choice? Probably not. Did it taste darn good and was it fun? Absolutely! So I do know that there are times that you’re going to have to put this aside because that is the way life is, but let me know if this makes it easier for you, if you quit calling what your life is as “normal.” Start making choices whether they’re “healthy” or “unhealthy.”
Until next time, mind your health, and thanks for coming.
About Patty: Patty Mohler is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Jacksonville, FL. She obtained her Master in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of North Florida (CACREP certified). Patty did her practicum and internship at Hubbard House and a federal agency, specializing in domestic violence. She is currently an addictions therapist at Lakeview Health, is a SMART Recovery facilitator and owns her own private practice. She is specializing in trauma, loss and grief. Patty believes every individual should have a voice and be heard. She will devote her practice to helping individuals bolster their self-esteem, find their passion, and be inspired to create the life they want.