Many people confuse what’s normal with what’s healthy. I hear from clients frequently that they don’t know what’s normal or have always wanted to be normal. Taking a closer look at these terms can help you figure out what you really want to be.
As children, especially those who are raised in dysfunctional families, we often wish to be like other children. We want to fit in and being like others is one way to do it. If our parents are different from other parents—that is, they don’t take good care of us, they drink or do drugs, they can’t keep their jobs, or they abuse or neglect us—we are aware of this consciously or unconsciously and naturally yearn for normalcy. We want a father who helps us with our homework rather than one who shuts himself in the den drinking and watching TV or a mother who attends our school activities rather than make excuses that she’s too busy and goes off shopping with her friends. We crave normalcy.
As we move into adulthood, we often still crave it. If other folks have children, we may think we should too. If they own a house and we rent an apartment, we may feel less than and not normal. If dieting leads them to food restriction, we often deny ourselves foods we love. The problem is that, as adults, we need to be thinking about what’s healthy, not what’s normal. Normalcy and being like others is a typical childhood preoccupation. We look around and see commonalties and wish to share them.
However, what’s commonplace and typical—what we call normal—is not necessarily healthy. People in our culture may work themselves literally to death in order to acquire material goods, mistreat and manipulate others to get ahead, starve themselves to be thin, over-exercise to bulk up muscles, and make dangerous choices to be cool. Too many of us don’t think about whether these behaviors are life-enhancing or destructive and follow the crowd. In this childish mindset, we only want to be like everyone else.
Autonomous, rational adults, however, care less about what others are doing. They’re too busy following their own stars. They don’t determine their value by their weight just because that’s the way our culture does things. Instead, they do what’s healthy and necessary to take care of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Their goal is no longer normalcy, but health, no matter what others are doing.
If you’re still ashamed to be different, even though you know it’s healthier, then it’s time to mature and start to think for yourself. Stop following the crowd and trying to fit in with the gang. Instead, practice being your best self. Stand apart and dare to be different.