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Am I Normal?  What Is Normal?

I hear this question a lot. Most of the time, it is either because the person is worried about a reaction to a traumatic event of some kind – or when he or she is “losing it” trying to deal with a difficult person in their life.  What is normal?  I like to say that how we respond in difficult situations is often “a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.”

I don’t remember where I first heard this phrase (I can’t claim it as my own), but I do remember it being extremely helpful to me and it has also become helpful to many others as well.

What do we mean by “a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances?”

An example might be this: If a couple was in a car accident with their child, and their child was hurt – both of them would likely work together to deal with the immediate circumstances such as getting help, talking with the other driver and emergency responders, riding to the hospital with the child, and so on. In my example, let’s say mom was the one driving. Months later, she begins to feel anxiety (or even panic) every time she needs to drive her family anywhere. This might progress to the point where she is not able to drive at all because the sense of dread or fear is so overwhelming.

At some point, this mom may start questioning her own sanity. Logically, she knows that the danger of driving a car is no more than it was at any other time in her life, but she still isn’t able to overcome the fear. This is one way that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) shows up in a person’s life and can prompt the question, “Am I normal?” No, it doesn’t feel normal but it is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.

Another example might be a woman who has a co-worker who is very good at manipulation and who also wants very much to get a promotion that both of them are being considered for. The co-worker begins to quietly sabotage her in various ways such as purposely giving the woman incorrect information causing her to make costly mistakes in her work, or covertly causing interpersonal problems for her with other co-workers. The woman may then start to feel so anxious and apprehensive at work that she begins making mistakes without the “help” of her co-worker…and then questions her own judgment, ability, and emotional state as a result. Again, these are abnormal circumstances and her reaction is way too common!

The good news is that with a compassionate look at these situations, each person can find ways to change their situations and stop wondering if they are “normal.”

Does some situation from your own life come to mind as you read this? We would love to hear your thoughts or comments.

Photo courtesy of Nenetus and freedigitalphotos.net