What Is Normal And Who Defines It?

I was in a book store the other day and ran across a book titled, “Everybody’s normal until you get to know them.” I didn’t pick it up to see what it was about but the title gave me a clue as well as a good chuckle. Haven’t we all had the experience of thinking someone was “normal” until we got to know them better and realize that something was amiss? 

Now why would we think that? Is it because they weren’t thinking or acting like us? How do we know that we act normal? What does normal mean anyway? And who sets the standards on what is normal and what is not?

Truth be told, normal for me might not be normal for you. According to the dictionary, normal means conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. I believe most of us try to “conform to a standard” socially, but when we are in private that’s where our “real“ self comes out. We all have quirks and are unique with our own ideas and ways of doing things. However, that is precisely why it may lead some to wonder if they should hide certain aspects of themselves in fear of not being accepted. 

Who hasn’t asked themselves at some point in life, “Am I normal?”

Let me just say this — it’s normal to wonder if you are normal. And more than likely what we are really wanting to know is, “do I fit in?” Or, “am I like other people?” As humans we want to “be normal” right? No one wants to be the misfit. I dare say everyone has experienced the sting of humiliation or rejection because of something they did or said where somebody else made them feel they were odd or didn’t belong.

Other times, we might question ourselves if we are normal as a mini checkup to see if anything is wrong with our thinking or behavior. Or to see if we are responding to a certain situation like someone else would. When we get confirmation from people we trust that they would react the same way, we feel comforted/relieved that we are “normal.”


“If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be”  — Maya Angelou —

Now you might say that you are someone who doesn’t seem to behave in the normal fashion of others. Does it mean you are abnormal or that something is wrong with you? According to clinical psychologist Avram Holmes of Yale University, abnormal behavior isn’t necessarily weird or bad or indicative of mental illness, because there is no absolute definition of normal and no single best way to behave.

There are many variables in human behavior. Barring your actions being hurtful or harmful to you or others it’s okay to be different. We are not and cannot be cookie cutter images of each other. And comparing yourself to others or constantly striving to live up to society’s expectation of what is considered “normal” can often lead to feelings of inadequacy. 

So then, the question shouldn’t be whether you are normal or not. The question should be, do you have a problem that needs solving? Do you feel uncomfortable often enough that you sometimes get scared that you can’t handle yourself or your life? There is a possibility that your thinking and behavior could be indicative of a mental illness. Rarely though do major mental illness’s show up out of nowhere. Usually family, friends, or teachers notice the changes in behavior. Sometimes the individuals themselves start to feel that something is not quite right with their feelings or behavior before an illness is fully developed. If you have concerns, look at the symptoms below to see if any apply to you.

Signs and symptoms of mental illness

Each mental illness has its own signs and symptoms. And while one or two of following symptoms alone don’t indicate a mental illness it may suggest the need for further evaluation if you experience:    

  • Dramatic mood swings or excessive anger, hostility or violent behavior
  • Problems with memory, concentration or logical thinking
  • Excessive anxiety or being paranoid
  • Inability to cope with problems or perform daily tasks. A decrease in functioning at school, work or social activities.
  • Significant changes in sleep, eating patterns or decline in personal care
  • Extended period of depression
  • Strange or grandiose ideas such as grossly exaggerated beliefs of self-worth, power, identity, or knowledge.
  • Recent withdrawal from social settings and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Substance abuse
  • Thinking or talking about suicide or harming others

Sometimes individuals who do experience signs of mental health conditions consider their symptoms to be a normal part of their life or are too ashamed to seek treatment. The social norm wants you to believe that therapy is only needed if you have a “real” problem. In other words—a “really serious mental illness.” That is not only untrue and unfortunate but also potentially risky.

If you are experiencing several of these symptoms at one time and they are making you feel overwhelmed and/or interfering with normal daily life then it would be beneficial for you to see an experienced, trained mental health professional. And for those with suicidal thoughts or intent, or thoughts of harming others please seek immediate help.

Whether it seems that you excessively wonder (worry) about how normal you are or are concerned about a mental health concern, no matter how big or small, please don’t hesitate to seek advice. I encourage you to call me, (Kris Henderson) at 616-516-1570 or schedule an appointment online today. And YES, even “normal” people need help sometimes. Don’t let shame or fear about talking with someone hold you back. Yes, it can be difficult to take that first step in getting support, but it can also be the most positive move you can make.