Monday, October 13, 2014

Now You Ψ Better: Are You Normal?

You know that moment when scientist warned humanity of the danger it has posed upon itself? More than two decades later, we barely started raising our heads to question the severity of our behavior. The measured reality, in its pure informational form, needs an amazing amount of time to enter into common knowledge. As it's the same with every branch of science, psychology suffers much unfairness in the face of rumors. These misconceptions are not only damaging to individuals and professions, but stop the actual data from being useful on a larger scale. So, I decided to address some of these fallacies in a nonsequential series of posts, each dealing with a cluster of concepts, which, when better understood, can hopefully bring better understanding between and within people. Let's give it a shot!

The first entry in the series dubbed Now You Ψ Better is about the so-called "normality".

now you psi psy better with rorschach watchmen

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"That ain't right."
"This is not normal."
"It's insane!"
"They must be crazy!"

Sounds familiar? We repeat these words in certain forms every day, but is that normal? Do we know what normality actually is? Let's get things straight: we have no certain definition of what is supposed to be normal.

The topic belongs to the branch of science called Abnormal Psychology. One approach is to first define what is deviant, and the rest should more or less be normal. If we sat down with everyone, whipped out the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the majority of us would have some sort of disorder (don't worry, the mentioned is not the only manual for diagnostic reference). Defining lunacy is a hard task on its own, so let's not venture there. I would also like to point out that the misattributed and infamous quote "insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" is not a proper definition whatsoever, nor is it a true description of reality. While an interesting idea, it falls short of validity after contemplating about our routines.

So, lets' try to define normality. Today, we use a multivariate model for approaching this problem, which is the synthesis of all the attempts so far to understand what is normal. So, what fulfills the following criteria can be safely be assumed to be normal:

1. Statistical model – what is average is normal. The most dominant behavioral patterns are considered normal. This approach is the most popular, but what happens if the average is dysfunctional and unhealthy, when observed from the outside? Healthy adaptation can only occur to a healthy surrounding.

2. The absence of sickness model – being normal is being completely healthy and functional. Sane comes from the Latin word, which means "healthy". But being mentally sane doesn't necessarily mean being normal (for example in a mental hospital acting irrationally can be considered normal). In this regard, the absence of pathology is not enough.

3. Social standards model – normality is acting in accordance to accepted social and/or moral standards. These standards can be those of smaller and semi-isolated groups like in a workplace or those of humanity at large. Since normality is just perception, it is not infrequent that the level of (ab)normality is measured by the reaction of others towards the person who's behavior is being observed.

4. The absence of everyday pain model – whatever brings sensations without inflicting physical, emotional or mental pain can be considered as normal. This is a controversial approach since stress itself is an everyday occurrence and it can be considered as a form of pain (more on that some other time). The famous proverb goes: "no pain, no gain." What is meant by this model is that people cease being normal when They experience everyday pain which is ruining instead of stimulating Them, thus disabling Them from satisfactory functioning.

5. Natural model – what is an axiom in natural occurrences is normal. The problem with this approach that our social reality sways a lot away from what our instinctive tendencies are. It is natural for a bird to migrate according to the time of year, but is it natural for a human not to hit someone when they are irritated? No, it is not natural, but can be considered as normal in most societies by today's standards.

6. Idealistic model – aberrant and normal are two ends of a scale, and the idealistic extremes can hardly be achieved if ever. Normality in this model is a theoretic concept which should be striven for. Since all of us constantly have different problems that are entering and leaving our lives, we can never be completely normal according to this model. Besides, after reading through this list, who is it to say what is the ideal normality?

In the end, why do we need this label of "normality" in our minds? Why is it important to stigmatize anyone who is less fortunate or willing to adapt to specific circumstances than we are, instead of understanding Their situation and maybe learning from Them? Normal is just a moment of comparison. It doesn't exist universally or on a personal level.

Next time somebody's acting strange and You are on the verge of calling Them odd, think again, freak!

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