Is There Such A Thing As Normal?

Questioning what is normal

What is Normal? Photo via Pixabay, public domain.

If there is such a thing as normal, what does it look like? This is a question I asked myself as I read the essay written by Betania Robles in the book a picture is worth… My blog today is about Betania’s story, as a part of my series about essays written by young people in the book designed to be an education curriculum component. The last post in my series was about a young lady named Lucy.

Betania’s Young Life

Betania is a teenage girl who is happy some days and sad on other days. She feels awkward and is bullied about her name by high school peers who call her names like Petunia and Lasagna.

She also describes her family and that her parents had already broken up before her mother knew she was pregnant with Betania. Her father and older sisters live in Brooklyn, New York while she lives in Reading, Pennsylvania. Due to the long distance, Betania does not feel close to her father or elder sisters.

When Betania discusses her changes in mood from day to day, she writes, “I don’t know if that’s normal but I’m pretty sure those weird feelings will pass by as I grow up” (p. 97). I reread that sentence several times, and each time I thought: Does ‘normal’ exist?

What is Normal?

I think Betania may wonder what is normal for many reasons. She is going through puberty, which can be overwhelming and full of unknowns. Additionally, she does not have a father to look to for answers about why teen boys act in certain ways around her. If her mother is busy as a single parent, perhaps Betania feels she doesn’t have anyone to turn to for guidance or to talk with about the bullying issue.

She may also hear from her peers that they live with both of their parents or that they are close to their siblings. These family structures are different than her own and she may think those of her peers are ‘normal.’

When I think of the word normal, the words ‘average’ and ‘mediocre’ come to mind. If that is what Betania wants to be, perhaps to fit in with her peers, I can understand that. I was bullied as a teen by a girl at my school, and I desperately wanted it to stop by somehow becoming part of the cool crowd.

My Message to Betania

Here’s the thing though, Betania. This is what I want you to hear: Being average later in life isn’t what I hope you want to be.

After you graduate from school, pursue your dreams of career and family. I want you to know that you can achieve so much, and the only limits are those you put on yourself. Rise above the “average” to be sensational. You can, and I hope you will!

Did you want to be normal when you were a teenager? Is so, what did ‘normal’ look like? Now that you are older, do you think that normal exists?

©2015 Christy Birmingham

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46 thoughts on “Is There Such A Thing As Normal?

  1. I liked what you said to Betania Christy. This is a lovely post. I don’t think normal exists. I was never normal, ever. The word may be acceptance (by society). Everyone is an individual. Unfortunately, society never lets us ‘abnormal’ people be.

    • Thank you for the meaningful comment here. It is interesting, isn’t it, how as we age we often come to embrace that which makes us unique. Or, at least, I hope that is what happens as that is the real beauty in people. xx

  2. I agree “normal” should probably not be used in everyday language. Nevertheless, it is used often: “Everything is back to “normal”, or “go back to being your “normal” self”. Perhaps it’s a word that is better understood when one gets older? The word ‘normal’ itself comes from Latin ‘normālis’ which means ‘made according to a carpenter’s square’, equivalent to ‘norma’ ‘standard’, ‘model’, or ‘pattern’. The word ‘normal’ is actually found more often in scientific or medical terminology where ‘normal’ is actual very useful in describing test results. So going back to your post, I think ‘normal’ does not exist at all, much less for young people who are still in their formative years. ‘Normal’ is a word to be used by adults, because as I said, it has to do interpreting test results and collecting information.

    • Ah, how interesting your point is about it being a word constructed by adults. It also makes me think of other words adults use around children that affect their development; two words that come to my mind are “hate” and “should.” What a thought-provoking discussion!

  3. “Normal” also seems to be an illusion created by society. To be ‘normal’ is instilled in children’s minds to “fit in” in order to be accepted by others. It’s an illusion, but the majority, I dare say, fight to keep this illusion alive and thriving; to be pretty, to say the right words, to behave as expected. Unfortunately, this is what society deems as acceptable, but then “creates” the “outcasts”, so no one can decipher their intentions because they are socially “inept”. Poignant post Christy.

    • Maria, I was just saying the exact point you make here to others in the comment section, even before I read your comment. Wow! I agree that what is “normal” varies by where you live. As well, what is “acceptable” can change over the years and even within a society (for example what is considered normal for a youth is not always the same as for an adult). Great to read your reflections here!

  4. I think “normal” is a shade of the truth people hide in, putting their best face forward, because weakness is seen as something to be ashamed of, as it is what bullies look for, like a target. Like in Africa, lions single out the weaker animals. We see ourselves picked on for unusual things.

    I’ve almost always tried to be myself, because I’ve found weirdness interesting. I was taught to be ashamed of it by cyber-bullies taking advantage of my weaknesses for years as an adult. It’s what kept me away from blogging for so long. It happens to adults too, and it led to my not succeeding in college in 2009, because it stressed me out too much to leave my apartment. I thought I knew who to blame for it, but she was just an innocent scapegoat. It made me seem like a crazy person, accusing her, when someone was impersonating her online.

    I still fear being taken advantage of. Pretty abnormal, but I have good friends now who I can trust, and who accept me as I am, weirdness and all. I didn’t used to have people like that.

    The concept of “normal” is complex and varied, very open to interpretation though. Another way I view it, is in wanting to be more normal, it is to want to be more healthy, as in, less neurotic, and better able to cope with typical every day stuff that comes my way, in a reasonable way that doesn’t seem overtly naive, doesn’t stress me out so much I shut-down from anxiety, and doesn’t draw jeers and leers my way.

    • Hi Ry,
      Your comment reminds me again why blogging is so wonderful. We can be ourselves, fully. Not everyone has to like what we write but we in some ways fulfill parts of ourselves by writing out our thoughts, perceptions and creative notions.

      I am thankful you have friends who support you as the true you. I’m sure we both know people who are fake and lie to themselves… which makes for an emptiness, I would think.

      What is normal, as I was just commenting to Aquileana here on the post, is that the definition of the word can vary by culture. In addition, it can change over time. For example, right now many women in North American want large bottoms, whereas less than 5 years ago it was the ideal to have a small rear. Just an example!

      I think we all struggle sometimes with self-image and concepts surrounding normality. I embrace the moments of strength and focus on those ones.

      Wishing you a nice rest of your Friday, my friend.

      • Thanks! That is strange, the rear end thing! It always seems like women have such a more difficult go at life than men because of trends and unequal opportunities. I count myself blessed in some ways, because of that, but we do all have problems with self-image at least sometime in our life, in general, no matter where we’re from or who we are. Not being normal, is pretty much normal, but many are afraid of it. It can be confusing. It’s a complex world we live in!

        Wishing you a nice rest of your Friday as well Christy! Have a good weekend too!

  5. Normality is a sort of statistical concept, originally defined as the average of what it is expected to be in a certain way…

    Michel Foucault wrote about this when he considered the Histories of Madness and Medicine, Sexuality and furthermore , the disciplinary society (prisons)

    As to this last point, Foucault’s argument is that discipline creates “docile bodies”, ideal for the new economics, politics and warfare of the modern industrial age – bodies that function in factories, ordered military regiments, and school classrooms. But, to construct docile bodies the disciplinary institutions must be able to ensure the internalization of the disciplinary individuality within the bodies being controlled.

    Disciplinary power governs in fact structuring the parameters and limits of thoughts and practices, defining which are the allowed, normal behaviors and punishing and trying to sanction those which are diverted from the average rank, meaning: Normality~

    Great post and I found it intelligent and radical somehow Christy-Pie.
    All the best to you… As to me I ‘ll try to be as atypical as I can… Wanna join me? 😛

    Aquileana 😀

    • Hi Aqui,
      What a fascinating comment you have left me. I really appreciate the time you took here with the illustration and the words of how the post relates to Foucault. Have you read “Discipline and Punish”? I read a bit of it and he does write of how power restricts individual will and exists across all human relationships.

      As well, normality as “average” or “like everyone else” is perhaps subjective because what is average in one society is not in another… I am just thinking that now…

      You have me thinking and it is a lively discussion! Thank you, sweet Aquileana! Okay, I’ll join you (moving in soon!) 🙂

      • Hi Christy!`

        Yes I have read “Discipline and Punish” and I would say more than once as it is a classic and I was asked to read several chapters for different courses at College! Another favorite by that time was “Truth and legal forms”…

        Going further I’d say that the idea of Normality is one of the central themes in all Focualt’s books… He is still well known due to his prominent formulation of principles of social constructionism, a theory of knowledge which assumes that understanding, significance, and meaning are developed not separately within the individual, but in coordination with other human beings. As to his methods, he mainly used the Genealogy as historical method. An by that he somehow studied concepts as they were shown over time…

        Foucault’s main ideas all throughout his books can be summarized as follows (Note: I am adding some quotes from his books when I find them relevant to illustrate a particular point!):

        1 ►No human relation is devoid of power.

        2 ►Power is imposed through coercive mechanisms and social institutions, all through the social web. This is the reason why power determines what is Normal…

        ~Foucault says in “History of Sexuality”: ” The condition of possibility of power… should not be sought in the primary existence of a central point, in a unique space of sovereignty whence would radiate derivative and descendent forms; it is the moving base of relations of force that incessantly induce, by their inequality, states of power, but always local and unstable… Omnipresence of power: not at all because it regroups everything under its invincible unity, but because it is produced at every instant, at every point, or moreover in every relation between one point and another. Power is everywhere: not that it engulfs everything, but that it comes from everywhere”.

        3 ►Power is a sort of micropolitical type of domination which operates explicitly or implicitly

        ~Foucault wonders in “Discipline and Punish”: “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?”

        4 ►Power determines what it is normal and it does it playing the game of constraints and domination.

        5 ►Discourses of power speak through technical knowledge.

        ~In this last sense, Foucault states in “Madness and Civilization”: “The constitution of madness as a mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, affords the evidence of a broken dialogue… imperfect words without fixed syntax in which the exchange between madness and reason was made. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue of reason about madness, has been established only on the basis of such a silence”.

        I hope you find this overview on Foucault useful!…
        I am wishing you the best. Happy Friday!!!! ⭐ Aquileana 😀

        • Aqui, Thanks for this intelligent comment of Foucault! Indeed, it is in-depth and well spoken. I like that you picked out some of the central themes from his work here. What if we combine madness, power and discipline, three of his main subjects? Well then we get Foucault at his best, challenging stereotypes and the structure on which society is built. I can only imagine what he would think of the world today! Your comment really impresses me and thank you very much for taking the time to add in these points here. I’m so glad I came back to read your Foucault article earlier in the week and see you here! By the way, you started blogging before me, you shining star you!

          Much love from Chris xx Happy Saturday!

  6. When people say they want to be “normal”, I think they refer to what they perceive to be the untroubled state of others. Therefore being untroubled is what they really want to be. 🙂

  7. Hi Christy and Aquileana,

    Thank you for sharing Foucault’s thought-provoking theory that “normal” is defined by who is in power and social institutions. If it weren’t for the courage of unique people who thought outside the “normal” boundaries, we would not have made advances in our culture or technology.

    Your message to Betania was right-on. Go beyond normal and live your dream.

    Best regards,
    Linnea

    • Thank you Linnea for the kind remark both about my post and about Aquileana’s discussion of Foucault in the comments section. It is by playing outside of society’s box that we expand our horizons. You are quite right about that being the way of inventors. Wishing you a wonderful start to your week!

    • Hi dear Linnea!~ Thanks for joining the discussion on Foucault.
      As we were talking with Christy about Normalization the idea of Biopolitics popped in….
      I would say it is also related to the idea of Normality and Biopower.
      Biopower relates to the practice of modern nation states and their regulation of their subjects through “numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations”. Biopower be understood as the prerogative of the modern Nation state to “make live and let die” through biopolitical techniques such us Birth Control, the fertility of a population, the standards of growth of a certain social class…
      The main role of state when it comes to Biopower remind sme as well of Zygmunt Bauman ‘ idea of the Gardening State (Gärtnerstaat ). This is a metaphor whcih represnets the way certain states act as gardeners, caring about certain plants as they make sure to use their tools to neutralize the bad weeds… These last ones are called by Bauman the strangers whcih represents those who are present yet unfamiliar, i.e society’s undecidable.
      A metaphor initially applied to the German Nazi State… But which woefully still operates nowadays. (In more subtle ways though)
      If you are interested you can take a peek on this post!. It is in spanish but the translation works pretty well.
      Michel Foucault: “A Propósito del Concepto de Biopolítica”.- http://wp.me/p60vo-1RL
      All my best wishes to you and Christy!, Aquileana 😀

      • Thank you Aqui for the interesting discussion here! The idea of states as gardeners really made it easier for me to understand the concept you were describing. I constantly learn from you! Your knowledge of Foucault is illuminating. Perhaps we could do a post on Foucault’s ideas on feminism. While he didn’t say much about women specifically, his ideas on categorization are one area we could critique, along with explaining the role of power to women’s lifestyles. Either we could do the post together or you could guest post. Is this something you would be interested in? Hugs for you as this idea just occurred to me! If you don’t reply here, email is fine too. All the best to you and Linnea too!

  8. A lovely post here Chris as so many young girls feel that same confusion. I know I felt a lot like Betania. Names sting, and I had nobody to guide me either. We must all learn to value ourselves, that is the biggest step to overcoming. We may not have supporters or teachers, but if we can learn from others in supportive situations that each and every one of us is valuable and has something to offer, it can help propel us to finding our worth and striving to overcome our insecurities. I write a lot about these things in my recent book Words We Carry. ❤

    • What beautiful words, Deb! You are so insightful and that’s why I’m so glad you’re a memoir writer – you have so much wisdom to share with us! Everyone has something special, for sure! PS Sometimes it takes a while for us to see it in ourselves!

  9. Unfortunately we are so programmed today in society to what others have as an image of their normal.. They try to make others all clones of the same.. By fashion, and by being a certain size and weight…

    I had lots of spots as a teenager.. and was so skinny I looked painful… I was so conscious of that.. And didn’t like my body as a result.. I grew up in the swinging 60s when I was a teen.. When ‘Twiggy’ was a top model.. I would be called twiggy often,, but it was not meant to be complimentary it was that I had no shape… and looked twig like LOL..

    It took a breakdown in my mid 40’s for me to get to grips with who I was.. and to like Me..

    And learn that we are all Unique and individual… and that others can do so much harm to self image..

    Working later on in Supporting those with learning difficulties.. I also learnt how cruel the general public could be in discriminating against others who ‘Looked different’
    I did once say to one person who was obnoxious to one of my clients I was in charge of on an outing for the day.. ” There for the Grace of God go I “…. and it shut him up…

    Great post in highlighting this Christy..

    Love to you Hugs Sue xx

    • Dear Sue, thank you so much for sharing your experience as the first-hand experience is so powerful. It is sad the effects that hurtful words have on teenagers and, in fact, people of all ages. As the teen years are full of development on many levels, I suppose it is all the more difficult to have a nickname on top of that! I am sad to read in your comment about your breakdown but I am so impressed by the courageous woman you are today. Much move to you! xx

  10. Perfect advice, Christy, and I don’t feel normal exists either but society does put expectations on us to make us believe we aren’t at times…we are all unique in our own individual ways and we should accept each other and ourselves for who we are, what we want to accomplish in life and not worry about what others expect of us. I know, this is cliche and not easy to do, but it’s a good, daily mantra, at least for me. 🙂 Sending lots of love to you! xo

  11. Hi Christy,

    Normal to me is different for everybody. If we look inside ourself and feel something it out of synch, mentally, physically or spiritually then we should look at ways to bring back the balance. We should not measure normal on what society deems as normal or by compare ourselves to others.

    • Thank you so much for appreciating this site and taking time to visit, Mich. I agree that the comments left from readers are amazing here. They really add to the posts!

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