Sunday, October 10, 2010
Normalization is a simple yet powerful therapeutic technique that is often very effective in alleviating some of a patient's distress. To normalize essentially means to let a person know that there are others who are going through what he is experiencing. He is not alone and he is not, in fact, crazy (as he may have feared). Even outside of therapy normalization relieves anxiety. You tell a close friend about a problem you're having with your significant other only to find out that she has had the same problem with her significant other. You immediately feel better. You're not alone; what you're going through is "normal."
Many people strive for normality. People afflicted by a chronic illness long to be "normal." Members of families with a lot of conflict wish they had a "normal" family. Adolescents who don't quite fit in with their peers want only to be a "normal" teenager. If you think for a moment you can probably recall a time when you bemoaned your own circumstances and wished for a "normal" life.
What is normal anyway? Does it mean being just like everyone else? (And doesn't that assume that everyone is alike)? I personally believe that normality is an illusion. We tend to think that because we have problems we aren't normal. And yet, the people we think are normal have their own problems; we just aren't aware of them.
I recently started reading a book by Paulo Coelho. He is a gifted writer. Time and time again he has created compelling stories with deeply existential themes. Each time I finish reading one of his novels I am left contemplating the meaning of life for weeks. One of the characters in Coelho's "The Winner Stands Alone" asks, "What does normal mean?" Of the character Coelho writes, "He always asked the people he chanced to meet what 'normal life' was like, because he had forgotten." He started keeping a list "of what constituted normal attitudes and behavior, based on what people did rather than what they said." The list portrays a quite cynical view of humankind, but I thought I'd share a few of the entries on the character's list (with my commentary, at times):
*Normal is anything that makes us forget who we are and what we want.
*Spending years studying at university only to find at the end of it all that you're unemployable. [How many high school graduates pursue a subject that arouses their passion only to find there are no jobs in this field? They get a degree only to find that it's essentially useless. They find something more practical to do but are forced to abandon their passion].
*Retiring and discovering that you no longer have enough energy to enjoy life and dying a few years later of sheer boredom. [Is it lack of energy? Or is it that for years we have so few interests outside of work that we don't know how to define ourselves once we stop working?]
*Making fun of anyone who seeks happiness rather than money and accusing them of "lacking ambition."
*Criticizing anyone who tries to be different. [It is human nature to fear the unknown].
*Investing a lot of time and money in external beauty and caring little about inner beauty.
*Never laughing too loudly in a restaurant however good the joke.
*Postponing doing the really interesting things in life for later, when you won't have the energy. [I admit that I'm guilty of this one. I usually put off things I'd like to do -- especially traveling -- until I "have more money."]
The list is much longer. If you have a chance to read the book I strongly encourage you to do it. In fact, if you have the chance to read anything by Paulo Coelho I strongly encourage you to do it!
Well, I've gone on enough. Until next time...