What defines “being normal”?

Pretending to be normalI know I am not normal. I have the feeling that I have never been, nor never will be normal. But then a question comes to mind: what defines being normal? When can you say that you are normal? Are there certain standard things that you need to certify for? Is there a checklist, like the DSM-IV ones they use to “check” if you’re ADHD or have Autism? What is being normal? HOW can a person be defined normal?

So many questions and I guess no one will really know all the answers. Though, on occasions, I heard people say that they were, indeed, normal. But I never dared to question what they based their own opinion on. And when someone acts silly or strange, at times people will tell him/her to “act normal”. Maybe being silly is considered normal by the one well, acting silly. Maybe (s)he doesn’t know how to behave in a different way. So that brings back the question: what defines being normal? So that’s where the Internet comes in. And hopefully, also your comments after you’ve read this post. I’ve been searching on Wikipedia.org and found an article on Norm (sociology)click the wikipedia link to get there. And I’ve read about social norms. The way I see it, part of you’re being “normal” is defined through your social behavior. In my opinion, it is true. The way you behave around others will make them decide whether or not they will find you normal. But still, it is only the opinion of people that you have interacted with. Still, it is not something you can base your whole beliefs on. Everyone sees things differently and will act of their own believes when it comes to defining people. I guess I am making this question harder than it maybe is.

But I will use an example that now pops into my head (one of the many, I must admit).
You’re at a gathering of people. Everyone is there because they share a common interest. Could be a Comic Con or a party of a mutual friend. At the first example place, the convention, everyone has a large mutual interest: favorite writer, favorite series and so on. You will always find someone that you can talk with, feel good with, because you share those same interest and ideas. At the birthday party, your only common interest could be that you know the birthday boy or gall and that’s it. You might have some of the same interests and ideas. But at the convention, you feel more at ease to talk about your love for the Marvel comics than you do at a birthday party. When you talk about the Marvel comics at the convention, (almost) everyone will think you’re normal. You share the same love for comics and you might even share some visions and ideals towards the different series. But when you start talking about the Spiderman comics at the birthday party, people might think you’re weird, or not normal, because it is a birthday celebration and has nothing to do with comics. you are still the same person with the same interests, but others will see and treat you differently.

The next part is an extract from the Wikipedia page I mentioned earlier.

Overview
Social norms can also be viewed as statements that regulate behavior and act as informal social controls. They are usually based in some degree of consensus and are maintained through social sanctions. Three models explain normative rule content:

  • Focus on the actions of one’s personal ego
  • Focus on ego’s reactions to actions of alternative
  • Negotiation between ego and alternative.

Norms are rules of behavior. They exist as both formal and informal norms, but often the latter is found to be more strong and reinforced. These informal norms are divided into two:

  • Folkways: Informal rules and norms whose violation is not offensive, but expected to be followed. It’s a kind of adjusting, accommodating type of habits. It does not invite any punishment or sanctions, but some reprimands or warnings.
  • Mores: They are also informal rules that are not written, but result in severe punishments and social sanction upon the individuals like social and religious exclusions.

Terms related to social norms
A descriptive norm refers to people’s perceptions of what is commonly done in specific situations. An injunctive norm refers to people’s perceptions of what is commonly approved or disapproved of within a specific culture.

Prescriptive Norms are unwritten rules that are understood and followed by society. We do these every day with out thinking about them.

Proscriptive Norms are unwritten rules that are known by society that you shouldn’t do, or follow. These norms can vary from culture to culture.

Deviance is “nonconformity to a set of norms that are accepted by a significant number of people in a community or society (Appelbaum, 173).” In simple terms it is behavior that goes against norms.

Looking Glass-Self is how we see ourselves by interacting with others, seeing how they perceive us, what others expect from us, and how we should behave.

Definitions of social norms
Norms in the context of Sociology “are principles or rules people are expected to observe; they represent the dos and don’ts of society (Appelbaum, 173).”

One might also say they are rules that define the behavior that is expected, required, or acceptable in particular circumstances. They are learned by interacting in society.

Examples of norms
Norms affect very much the way you behave in public. When you enter an elevator, it is expected that you turn around to face the doors. An example of a social norm violation would be to enter the elevator and remain facing the rest of the people.

So there are many “rules and guidelines” that people should follow in order to reach the “norm of society”. And I guess, to be seen as a “normal” person. So if you would just see it black and white: if you don’t follow all these guidelines and social norms, you are not normal. If you stand out on one or more occasions, people might define you as “not normal” or maybe as “different”. Some would even call it “weird”.

But what really defines a person? Because even if you don’t follow all these “rules and guidelines”, you could (in my opinion) still be normal. You just don’t always want to do what others would do as well. Maybe you love being polite and to help others in all ways possible. Some folks might say then that you over-do it and you just want to be a show off. Or that there must be something you want in return from everyone you help. Not many people would say, without any other thoughts, that you are just very, very kind and you wish to do good deeds.

I have asked several times on Twitter if any of my followers (not that I have many) would like to contribute to the question: what defines a “normal” human being? One of my Twitter friends did reply, but (s)he -I want to keep that information private- didn’t know what the definition would be. If you read this, dear friend, thanks for even that reply. It did make me feel a bit better to know that there are indeed people reading my messages on Twitter.

I do believe that this question “What defines being normal?” will ever get a definite answer.

Because I might have ADHD (although I do not have many doubts about that) and I also show some Autistic “signs”, some things that I have found normal all my life now seem strange at times. I had never thought that some of my believes were not based on the “general” way of believing. That my believes, thoughts and maybe even my feelings about certain things, were totally different. I have been singled out many times as a kid but I never understood why. I always believed it had to be because I was different, had curly hair and never wore the new trend brands of clothes. But I never thought my being different was a flaw, that it made me less normal.

I have had many fights, in my relationship as well, where I have been told that I needed to get my thinking straight. That it wasn’t normal what I believed in. It was always hard to understand, even more because when I wanted to know what was different from mine and his/her pint of view, I never really got any answers I could work with. And it is hard because when you want to win a fight, you will always believe your cause to be the best and the other cause to be not normal. Just because you don’t believe in it at that time and even if you could believe in it, it was neither the time nor place to admit to that! Our GF and I had many, many, too many talks (and fights) about me not thinking like the “general public” would be thinking. Like she was thinking. I always pointed out that it was and is damn important for me to know more. Don’t just say that I am crazy, please, do explain what you base that upon. That is also a part of who I am and always have been: I want to know ALL the reasons for EVERYTHING that happens to me in my life. Especially when it has a negative outcome. I want to know how to prevent it, why it occurred and if I was the one to blame (seeing I always seek blame at my own side first). Don’t just push me away, tell me WHY you are pushing me as well. I have come to understand that it is not “normal behaviour”. But what is not normal about it, I am wondering? If you are in a fight, if something goes wrong, if you need do so something…is it really such a crazy question to want to know why/what/how??? Why are you fighting, what are you fighting about, how can it be solved, how could it have been prevented? What went wrong, why did it go wrong, what needs to be done to fix it, how can it be prevented from happening again? These lines of questioning are normal to me… I have been told I want to know it all, I want to know too much, but I love absorbing information. I NEED information, I NEED explanations. Due to my ADHD, my mind keeps working on stuff whether I want it to or not. When I have the needed information, my mind will still work on it over and over but it will stay closer to the facts as they were presented at that time.

I have started this post back in June and after a while it because too difficult to go on with it. As I stated, I will never get an answer that really defines it all. But I would LOVE to discuss this topic through the comment section. Or on my FaceBook profile. It is important to me. I will never be normal I guess. I don’t really mind, but it does make me very curious to “what normal people feel and think”. How would someone react to something? In what way would that be (totally) different from my reaction? Am I the only seeking so many answers to too many questions?

After almost 2000 words I have decided I could keep on asking questions for ever and never be able to publish this post. Sorry it took me so long, sorry I ask so many questions…

Who will define who’s normal or not?

I’d rather be me than normal :-) Although I would like to know what normal people would do in situations where I get to hear that I am not normal… What is normal…???

~ by Lonely Wallflower on August 25, 2010.

10 Responses to “What defines “being normal”?”

  1. Normal really doesn’t exist. I used to think there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t like everyone else. Then I realized I am fine.

  2. Especially in relationships, I am not sure that being more ‘normal’ is truly what you want. Perhaps it is better to strive for being ‘rational’ than normal. If you don’t follow the rules and guidelines of social norms than you may not be normal, but you can still be rational.
    Besides, not being normal makes you a much more interesting person.

  3. Holy crap. Reading all that stuff about social norms makes me want to give up on trying to be “normal”! I guess though, it’s all relative. What is normal to some is not normal to others. I guess my thought about being normal is not being in therapy, being self sufficient, and able to function socially in a meaningful way in which I’m just not giving to other people but actively receiving too. I dunno, that might be mixed up!

    I like mazer’s idea above that not being normal is more interesting!

  4. I’d give anything to be normal. To be able to make friends, to be loveable. I’m 34 years old and with no friends. My parents wish I was normal, they’re the only people who’ll put up with me. Dating is impossible; I get upset too easily. Don’t enjoy being with people, it’s just a huge minefield waiting for you. People don’t make sense.

  5. I guess that if you feel the need to feel “normal”, like the general population, you will always be different. What I have experienced so far is, that people who are seen as “normal”, or maybe average, never worry about their appearance. They just mind their own business and for some reason, have almost no trouble with socially interacting. As I mentioned before, I see it that people define you as weird when you don’t know how to socially interact. When you go left when the “average person” would have gone right. I guess it doesn’t really matter though. Well, it can matter at times when someone confronts you with your (social inter-)actions, but when you know you are feeling good the way you are and you’re harming no one (including yourself), it should all be fine in the end. There are times I wish my social skills would be 100% better than they are now, because I dread those awkward situations I manage to get myself into at times. But people who know me know about my Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD and they know it’s me talking or doing stuff. When people you know have accepted you the way you are, being normal seems less interesting…to me that is. Good luck everyone in your quest to “be normal/average”.

  6. I wouldn’t say it like ‘I’d rather be myself instead of normal’ .. I’d choose ‘happy or even just content’ over anything else. I think this discussion about normal would spread way too far for my chicken brain to grasp, so I’m not even thinking of entering here :) I do think that normal is overrated. I see lots of younger people around me that I consider normal, and when I make my judgement about them, adjectives like ignorant (empty) , fashionable, happy and did-not-suffer-much-in-life-yet pop up in my mind. Of course, it’s easy to didive the world’s population in 2 categories: us, the thinking, unhappy and thorough kind and them, the happy, nonchalant and superficial people. But of course there are endless variations. Not a lot of people belong to the same category at every point of their life. Depends on who is judging them maybe. See.. too complicated ;)

    • I see you are right, it is a never ending discussion. I guess that is why I also wrote it back then. Because all you hear is that you are not normal. Or you are not average. And I can understand how they come to average. But who defines what is normal and what not. OK there are boundaries and once they are crossed, yeah, then you can definitely say one is not normal (serial killers, rapists, pedophiles and all…). But when you don’t harm anyone and just mind your own business and all you do wrong is being seriously bad in social situations… Everyone as a fault here or there. Who decides when you have so many faults that you are not considered to be normal anymore?
      This is really something I struggle with… Have been and I guess I always will be. Unless someone can make it very clear to me… ;) If ever…

  7. Wow, just read your blog. I was searching for the words, what is normal and came across your blog. I am a middle age lady, who has never been normal. As a kid/ teenager/ young adult all I wanted was normal. Normal always seemed/ seems happy, has a place set for them, the puzzle pieces fit. I struggle a lot less with the wanting to be normal now, but have found my purpose. My beautiful son, who has ADHD, possible autism, dyspraxia, SIDS, etc ; will never be ” normal” in the traditional sense of the word, but to me he is perfect. I understand him, and even though he is “different”, he sees himself as normal and enoys life, as any six year old should. He has not yet realized that he does not completely fit in the puzzle, but he has the confidence in himself to follow his heart and make the puzzle fit him. :)

  8. In Gypsy communities of Eastern Europe it is normal to marry at age 13 or 14. In the UK or USA you would be sent to prison. Normal is just a set of rules devised by people out of fear of the unknown.To me it is normal to worry and to doubt about ones normality, it is a sign of intelligence and an active mind. Animals do not worry about being perceived as normal because they cannot. The more you think and worry about it – the more human you are. And the question really is ‘how human am I’ and if you’ve found this blog then you are more human than most because to think is to be human.

  9. I think the most important question you can ask yourself. And others is are you happy being what you are? Not are others content with you being considered acceptable by their standards.the truest form of wealth I have found to be peace with what we are and drive to better ourselves as humans. Not conformity.

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