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How can we be normal if actually we are all so very different from each other? If we were analysed a surprising number of us would find ourselves being labelled narcissists or psychopaths! And what was once considered abnormal is now normal and vice versa. Times change and seemingly so do what we call 'norms'.
What's normal anyway?
Abnormal? Are we allowed to use that adjective anymore? Well in this context allow me to, because William James proposed (way back in the 1900’s) that “to study the abnormal was the best way of understanding the normal”.
It’s about being curious without labelling, something that we are generally very bad at. I have worked with people diagnosed as schizophrenics, autistic and the homeless who get no end of mental health labelling and although I understand the clinical need to diagnose and treat, there does seem to be a desire to label everyone who is different. When we are all different in some way, isn’t that normal?
Did you realise that The American Psychiatric association classified homosexuality as an illness from 1952 right through to 1973 and that in 2007 the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders) added smoking to their list. Just shows that what can be seen as “abnormal” at one moment in time, isn’t at another, and there are also cultural differences that throw in another set of dynamics to consider.
The problem with labelling is as soon as we do it we attach bias to the label. Instead of looking at the person, we look at the person through the lens of the label, dehumanising what is happening, attaching all sorts of assumptions to what we see and expect to see, changing reality.
Two labels we see on a regular basis are Narcissists and Psychopaths. We see them on the TV and in the workplace and we are drawn to be curious about their worlds, they are the poster girls and boys of the exceptional, the unusual and the abnormal; good and bad and they tend to get a lot of air time because of that. Just look at the worlds of Celebrity, Business and Politics here and in the US. Michael Maccoby wrote a great article for the Harvard Business Review looking at Why People are Drawn to Narcissists like Donald Trump and the Telegraph ran this story about how men addicted to selfies could be psychopaths.
The probability is that will all be vulnerable to some kind of psychological disorder at some point in our lives
It’s part of being human.In 2010 the World Health Organisation reported that 450 million people worldwide suffered from mental and behavioural disorders. These disorders accounted for 15.4% of the years of life lost due to death or disability – scoring slightly below cardiovascular conditions and slightly above cancer (Psychology by David Myers).