What is normal?

A Collection of Musings on Normal:

A friend sent me the above photo a few years ago when he saw this piece in an art show. I’m sorry I do not know the artist.


“If you want to understand the abnormal, assume it is normal.” – Goethe

if you do this reality will become clear…those of us labeled abnormal (so called neuro-atypicals) only have a chance in hell if we come to realize this and stop letting others define our experience.

I got the Goethe quote from an interview with Steven Buhner…I’m realizing it may have been a paraphrase of an idea Buhner got from Goethe. In any case, I love the sentiment.

Aldous Huxley:

normalThe real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does. They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted. ~ Aldous HuxleyBrave New World

Alfred Adler:

The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well. ~ Alfred Adler


It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

R.D. Laing:

normalThe condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.~ R.D. Laing

R.D. Laing:

What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being. The more one sees this, the more senseless it is to continue with generalized descriptions of supposedly specifically schizoid, schizophrenic, hysterical ‘mechanisms.’ There are forms of alienation that are relatively strange to statistically ‘normal’ forms of alienation. The ‘normally’ alienated person, by reason of the fact that he acts more or less like everyone else, is taken to be sane. Other forms of alienation that are out of step with the prevailing state of alienation are those that are labeled by the ‘formal’ majority as bad or mad. ~ R.D. Laing, from Politics of Experience

Erich Fromm:

normalThe problem of selfishness has a particular bearing on psychotherapy. The neurotic individual often is selfish in the sense that he is blocked in his relationship to others or overanxious about himself. This is to be expected since to be neurotic means that the integration of a strong self has not been achieved successfully. To be normal certainly does not mean that it has. It means, for the majority of well-adapted individuals that they have lost their own self at an early age and replaced it completely by a social self offered to them by society. They have no neurotic conflicts because they themselves, and, therefore, the discrepancy between their selves and the outside world has disappeared. Often the neurotic person is particularly unselfish, lacking in self-assertion and blocked in following his own aims. The reason for this unselfishness is essentially the same as for the selfishness. What he is practically always lacking is self-love. This is what he needs to become well. If the neurotic becomes well, he does not become normal in the sense of the conforming social self. He succeeds in realising his self, which never had been completely lost and for the preservation of which he was struggling by his neurotic symptoms. A theory, therefore, as Freud’s on narcissism which rationalises the cultural pattern of denouncing self-love by identifying it with selfishness, can have but devastating effects therapeutically. It increases the taboo on self-love. Its effects can only be called positive if the aim of psychotherapy is not to help the individual to be himself; that is, free, spontaneous and creative – qualities conventionally reserved for artists – but to give up the fight for his self and conform to the cultural pattern peacefully and without the noise of a neurosis.  – Erich Fromm  from Selfishness and love

 Allen Shawn:

normalThe concept of normality is due for an overhaul. “Normality” is a relative term…Each human being is a peculiar balance of assets and defects, physical, psychological, sociological. When you see a person’s strengths, they are, by and large, eclipsing equally powerful weaknesses. Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them. We should not be surprised to find some variety of mental anguish inside even the most “normal” exterior; we should assume it. People are infinitely layered. There are those who are sturdier in a crisis and bear up well under life’s assaults. We need such role models before us to steady us on our way. And to aspire to a sense of balance in the face of life’s challenges is certainly sensible. But those same sturdy people may fail in important spheres. So often does one discover serious deficiencies in those who superficially seem to function well, and compensatory strengths in those who appear to function less well, that it is tempting to suggest a more flexible model of mental health than that which we rely upon for convenience. In those who are remarkable for their sangfroid and equanimity, whose shadows do not show, just where are the darkeer forces that animate all nature but that only man has the ability to conceal? They may be buried deep, only to reemerge in actions with dire consequences. In the end, whatever people achieve that is most wonderful, beautiful, interesting, and inspirational is, by definition, not normal… by Allen Shawn, From Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life

From Ode Magazine — an excerpt from Your brain is a rain forest on the importance of neurodiversity.

The lessons we have learned about biodiversity and cultural and racial diversity need to be applied to the human brain. We need a new field of neurodiversity that regards human brains as the biological entities they are, and appreciates the vast natural differences that exist from one brain to another regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other important mental functions.

Instead of pretending that hidden away in a vault somewhere is a perfectly normal brain, to which all other brains must be compared (e.g., the rose psychiatrist’s brain), we need to admit that there is no standard brain, just as there is no standard flower, or standard cultural or racial group, and that, in fact, diversity among brains is just as wonderfully enriching as biodiversity and the diversity among cultures and races. read the whole article

Gurdjieff describes the “normal” western modern human being in the below quoted material.

humanIn the modern man, partly owing to his abnormal education during his preparatory age, and partly owing to influences due to certain causes of of the generally established abnormal conditions of modern life, the working of his psychic centres during his responsible age is almost entirely disconnected, therefore his intellectual, emotional and instinctive motor functions do not serve as a natural complement and corrective for one another, but, on the contrary, travel along different roads, which rarely meet and for this reason permit very little leisure for obtaining that, which in reality be understood by the word “consciousness”, wrongly used by modern people today.

As a result of the lack of co-ordinated activity on the part of these three separately formed and independently educated parts of man’s general psyche, it has come about that a modern man represents three different men in a single individual ; the first of whom thinks in complete isolation from the other parts, the second merely feels and the third acts only automatically, according to established or accidental reflexes of his organic functions. ~ G.I. Gurdjieff – The Herald of Coming Good

washing-machine-cartoonand finally:

the most profound quote of all:

Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.

Posts that inspire you to be who you are. YOUR normal which isn’t like anyone else’s normal:

Give in to being, be who you are…

Show Yourself

You are beautiful. Song of radical acceptance.

Show me all of you

You will love again the stranger who was your self

Melt into your own life

To be nobody but yourself

For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page. 

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