Being “Normal” Won’t Substitute Self-Esteem

“Is this normal?” “Am I normal?” Psychotherapists hear this question all the time.

The question is based upon a flawed premise and a flawed definition. Normal is not a substitute for “rational.” Normal refers to a statistical concept—essentially, to what the majority do with respect to a particular behavior.

For example, it’s normal—or usual—for people to lie to their spouses and friends, at least from time to time. Yet is it rational to do so? No, I would argue. It’s also normal—or usual—to assume that self-sacrifice is the root of all good, whether you practice it or not. Does this make it rational? No way!

In a certain city or community it might be normal for a majority to chain-smoke cigarettes. Does this in any way decrease the risk of lung cancer? Absolutely not. I could go on and on with many other examples, but hopefully you see the trend. Just because a majority of people are doing something, or thinking something, does not make it right or healthy.

When I press people to honestly let me know why they are so concerned with being normal, they usually reply: “Because I want to be part of the group.” Bingo. That’s the problem right there. That’s the central reason why they’re emotionally suffering, whether they know it or not. Low self-esteem refers, in part, to a prevailing sense that one is not fit for life. Equating abnormality with irrationality/lack of virtue is an error in thinking with enormous emotional ramifications.

The instant you start substituting what the group or herd is doing for you own objective judgment of reality—and your own particular interests and desires—then you are in psychological trouble.

It’s fine to ask somebody for their opinion, if you have reason to respect the “somebody” in question. But don’t be worried about what’s normal. True, there are bizarre and twisted people who are abnormal. But it’s also true that some of the greatest innovators and creators in history have not been normal, either.

Falling into a statistical majority is—in and of itself—neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Living a happy, healthy, and reason-oriented life—whereby you maximize your talents to the fullest—is what counts.

Who knows: maybe someday that will normal.

I hasten to add that I am not suggesting everything is morally or psychologically neutral, or subjective. It’s actually true that particular thoughts, ideas or actions can be grounded in logic and fact, or not; and that particular actions you take can serve to advance your life and interests, or impair them. There is a rational / irrational, right / wrong by this standard.

The thing I’m challenging here is the erroneous view that being part of a statistical majority is the standard by which you should evaluate yourself. If you do so — and many people, I find, do so subconsciously — then you’re psychologically pre-programmed for less self-esteem, serenity and self-confidence than would have otherwise been the case.


Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael  Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1