I spend a fair amount of time in my psychiatric practice helping women come to terms with the idea that they are “normal.” These are incredibly competent, engaging, intelligent, kind, funny women who juggle work and family, maybe not always with ease, but quite well. In spite of everything they are able to carry on their plate, with only occasional spills, somehow these women doubt themselves. Deep inside they feel that something is “wrong” with them; that they are not doing a good job at life. I have been in this situation so many times that I have come to realize that good, competent women doubting themselves is a norm these days.
Why would this happen with such regularity? How is it that a large proportion of women have gotten the idea that they are “not normal?” First, let’s take a look at how “normal” has been defined. If, let’s say, normal was defined as having a Y chromosome, then 50% of people would, by definition, not be normal. We should then question that definition because it doesn’t make sense, at least for 50% of people.
I’m not saying that normal has been defined explicitly as having a Y chromosome, but maybe there has been a similar process going on. Much of psychological theory predates the women’s lib and civil rights movements. Of course, even more of psychological theory predates the rise of the internet. Sigmund Freud attended medical school in 1881. Although his psychoanalytic theory was informed by his work in psychiatric hospitals and by his research on hypnosis, much of it stemmed from his self-analysis. He often claimed he had little understanding of women.
Beyond the field of psychology, many other cultural ideas about how the classroom and workplace should function predate the large numbers of women who choose or need to work, to earn money, to achieve.
What if the current definition of normal is in fact normal… for a certain percentage of people? And, what if there are also other ways to be normal?
Genomics and medical research keep giving us an increasingly greater number of illnesses and disease models to diagnose with and be diagnosed with. New viruses and bacteria to worry about. New gene sequences that, we are told, encode stress, difficulty, or tragedy.
The world is changing at a faster and faster rate. These changes should not only prompt us to define new pathologies. We also need to continually understand and create new definitions of normal.