A patient of mine looked me in the eye one day and asked, “What is my diagnosis, anyway?” We had been working together for months, and she had already gone through several conflicting hypotheses about what was “really wrong” with her. Sometimes she believed her expectations were too high, yet other times was quite certain they were too low. Was she too sensitive? On the other hand, didn’t I agree that she was actually self-absorbed, insensitive to the needs of others, i.e., narcissistic? Then again her mother had been an alcoholic, which led my patient to conclude that her problems stemmed from the fact that she was an “adult child of an alcoholic.” And what about her “moodiness”? After all, her mood could go up, and then down just like her uncle’s.
I looked at her and replied. “Your ‘problem’ is that you think that you have a problem— you fear that there must be something wrong with you.” My patient was stunned. She had tried on every diagnosis in the book except one—that her expectations, sensitivities, and moods were “normal”.
Normality is not the first thing most people come up with when they think about themselves. It’s easier to believe that we’re not normal when we are told from childhood that there is something wrong with the way we act, feel, and think. Imagine, if you will, a child who drops a glass that breaks on the floor.. How different the child would feel if confronted by an angry parent who demands to know “what were you thinking” (as if the child intended to break it) versus a parent who assures the child that “it’s okay” because “everybody makes mistakes”.
We are judged countless times in our lives by people and institutions who want to control our thinking and behavior. I have been witness to many marital conflicts where one or both parties refuse to accept their differences and try to convince the other party that their needs and feelings are wrong, bad, or the result of some kind of “disease”. Unfortunately, big pharma also has profited by our belief that something is wrong with us. We are encouraged to see ourselves as ill and take medications to make our feelings go away. It’s just a step or two away from The Stepford Wives.
So my patient was “moody”, but she was able to see that it was the normal kind, when your mood goes up when something good happens, and down when something bad or sad happens. She was indeed disappointed when someone failed to live up to her expectations. She was sensitive and hurt when people where mean to her. She had what you and I have: feelings, needs, and beliefs. What she didn’t have before was someone to tell her that she was normal.