In my years as a Toronto therapist and mental health counsellor, I have heard the above statement many times. What does it actually mean? Many people dealing with, for example, depression symptoms have put themselves inside a little box marked “Depressed Person”. They will go to therapy for depression but can never emerge from the box because. “That’s who I am, I’ve always been like that”. They have normalized their depression and made it their identity.
This is common among us humans. We do this. In fact, we need to do it to gain a sense of security. But taken too far, it harms us.
Signs of Normalization
1/ Your language – listen carefully anything you say that might define you too strictly and pigeonholes you, like, “ I’m just the kind of person that has unhealthy relationships”.
2/ The same people and the same things keep recurring in your life.
3/ Similarly, a problem or problems keep repeating themselves.
4/ Your motivation is decreasing. This can indicate that you feel that there is very little new you can expect of life
5/ You are not self reflexive
6/ You end up accepting or normalizing unhealthy relationships or bad jobs
7/ Your philosophy becomes ‘going along’ rather than opposing
8/ You look for ways to escape, such as addictive behaviour
9/ You fool yourself with rationalizations or just plain lies
10/ Your self care and self esteem decrease
How to Combat Normalization
1/ Start out by writing your ‘life narrative’ – a life narrative is the story you tell about yourself. (For further information on Narrative Therapy read, “What is Narrative Therapy? An easy to read Introduction” by Alice Morgan).
2/ Examine this narrative carefully. What is true? What is false? Ask trusted others also. Challenge your story.
3/ Make positive changes – SMALL ones – by doing this you are changing your mind in a manageable way
4/ Begin to be more self aware and less automatic. Listen to your self talk. Notice, negative self talk that reinforces a negative narrative
5/ Begin to use resources that promote self awareness, such as mindfulness meditation and journal writing
6/ Use your imagination to imagine yourself as a different person, the person you want to be. Imagination can create new connections in the brain
7/ Forgive yourself for mistakes made in the past. By holding onto self blame, you strengthen a negative self narrative
8/ Take Responsibility – Begin to be honest with yourself and face your problems whether they be and depression symptoms, anxiety symptoms, unhealthy relationships, stress management or addiction problems – do this slowly and with kindness.
9/ Begin to normalize good habits such as self care, doing more things that you like and promoting positive relationships with others
10/ Eliminate or prune what is hurtful in your life – negative habits, hurtful relationships and anything else large or small – that is possible. Do this slowly