The more varied the spectrum of life the better. Who wants "normal" anyway?
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
I painted my bedroom yesterday - I went from duck egg to a rich, dark "Sapphire Salute" bringing a warmth and cosiness to my rest area which I'd been missing. This does not mean that the colour I chose is "better than" all the others. It certainly does not mean it is more valuable. And it does not mean you should also choose it especially if you're not keen on blue, much less dark blue - or even paint for that matter!
We, as individuals, are as much on a spectrum. Some of our traits make us more suited for certain roles; some of them mean we gel well with certain people; some may mean we struggle a little more in some areas - but, once again, it does not mean that some people are "better than" others. It does not mean some are "more valuable". And it does not mean we all need to try to be the same.
Yet where psychology used ratings to give an objective means of measuring any change (in thinking, or feeling and so on) - it went awry when it started to suggest that "the norm" was not simply a measure of "where the dominant trait in one area of study fell"...but rather something to aim for. This framed "not the norm" as something undesirable, and that goes against pretty much all of my thinking, not just as a psychologist, but as a person.
Psychology was never about "defining normal"!
I became interested in psychology when I picked up the book "Be glad you're neurotic" . It is outdated, there are sweeping generalisations, and many elements have not stood the test of time, nor science, but as a British-Born SE Asian trying to blend family cultural norms with those which "seemed" expected in the UK it was a glimmer of reassurance to an 11 year old only child. The next book I remember having an impact was Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." - many of whose teachings eg "Praise and be genuine with it!" I still use today; and I notice that my penchant for an "end of chapter toolkit" was probably inspired back then. I followed that interest with Child Development at GCSE (in the switch from O-Levels to GCSEs there was no psychology at the time in my school), and then Psychology at A-level which I followed through University later teaching it before taking my PhD. I think I started because I wanted to learn about myself, I continued because learning about others fascinated me, and now I use my whole knowledge base to create tools to help others similarly, be reassured, and learn, and grow. While some feel technology is science made useful - I'm very much of the applied school of practice.
This is not dissimilar to psychology's own origins.
It began as a bridge between philosophy and physiology and the word derives from the ancient Greek "psyche" (soul or mind) and "logia" (study or account) with its common definition being "The Science of Mind and Behaviour". Our thoughts were first studied to help us understand and explain ourselves and as the field expanded the results of such study were modelled and measured in order to make predictions, and later to affect outcomes - notably in the area of clinical psychology and treatment. Winding it's way through that was the study of how to live a good, meaningful and pleasant life (the 3 paths to the "happy life") - and the beauty of human uniqueness.
Psychology moved through introspection (self reflection) and psychoanalysis (interpreting our unconscious drives); to behaviourism (measuring observable actions - noting that behaviours could be learned through conscious (and unconscious) association; with the developments in technology psychology used the computer model to underpin its cognitive insights - where mental processes, and the effect of our thinking (including language) on our actions were studied and explained; and then branched into social, and developmental psychology - where the effect of social influence and early environmental influence on all of the above was investigated; behaviourism and cognitivism founded clinical psychology, developmental psych led to educational applications; and every so often humanistic, Gestalt and later positive psychology would remind us that living is not just about "being normal", but growing beyond that and flourishing.
My preference when I am teaching, explaining, and coaching remains the same as it did when I was writing exams - I would explore the different explanations and appreciating that in explaining, predicting and practical applications - there is no "one size fits all". The schools of thought are best utilised not in competition with each other but as various options - each valuable - depending on how they are being used.
One size fits all is easy, but it is reductionist
I have used a range of techniques with my clients - some connect with NLP, others with CBT or DBT practices, others simply with a combination of different tools and more often than not we will mix-and-match anyway. Certain exercises work for a while, then they need to be changed as self development plateaus - or they are just not "fun" anymore, others might be revisited because that very specific occasion has now presented itself. It's hard work. I need to know what tools are out there; I need to listen to what my clients say to know where to start in terms of explanation and helping understanding - "inner child work" can be used as a synonym for "self acceptance" in the same was as "law of attraction" may be the package that connects with a client better than "you are not the computer - you are the programmer of your life".
Perhaps I can be criticised as "Jack of all trades master of none"...but I remind you of the rest of that saying "Is oftimes better than master of one." Psychology cannot agree within itself - isn't it therefore better to have a broader understanding of all possible concepts to give the best chance of finding something that works?
The same is true of our lives: the more colours in our palette the better!
There is a reason why one needs training to administer psychometrics - and it isn't because you need to analyse the data - that's all done on a computer. YOU need to be able to explore the results as a starting point for self development and not hand them to the client like some sort of "label". (This may explain why I am so opposed to the way quantitative data is sometimes used in recruitment; or when GPs are too quick to prescribe something to "manage the symptom."; and why I say "get the diagnosis just to get access to the different interventions and support available not to label and move on.")
Difference, if nurtured, can be magnificent.
If we can embrace difference, and I don't just mean neurodiversity, but our human uniqueness and we can learn what enables us to perform at our best...and then apply that to our teams, our relationships and even our families - we will begin to nurture a world that no longer wastes energy trying to "conform to what seems dominant", but creates, dares and thrives.
So this week:
- Identify when you experience the feeling of "flow" - eg deep mental engagement - and make time for more of that as it will energise you.
- Identify what is meaningful to you - a great way is to think about previous achievements and pick out what made your heart sing (it might not be what others identified at the time).
- Identify the social relationships where you feel most comfortable and again recognise why. Then seek to behave in those ways yourself.
Explore the above three areas with your teams, your loved ones and/or your families and actively look for opportunities where you can help them engage in all of the above - and you can also learn and widen your knowledge - you never know when you might need one of their skills!!
When I chose "Sapphire Salute" for my bedroom this wasn't because it was that or Duck Egg...I had "Admiral", "Navy" and a full range of blues alone - and that breadth of choice enabled me to find my perfect fit for that role. When you come to painting your masterpiece - wouldn't you want a broad range of colour to work with? Doesn't that make life in general much more beautiful?
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For coaching tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt