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What is ‘normal’ anyway? A guide on celebrating difference

This article was written by Anna Sanders MSc GMBPsS


 

Wherever we are, societies are governed by ‘social norms’ - shared social rules that help

guide our behaviours and decision-making. These norms can influence us at a subconscious

level, being ingrained into the very fabric of who we are.


Each country and culture celebrate different norms. For example, saying “bless you” after

someone sneezes or greeting someone with a hug and kiss on the cheek. We define

‘normal’ behaviours or appearances as those that conform to the local social norms in a

given society.


While social norms can help connect us in a collective way, it is equally important to

remember and celebrate our individuality. As people, we are unique and different from one

another. Just as our genetic makeup creates unique fingerprints and bodies, our personal

experiences weave together to form distinct personalities and values. Differences can be

visible, such as in our physical appearance, or less visible, such as in neuro=divergence,

personalities, or gender identities.


So, what does it mean to be normal, anyway? Below are some top tips for celebrating

difference:


1) Identify other positive qualities that make you unique - List at least 5 positive

qualities and reaffirm each one by writing examples of it being in action. For example,

‘I am a caring – I listened to my friend’s problem and offered advice’. Sometimes

being kind to ourselves is challenging – ask a family member or friend to help you.

Continue growing the list with more positive examples.


2) Be curious and educate yourself - Recognise your own and other’s differences;

ask questions to learn about others and expand your worldview. Acknowledge that

you may not understand it yet but be willing to learn. In situations where we may not

have lived experience with or be educated about, it is okay to feel discomfort.

Usually, people are more than happy to share their experiences, and it helps to share

yours too.


3) Negate negative thoughts – Our brains are clever and tend to be critical towards

ourselves yet kind to others. Imagine what you would say to a friend. For example, if

a friend said, ‘I don’t want to go out tonight, I’m worried everyone will stare at me’,

you could say ‘you can handle this, you have done this many times before, and we

are here to support you’.


4) Challenge stereotypes and biases – Actively challenge and speak out against

stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminatory behaviours. This will help to encourage

an inclusive and open safe space for respectful conversations. Develop a simple and

comfortable narrative to talk about your difference. For example, ‘I was born with a

gap in my lip, and I was operated on when I was younger. It doesn’t hurt me. Do you

also have a visible difference?’


5) Remember, everyone has differences and these aren’t always visible

I hope that if someone says, ‘you’re not normal’, to feel a sense of pride and respond with a

thank you!


 

To find out more around visible difference, check out Changing Faces.

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