Reneau Peurifoy
From Overcoming Anxiety: From Short-Term Fixes to Long-Term Recovery

People with anxiety-related problems often feel alone and different from others. Frequently I hear them say they are “weird” and just want to be normal like everyone else. They often see others in an idealistic way, and as dealing with all of their problems effectively and going through life with ease.

One of the most difficult tasks on the road to long-term recovery is learning to accept yourself and everything you experience as simply normal variations of what humans experience. Core beliefs from childhood such as “I’m inferior,” “I’m different,” “I’m not lovable,” and “I’m bad” make this dilemma to the old Groucho Marx quip “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” Likewise, most of my clients believe that anything associated with them cannot be healthy.

To illustrate the stance, I often joke with clients and say, “Did you know that talking to yourself is a sign of mental health?” I’ll then ask them, “Do you know how I know this is true?” As they look at me with a perplexed expression, I say, “I know this because I talk to myself and I’m an expert on mental health.” In a similar manner, you need to simply declare yourself normal. Part of being normal is having a few little quirks, which are no big deal. Look around. Notice the amazing variety of ways in which people are created and the amazing number of ways in which they adapt to and go through life. You probably view most of these differences as normal and not as signs of pathology. It’s time for you to begin to view yourself in the same manner.

A common mistake that prevents people from seeing themselves as normal is confusing normal with perfect. Like Mary or Robert, those with a core belief that they are inferior in some way, often try to make up for it through perfectionism. If you can act “good enough” or do something “worthy,” you can become acceptable. However, the unrealistic expectations associated with perfectionism cause you to see those actions and accomplishments as inadequate. This in turn reinforces the core belief that you are inferior.

Kimberly provides a good example of someone confusing normalcy with perfection. The unrealistic standards of her father taught Kimberly that only perfection was acceptable. This caused her to see her posttraumatic stress reaction as a major failure rather than as a normal response to an abnormal situation.

The force that drives the confusion of perfection with normalcy is the desire to be accepted by others. Mary, Robert, and Kimberly all had developed a core belief that others expected them to be perfect and that anything less would cause rejection. This false belief came from their childhood experiences of rejection by perfectionistic parents.

Redefining what is normal is one of the keys to achieving long-term recovery. A normal human is not perfect. Everyone has weaknesses and regularly makes mistakes . If you have a sensitive body you will experience more physical reactions to events than someone with a less sensitive body. Mary, Robert, and Kimberly were very tolerant of imperfection in others but had difficulty applying this view to themselves. As time passed, however, and they were able to see that normal does not mean perfect, they became more forgiving of their mistakes and temporary lapses into old patterns.