I am not sure I have ever said ‘I want to feel normal.’ In fact, I think I have been one of those people at the other end of the spectrum who has made a point of being different and expressed my independence at every opportunity. Being unique and authentic has been a lifelong task. For me, it came from feeling controlled and pressured to conform growing up.
In some ways, these two expressions have a similar motivation. A desire for connection and acceptance. In other words, when you want to feel normal it is because you want to connect, and expressing differences is a desire to be seen and understood.
You may express a desire to be normal in the context of your differentness experienced as wrong or bad. My expression of being different was in reaction to control and had similar feelings of being unacceptable attached to it. So even though I did not consciously want to be like everybody else and conform, there was a struggle between being myself and not fitting in.
There is an illusion of safety through sameness.
Difference threatens people. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, and war are examples of how this gets played out in society. In relationships, you can feel disconnected and rejected as your differences emerge. So we put pressure on each other to be the same. Families and cultures express norms that try to keep people in line and bring together your group, country, or religion.
No matter what your upbringing is, the struggle to come to terms with who you are and your place in the world impacts everyone to some degree. The more violent and abusive your upbringing and life have been, the greater your struggle to find acceptance will be. From this perspective, the internal pressure to conform is a result of rejection that you internalize.
Let’s look at an example. If you grew up with continual criticism about being emotional, you would eventually shut down your emotions. Whenever you started to feel anything you would get anxious and thoughts such as; no one will want to be with me if I am emotional, would reinforce the struggle to suppress your feelings. It is easy to see how this would lead to the conclusion that emotions represent being outside and not belonging.
On the other hand, the expression of wanting to be normal can also come from a sense of something within you being out of whack. That you don’t feel right within yourself, and this is a signal to examine what is your authentic self.
How do you belong without diminishing yourself?
The simple answer is that you already belong as you are. You are unique. Your individuality and expression add to the rich diversity and creativity that is being human.
We could say all that is human is normal. Which includes the messy, awkward, self-conscious, defensive, and disconnected behaviours and habits that you express. Whether you are open and inviting or closed and protective, they all have a story to tell. That story reflects your experience, and as you give attention to that experience, a new story begins to be told. Change is healthy.
When you can connect to others’ differences the easier it becomes to express yours. The more you connect as you are, you realize that we all belong. Curiosity is healthy and fosters new learning and growth. It is the feeling of separation that destroys your ability to be at ease with who you are. Separation encourages paranoia and a sense of others as hostile which can lead to harsh judgments and hatred. It is easy to see how your sense of belonging would be harder to experience under these conditions.
It is human to want to connect, and it is through a connection you feel human.