Yesterday, when I passed by the labels on the complimentary shampoo and conditioner in our hotel room in NYC, I knew what today’s blog title would be:
I think I know what the shampoo/conditioner manufacturer means by “normalizing.” I’m more interested in how you might define that word.
just entered this on my keyboard:
and I’m not sure how to normalize that.
Let’s see if there’s a definition of “normalizing” on the internet, before I tell you how I use the word “normalizing” in my work as a therapist.
gerund or present participle: normalizing
1. bring or return to a normal condition or state.
“he wants to begin negotiations to normalize relations”
multiply (a series, function, or item of data) by a factor that makes the norm or some associated quantity such as an integral equal to a desired value (usually 1).
I just want to normalize my reactions to that definition, for a moment:
Who decides what normal is?
Here’s how I use normalizing in my work. When people come into my office and say things like:
- I feel crazy
- I am scared
- I can’t get over this
- All these awful things have happened to me
- I am stuck
- I can’t change things
- Nobody understands me
- I was abused
- I am sick
- I am dying
- I’m afraid I’m dying
- I didn’t expect this
- My life is not what I want it to be
- I am overwhelmed
- I’ve had too many losses
- I’m helpless
- I can’t stop crying
- The world confuses me
… it’s important for me to authentically normalize the person’s experience. How do I do that? By saying things I truly believe in response, such as:
- You’re not alone.
- I would expect you to be feeling that way.
- If you were NOT feeling that way, I would be surprised.
- That sounds like a human reaction, considering all you’re dealing with.
That’s the first step, I believe.
I now choose to normalize this post by showing you some photos from yesterday, as I traveled back from NYC to my home in Boston:
When my friend Deb and I arrived in NYC Friday night, the hotel gave us a room that was below ground, with all the windows blacked out. We did not think that was normal. Deb, who is normally very effective in improving situations, convinced the hotel to give us a more normal room for Saturday night. One of the ways the second room was more normal is shown in the photo above: the very confusing shower had a normalizing explanation (as opposed to our first shower, which we had to normalize on our own).
We met these two women at a Penn Station store, when we were buying water for the train trip back to Boston. (I normally get thirsty for water, no matter what.) I asked if I could take their photo for this blog. Does that seem normal to you? Here’s how that happened:
Me: I just want to tell you this is the most expensive water I’ve ever bought, anywhere.
Anwara (on the right): Well, you know, it’s New York.
Me: It’s probably going to be especially delicious, right?
Shamiana: (gesturing to the brand name on the water bottle): It’s SmartWater, for a Smart Lady!
Me: Great. Can I take your picture for my blog?
Anwara: You must love us.
Me: I do.
Per normal, I took other photos yesterday, which I shall now present (as I normally do, chronologically), without normalizing them with explanations:
I will normalize one more photo, taken at our local supermarket last night, as my boyfriend Michael and I did our normal Sunday night shopping:
I took a photo of that after I had placed it in THE WRONG SHOPPING CART. When two people (not pictured) realized I had done that and approached me about it, I tried to normalize the situation by saying this:
I guess I thought you both really needed napkins.
Do you think THAT’s normal? And, have I adequately defined “normalizing” in this post? No matter what your reactions are, I’m sure you’re not alone.
Thanks to our NYC hotel, Deb, Oscar, Shamiana, Anwara, Amtrak (for the normal train rides), the Star Market, Michael, the two people who gave me back the napkins, and to you — of course! — for normalizing things here, today.