One of the most popular questions posed by young people to their therapists is this: “Am I normal?” They posit that a baseline for normal exists, and there are gradations of deviating from it. Worrying that they do not fit the bill for what normal thoughts, emotions, and behaviors should be can cause a great deal of concern.
A fundamental way to move forward when being treated by a therapist is to learn to retire the concept of “normal.” Some therapists remind their clients that normal is a setting on a dishwasher or dryer. Using it as a barometer against which clients must measure all thoughts and actions proves unrealistic and unproductive.
Living During the Pandemic Altered the Concept of “Normal”
A world gripped by the coronavirus caused everyone to throw out the old, familiar ways. For the past year, the phrase “the new normal” has been a mantra of sorts. Society experienced adapting to concepts like social distancing and staying home most of the time as the new normal.
For young people who are already struggling with substance use disorder, adjusting to change often proves difficult. Now that medical staff are administering vaccines to so many, society has begun a reopening process. The expectation that everything goes back to “normal” can be challenging to grasp. This concept may be tough if the person never felt normal, to begin with.
They may become nervous about how to assimilate from a pandemic world to the next version of it. People excitedly anticipate the reopening of their world. They may also struggle with anxiety over not being sure what that world will look and feel like.
Trying to Be “Normal” Stresses Adolescents Out
Children often feel free to express themselves in a variety of ways. They haven’t yet reached the stage of life when peer pressure begins to shape their behavior. Around the time the teenage years start, many young people worry excessively about being perceived as normal. Trying to fit that mold can cause anxiety in their worlds. A skilled clinician can help their young clients let go of the concept of normal.
Many people who suffer from an addiction to alcohol or drugs also experience co-occurring disorders. Pressure to appear and feel normal proves tough enough. A young person often deems it necessary to hide or quickly conquer mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. The pandemic may have exacerbated those underlying conditions. They might feel mired in an inability to conceal their truth.
Ways Adolescents Can Express Their Individuality
A certain amount of concern about being similar to others can be beneficial. When it becomes the sole goal a young person shoots for, it becomes problematic. Try opening a dialogue with your clients about how to honor their individuality. Doing so without concern about if others will perceive a client’s individuality as normal can be liberating.
Many adolescents want to wear the latest style of clothing. Point out to your clients that taking fashion risks can pay off, too. Letting their personalities shine through via their clothing choices can help them feel true to themselves. They may even start a trend among their peers.
Expressing themselves through artistic arenas can help them feel more centered. Pouring their feelings of abnormality into artwork, the written word, and other creative outlets can feel empowering. Many books, songs, and works of art showcase negative emotions for which the creators needed an outlet. Challenge your clients to vent fears and feelings of inadequacy via the visual, written, and performance art worlds.
Social Media Can Promote False Images About Normalcy
A Pew Research Study found a correlation between teen usage of social media and stress related to self-concept. When engaging in social media, many teenagers develop a concern about:
- Pressure to post lots of content that showcases them in a positive and attractive light
- Appearing to have an active social life and romantic interactions
- Seeing posts and pictures about peer events to which others did not invite them
- Feeling unpopular if they do not receive a lot of comments and likes on their posts
- Viewing content others have posted about them without permission or that showcases them negatively
Struggling With Addiction Is a Commonality for Many Young People
Some of your clients may feel like an outsider due to their substance use disorder. Remind them that they are not alone. A report from the Journal of Adolescent Health concludes that substance use by young people was concerning during the pandemic. Before COVID-19, an estimated 28.6% of teenagers used alcohol. Since the pandemic, the number rose to 30.4% and the use of cannabis also increased.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, ten million young people aged 12-29 need treatment for substance abuse disorder. Sadly, only about 10% of them will receive professional treatment. This means young people share their disorder with more peers than they may realize. While no one wants to “normalize” addiction, it can prove helpful for young clients to know they do not suffer alone.
Young people expend a great deal of energy worrying if they are “normal.” Peer pressure provides the impetus to want to fit in, but the concept of normal is fluid. Trying to be and feel normal can cause many adolescents to feel they can never live up to unrealistic expectations. The pandemic itself forced people to redefine normal, challenging people to revisit their views on their lives. Sustain Recovery provides long-term treatment plans that help young people understand themselves and remove the pressure to be perfect or so-called “normal.” We recognize that drugs and alcohol are not the problems but rather the unhealthy solutions our young clients tried to apply to their issues. Our Southern California campus offers individual and family therapy, as well as treatment for co-occurring disorders. We provide schooling to keep your child from losing out on their education. Call us now at (949) 407-9052 to find out how we can help.