Normalcy & Being the Welcome

Many people are concerned about normality. Appearing “normal”, doing things “right” to fit in, belong, be “good”. Most of us do this at one point or another, checking ourselves for acceptability. We may even swing between conformity and rejection of the scripts (as in cultural scripts we inherited that dictate acceptability, behavior, etc; see script theory). Or we may be in regular conflict with those that have more stringent requirements and expectations of normalcy that we are failing to meet. We do this acceptability assessment in many arenas: appearance, gender, sexuality, respectability/degrees/employment, family structure, possessions, etc.

 

 

The dictates and definitions of “normal” are part cultural/societal and familial, part personal history that create and reinforce constructs and subjective values through inheritance. Most of these “normal”cies are familiar and relate to the -isms: ex. sexism, racism, ableism, classism, ageism, sizism. Limited by a very specific world view and reinforced by the people and structures that benefit from them, the isms create categories of inclusion/exclusion of rights and worth – keeping few front and centered and many out.  The categorization of people (“normal and acceptable” vs not) become tools of control.  For ex., often the “out” is pathologized through this othering and the –isms – the history of medicine is replete with examples of equating “different” with “sick”.  The others, by definition, are abnormal, pathologic, marginal, dismissible, supplement, “extra” and are expected to, at the very least aspire to the idealized normal, if not actively striving to become it.

 

 

Who, historically, has been defined as normal? What do/did they look like? How do systems and privilege keep them centered? (think of system feedback loops, biases, access to resources/privilege)

 

 

Ideas of normality are applied beyond characteristics of people to situations, emotional states, etc.  Examples are sex or challenging events like the death of a loved one or a big life change.  With sex, as well as gender, ideas about normality can limit you and keep you in anxiety.  With grief and other challenging personal or group situations, there are imposed and often unrealistic expectations about processing (who should feel what, and when, and for how long – sounds like pathologizing), which creates resistance and/or shuts people down to their actual experiences and needs.

 

 

In essence, labels of “normal”cy create false dualities – simplistic, but also limiting by drawing hard lines.  In reality, where one category ends and another beings is gray and subjective.

 

 

What’s under this desire for normalcy? – do we really want to be “normal” and ascribe to this harmful, subjective worldview, or are we seeking something else?  I believe that we are looking for acceptance, love, community, belonging, personhood, agency, not necessarily “normalcy”.  Loneliness and isolation (and their relatives/companions of stress, trauma, addiction, narcissism) become a part of the human condition that are deeply felt when community is built on ‘othering’ and fear (like now, but also most the past hundreds, if not thousands of years).

 

 

Be the Welcome

 

**What if we knew we were normal? That we mattered?, are beloved and rejoiced?**

 

 

Part of the work is reclamation of value and acceptance, even pride in and celebration of what historically had been marginalized or pathologized.  This is where much social justice work happens – educating the public in the spectrum of humanity, dismantling normatives, and celebrating the diversity of identity.  Creation of spaces specific to disenfranchised identity are a common, yet invaluable, healing tool (ex events open only to BIPOC, women’s/womxn’s circles, gay clubs, kink spaces, etc) that allow containers for safety, exploration and reclamation of identity, community, and personal and group emotional work.  For example, I facilitate womxn’s circles (info here) and am training as a sexuality counselor, so I am deeply familiar, personally and professionally, with the need and utilization of safe spaces around gender, sexuality, and lifestyle – I don’t just talk the talk but do the boots on the ground work of community building.

 

 

But here we are, still in categories of acceptability to some extent, which keeps some in and others out. So, paradoxically, the work then becomes one of both/and or both/all.  Recognizing the spectrum of humanity and significance of labels as reclamation and safety and healing work, but not clinging to identity and duality so tightly that you narrow your version of humanity. In other words, your categories are important – they normalize, highlight, give meaning to, even leverage what has been ignored or undervalued, but so too is your universality – you are much more than any label.

 

 

The spectrum and universality of humanity are how we create welcome and community.   There are no throw away people.  Hierarchies waver.  Concerns with normality (a hierarchy) are minimized as we grow to include individuals as they are.

 

 

One of my favorite tools of welcome is curiosity – ask more and assume less, beyond comfort and familiarity and expectation, and include yourself here too. Deep listening and genuine curiosity foster understanding, empathy, and compassion.  People want to be seen and heard and curiosity facilitates that kind of holding and soft receptivity.

 

Interested in more? – Womxn’s circles

 

We are working with the theme of Love Listens this month for our womxn’s circles through The Wild Woman Project. Please check out their posts and consider joining us for our next circles (womxn and family) on 10/18/2020 at The Resiliency Institute, theme Love Speaks Truth, pre-registration required.  Also see The Divine Feminine App for additional circles around the globe and perhaps local to you.

 

 

Questions for the reader:

  • How can you create the community you seek? (As Toko-pa Turner references as being the longing in her book Belonging and Anne Lamott references as the Book of Welcome, that is, her idea of a missing biblical book that all mattered in Small Victories).
  • How can you create or find safe spaces to nurture others, cherish them, offer compassion, and exemplify welcome? Where have you felt welcome?, and what created that felt sense?
  • How can you challenge and dismantle your own biases on normal, acceptability, and respectability?
    • What/who do you automatically exclude in your vision of community?
    • What work resonates with you, on redefining “normal” and dismantling systems of oppression?
  • How can you lessen your hold on certain identity to allow permeability and fluidity of heart between you and anOther (a space of both/and – comfort and vale of self as well as value and care of another)?
  • What are some conversation/deep listening prompts that you llike?
    • tell me about your experience with x, how do you identify?, what does ______ (insert some self identified category, such as gay) mean to you?
      • The last question in particular is enlightening and demonstrates the fluidity and subjectivity of language.
    • To a grave extent people of color who self-segregate are in collusion with the very forces of racism and white supremacy they claim they would like to see come to an end. Racism will never end as long as the color of anyone’s skin is the foundation of their identity” -bell hooks
      • What are the foundations of your identity and how do they collude with systems of oppression?

 

 

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Written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), shamanic practitioner, RYT 500, reiki master, and womxn’s circles and Death Café facilitator.  Written content is copyright protected.  Picture was taken by Jana Blue Photography at our Wild Family circle.

For more information on working with Allison, as a client or collaborator, please email at wildwomaninthesuburbs@gmail.com

 

 

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