Are You Normal?
As the mother of a neuro-diverse child and as, myself, an individual on the weird side, I like to say that normal is nothing more than a setting on your dryer.
What about you? Are there feelings, thoughts or experiences you are having that cause you to wonder if you are normal? Most likely, the answer is “yes.” Let’s talk about what is expected or developmentally appropriate (aka “normal”) at your age and stage of life for college students.
In an article in the American Psychologist (2000), Jeffrey Arnett suggests “emerging adulthood is the distinct period between 18 and 25 years of age where adolescents become more independent and explore various life possibilities … Emerging adults do not usually have sufficient income to become fully independent in their early to late 20s. It is a period of identity exploration, instability, self-focus, and feeling in-between.”
While Arnett’s concept of the emerging adult as distinct from adolescence and young adulthood has been disputed, this certainly can be a time of existential crisis, which can lead to developing a firm identity, if you allow it.
These years are the time to break down your value system, sex ethic, moral compass, faith framework of your family of origin and then rebuild. This can be an unsettling process, which is why I use the term “existential crisis.”
It’s a time to internalize your life choices. It can mean ownership of your family heritage, except now you understand and have personalized your life framework rather than being a certain way because it is how you have always been.
Sometimes it means challenging the ideas of your youth and diverging from the path of your family unit (or lack thereof).
Here are a few tips for navigating an existential crisis:
(from Psychology Today and Catherine Northington in Thought Catalog)
- Listen to yourself.
- Do not abandon the people you love (or who love you) in your quest for answers.
- Know when to seek and when to let go. It is OK to not have it all figured out.
- Focus on have: what you have accomplished.
- Remember it is not a contest. It is counter-productive to compare yourself to others.
- Think short term. One step at a time.
If you feel unsettled, unsure, questioning, or even a bit fearful, remind yourself this is developmentally appropriate — completely NORMAL. College can be a unique opportunity to grow academically and grow in personal awareness.
Now is the time to embrace this completely normal process. Rumble with the uncertainty. Ask questions. Explore. Go ahead and lean into existential crisis mode. Be open with your friend group and, if you really worry you are not “normal,” come visit with the counseling staff. I am always honored to walk this emerging adulthood journey alongside students.
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell