It is often said that it is only a thin hairline of difference between mental illness and mental health. We live in a chaotic life with both extremes of our behaviors. From childhood transitions of human growth up to the decline of our aging years, we all encountered mental or emotional disturbances but tried our best to achieve an optimum mental balance.
The idea that we are all “borderline” neurotics was started by Sigmund Freud which is still the most popular trend regarding normality among psychoanalysts. It was labeled that normality is an ideal fiction which is the acceptance of the universality of neurosis. Freud believed that our indefinite emotions is the alteration of the ego. However, through the years some psychoanalysts later developed their own independent systems of basic notions of normality. In Jungian psychology, the healthy person strives for perfection and tends toward adequacy and completeness within the framework of society he belongs. Carl Jung believed in the process of forming and specializing one’s individual nature with the goal of personality development within a group setting. Here the individual is not a separate being and has a “collective relationship” with the community. And this process of individual differentiation must lead to a deeper and universal collective solidarity, and not to one’s “isolation”. On the other hand, Erik Erikson’s concept of personality development is the successful mastery of the seven (7) stages of development essential to the attainment of of normal adult functioning and maturity. And in every stages, the “ego” is subjected to a number of trials, disruptions and potential crisis in one’s life span. He believes that a mature and “normal” person is one who successfully overcome the obstacles in each and every stage of his development. Note that Erikson defines normality in terms of the end product of one’s behavior over a certain period of time. Now, according to Alfred Adler, the ideally normal individual is one who exhibited the greatest benefit to society. Adler says that when one considers human normality, it is both important and crucial to determine whether the individual is a burden or an asset to society at large and whether he/she contributes towards the progressive development of man.
In the past century, there were some psychiatric studies conducted to both normal and abnormal populations. The studies of Masterson et al. is an investigation in which an absence of psychiatric treatment is the determining factor for selecting a normal population which acted as a control group. The patient (abnormal) group consist of 101 adolescents who were referred for consultation to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic of New York Hospital. The control, or non-patient group includes 101 adolescents who never experienced any consultation with psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist. They were matched to the patient group according to age, sex, grade, race, religion and school. Also, they were selected at random from New York City highschools. And by studying the normal group and contrasting it with the patient (abnormal) group, Masterson et al. tried to develop information on what can be considered normal and eventually arrive at an operational definition of “normality”.
It is true that we still believe if a person is healthy (normal), then he is not sick. However, there is no such being as the normal person except as an ideal and we are all relatively neurotic. Psychoanalysis agrees that conflict is part of our daily lives and a state of rationality means being a civilized human being. Finally, it can be acceptable to quote,” To be neurotic is human”.
For more information
Normality by Daniel Offer and Melvin Sabshin
Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, New York City
Masterson,J.F. – Psychopathology in adolescence: clinical and dynamic characteristics.
Erik Erikson – Identity and the life cycle; Growth and crisis of the healthy personality;
The problem of ego identity; Childhood and society.
Sigmund Freud – Psychopathology of everyday life.
Alfred Adler – Social interest: Challenge to mankind.
Carl Gustav Jung – Basic Writings of V.Staub De Laszio.