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I used to have an obsessive fear of being weird.
When I was 26, I actually came to the therapist for the first time with a clear intent: to assure myself, that I’m normal.
This is not a joke!
When the therapist asked me what I came with I said:
“Well, I need you to tell me one thing. I speak 5 languages, I played guitar professionally, I teach Cuban salsa, I run a successful educational NGO and work in one of the most competitive industries in the world — but I still feel like I’m never enough. I constantly doubt myself and I feel frustration anytime my name is called out loud at work — afraid that I have screwed something up. Could you please tell me if I’m normal?”
At that point in my life, I felt chronic anxiety, occasional depressions and I couldn’t slow my mind down. I felt so weird that I was worried I might be bipolar, OCD or schizophrenic, or some other label that could explain what I felt.
“Well, I might disappoint you,”
“but, we don’t have such diagnosis in psychology.”
That was quite confusing to me. Wasn’t it weird?
Normal people are the weirdest (or boring)
I was just trying to be a normal guy!
Although, how does this phrase sound to you?
“I’m the most normal guy ever.”
Sounds suspicious, doesn’t it? It sounds like a weird guy trying to convince you that he’s not. Or a guy that’s proud of how boring he is.
“I’m so normal that I can’t surprise you with anything at all”
This phrase is a perfect definition of boring. But that wasn’t what I was truly saying.
And neither I was saying it out of humility. Like when Wim Hof or Dalailama claim they’re like any other person and anyone can do what they did — what they’re doing is normal.
I was asking out of fear. And this is what I was looking for in trying to be normal and not weird:
“I am so normal, that there is nothing I could do that would make you judge me and reject me.”
It was a Nice Guy Syndrome in an extreme form! But I didn’t know this back then. So I kept searching for a unicorn.
Normal does not exist
The problem is, that the psychological “normal” is an illusion.
It does not exist objectively. The “norm” is created in the mind of the person watching. Everyone who is afraid of being weird has their own definition of “normal”.
The normal in New York can get you killed in Saudi Arabia and vice-versa. The normal for a farmer can be outrageous for a banker and vice-versa. The normal for a father can be weird for his son and vice-versa.
There are as many “normal” as there are humans in the world.
Normal is defined by context and context always changes.
It’s impossible to define “normal” objectively because it doesn’t exist. Therefore, let’s look at it emotionally:
“Weird and Normal are both feelings.”
Being weird feels like being too different
When you receive validation from your environment, you feel good in your own skin.
It’s the feeling when others give you a message: “You’re okay the way you are.” It feels like being liked, being a source of fun, positivity, being a valuable person in the eyes of others — you’re validated.
Validation tells you, you’re good enough. Fear of being weird is a fear of losing that validation for being too different.
It is based on an assumption, that objective “normal” exists and something requires you to conform with it to be accepted by others and survive socially.
If you feel out of alignment with that “normal” you must feel unsafe because of the constant threat of possible rejection that can happen when your weirdness is exposed.
The threat of no one laughing at your joke. The threat of awkward silence. The threat of being completely misunderstood.
What all these have in common is, that when it happens, the voice inside your head concludes: “I’m not okay.”
The voice inside your head that’s not you
When the subconscious starts to sabotage your efforts, it gets very confusing.
It feels like it’s not you doing it, but it’s still there and it wants the exact opposite of what you want. It’s like a voice in your head, that you can hear clearly, but it’s not you. It’s incredibly annoying.
It’s like a saboteur in your head yelling:
“Hey! Don’t do that! You’ll die! ”
— while all you do is trying to tell a joke.
What kind of rock had it crawled from under?!
Hold your hat — it’s here to help you!
Want for validation is deeply ingrained in every human being. As kids, we needed to feel validated and loved by our parents and environments in order to form our identity — to define ourselves and create a sense of who we are.
But with no prior reference point about who we were, mixed with an inability to make sense out of the world we found ourselves in, we became what others saw us being. That’s how we could — at least temporarily — define ourselves.
Even though there is no fixed point in the universe because everything is relative, we have temporarily fixed ourselves upon the image others had about us — and we defined it as our “normal”.
Since then, anytime we broke their image of “normal” we got into trouble. Trouble meant feeling incompetent, awkward, embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, not being good enough, or feeling like a failure and other uncomfortable feelings.
These feelings were an effect of losing the validation of those around us.
Losing validation felt extremely uncomfortable, so we started to fear it — that’s fear of invalidation. This gave birth to a strong want to prevent that fear from coming true — want for validation.
Fear of invalidation = want for validation. Fear of rejection = want for acceptance. Fear of being weird = want to be normal.
It’s all the same thing.
So that saboteur initially wanted good for you — he wanted you to survive those terrible feelings a long time ago so he gives you hints on what you should and shouldn’t do to avoid them.
He’s a defense mechanism.
But because the real you wanted something else than he did, you suppressed him deep in the subconscious so that you could do your thing uninterrupted.
But he came back, yelling louder. You suppressed him again. And that’s what you two are doing to this day.
Actually — we all are. We only differ in our definitions of weird and strategies to avoid it. But the nature of the voice is the same for all of us.
“Don’t say that…” “Don’t go there…” “Don’t post that…”
“…you’ll be WEIRD!”
In our efforts to deal with the voice, all of us are somewhere on the scale between these two poles: 1. The Fight: Resistance and self-fulfilling prophecy 2. The Surrender: Acceptance and having fun.
1. The Fight: Resistance and self-fulfilling prophecy
Emotional releasing is based on the idea that every emotion wants to be felt so it can leave the body and the psyche can heal itself.
When we try to figure the emotion out logically instead of feeling it, we start creating our lives around its avoidance — we are avoiding the feeling and it grows in intensity.
Imagine you have a thorn in your skin, but you don’t want to pull it out because it would cause pain. Instead — you put a plaster on it. When it hurts, you buy painkillers. When you can’t write with that hand anymore, you learn to write with the other hand.
You have avoided the pain of pulling the thorn out successfully and instead, you have 10 plasters over it, a swollen hand, you’re on painkillers and can’t write, shower, and drive anymore. How much pain did you really avoid?
As Carl Jung put it:
"What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size"
When the focus on avoiding feeling weird consumes our whole being, we eventually become that which we fear the most — weirdos for others.
2. The surrender: With acceptance, weird becomes normal and you’re just having fun
Avoiding being weird is impossible both logically, and emotionally. Knowing you can’t really avoid it, you might as well accept it. And if you have to accept it, why not enjoy it?
See if you can enjoy your weirdness! Because you can! If you think you can’t, you just can’t imagine it yet.
To let go of feeling weird, just do things that might feel good, things that are fun, but they can make you feel a bit weird — and feel the whole thing fully.
If you give yourself permission to feel weird, you stretch the comfort of how much weirdness you are able to withstand in your pursuit of feeling good and having fun.
Have fun by being weird on purpose! Some people built their business around that.
Do something that does not make any sense. Give compliments to strangers. Tell a joke!
And then allow yourself to feel the whole package! Don’t react by beating yourself up — just relax and feel it all.
Oh, and don’t try to do it all at once!
Do one thing at a time and stay consistent. Growing 1% per day compounds into 2.700% per year. Feel as much as you can, not more.
And importantly — give yourself credit for doing a good job!
The fastest way to healing fear of being weird is by doing things that are fun and feeling both weird and fun.
When the want for validation is felt consciously, it is being slowly released and it diminishes until only the joyful feeling remains. Gradually, a sense of independence from the outside validation will be replaced with joyful self-expression.
That’s doing things because of a deep inner sense of feeling good. The right thing feels good whether it’s validated or not. Weird becomes normal and you might as well enjoy it too.
You’ll be weird and you’ll also be normal. It won’t make any sense. But you will be having fun.
Download free e-books on How To Heal Your Inner Nice Guy and The Integrated Man: Authentic Masculinity checklist.