Is normal the goal?

The opening keynote at SexCon last week was delivered by sex and relationship therapist Chris Donaghue. He was introduced as a "rebel and provocateur" and it was obvious within minutes why. Donaghue is a buster-up of stereotypes and the gender binary. He's an advocate of redefining sexy and finding the "power" in "fat". But one of the first things Donaghue said that caught my ear was, "normal is not the goal,"

I knew where Donaghue was going with this. He was challenging the idea that "normal" is a universal standard to which we should all aspire. Don't be normal, be yourself...even if that is someone who doesn't always look like everyone else. I am with him 100% on that message. I said on Twitter last week, "spare me the Back to School photos, give a random photo of your kid doing something different," I yearn to see the original, especially on social media where every family is always shown as perfect, warm and loving. However, the the idea of "normal as a goal" connotes something different and positive for one population: abuse survivors.

I am not a therapist but I often hear "is this normal?" from women I speak with at conferences, trainings or support groups. They are asking about pain during sex, about having a hard time making everyday decisions or about their reluctance to trust people. And all of this is normal...if you are a sexual abuse survivor. And while it can be reassuring for an abuse survivor to hear that a particular reaction or behavior is not just in her head, this kind of normal is not usually desired.

For abuse survivors, then, the idea of "normal" often means a reconnecting with her past self: who she was before she was abused. She wants to get back to that person; that would feel "normal" for her. (This is obviously more challenging if the survivor was abused as a child.) It's healthy to want something different than her current experience, something that feels better and more like what "everyone else" seems to be experiencing. It's okay to have normal as a goal, if you're an abuse survivor.

I have a few spaces in my upcoming sexual abuse survivor support group that starts September 13. It's free and happening in Durham. Click here for more details.