You live a normal life. You’ve got friends, you’ve got hobbies and you’re happy to spend 20 minutes hunting for the toothpaste at the pharmacy rather than – No! Anything but that! – asking a shop assistant for help. Trust us, that behaviour is normal, because all of us are a little, well, quirky. And in most cases, our idiosyncrasies are curable, or at least curbable.
We asked psychiatrists, psychologists and other experts to weigh in on some odd behaviours that are surprisingly common. You might recognise one of them in yourself and wonder, Am I normal or not?
The answer is always yes and yes.
Why am I awkward around kids?
Why am I awkward around kids? I have nothing to say to people under 12, and frankly, I don’t find them particularly cute. What’s wrong with me?
“I hear this all the time,” says Charlynn Ruan, a clinical psychologist who works, ironically enough, mostly with mothers. “A lot of them say, ‘The only children I like are my own’.”
At the root of this more-common-than-you’d-expect dread is the ever-potent fear of embarrassment.
One common concern is that ‘out of the mouths of babes’ will come a truth no one wants to hear. ‘That man smells funny, Mummy.’ ‘Wow, lady, you must eat a lot of food.’ ‘What are all those lines on your face?’
Then there’s the cringe factor of doting parents – and worse, grandparents! – hovering nearby, convinced that everything their child says should be etched in stone. No wonder you’re uncomfortable talking to the little scallywags.
But there’s a solution, says psychiatrist Dr Howard Forman: grab a book and read to the kid. That puts you in the driver’s seat and gives you something to say.
Normal or Nuts Rating: 2 (from 1 to 10, with 10 being certifiably bonkers)
You’re not all that nutty.
I cannot make a decision to save my life.
I cannot make a decision to save my life. Choosing between reading and taking a walk can take all afternoon. It took me forever to choose to write this note.
An inability to make even minor decisions – not just taking your time to weigh your options – is an actual disorder, says psychiatrist Dr David M. Reiss. It can result in functional paralysis: if you literally can’t decide what to do next, you don’t do anything.
The term for this is abulomania, says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina. “Abulomania sufferers are normal in practically every other way. They simply run into very serious problems whenever they’re faced with certain choices, to the extent that they struggle to regain normal function.”
It often comes from being raised by such controlling parents that the sufferer never learnt how to make decisions, says Ruan. But it can also come from anxiety. In that case, the person becomes so worried about the impact of a decision that he or she simply decides not to decide.
In either case, the sufferer could greatly benefit from therapy or medical treatment.
Normal or Nuts Rating: 7
This behaviour is driving you nuts, but therapy can help.
I can't ask for help.
I’d sooner spend 20 minutes searching the shop shelves for the thing I need than ask the shop assistant for help.
Two phobias are probably at work here: the fear of appearing stupid and the fear of imposing on someone, says author Dr Friedemann Schaub. In both cases, the person doesn’t want to be a burden to the employee, even though that’s what the employee is paid to do – serve you.
But lurking beneath the fear of asking for help is the secondary fear of being thought inconsiderate for not reciprocating. “You feel embarrassed to leave the store without buying something if you took up their time,” says Dr Schaub. But if you don’t ask for assistance, you can leave empty-handed without feeling guilty.
The truth is that most shop assistants are bored and would love the distraction – and momentary fulfilment – of helping you. “People want to be needed,” says clinical psychologist Alan Hilfer. “Sometimes I watch a tourist asking for directions and I can’t wait to get in there and say, ‘I can help you’.”
So if you don’t see what you’re looking for, ask. You just may make someone a little happier.
Normal or Nuts Rating: 3
A little nutty but highly curable.