Are you normal or nuts? | Sunday Observer

Are you normal or nuts?

4 October, 2020

When you do something strange, people ask: “What are you, some kind of nut?” They are obviously not referring to coconuts which are very much in the news. They are simply questioning your sanity. Like every computer, most of us have little quirks or strange habits.

In a way, we all have little foibles. Psychologists who have analysed quirks, foibles and wacky habits of people believe that they make us all too human. Still, some of us wonder whether our nutty behaviour means that we are really nuts!

Psychologists say none of us is quite as sane as we seem, but neither is every weird thing we do irrefutable proof of insanity.

Sometimes we hear of people who have strange dreams even when they are taking a nap. When they wake up, they realise that the dreams are not real.

According to psychologists, it is quite normal to have strange dreams. Dr Margaret King, an expert in consumer psychology, says if you can forget the strange dream when you wake up, there is nothing to fear. You may have seen people who laugh for a long time and then cry when they listen to a good joke. Why do they laugh and cry shedding tears? Dr Archelle, a US healthcare expert, says crying is not a sign of sadness, but a sign of feeling deep emotions. So it can be triggered by stress, suffering, happiness, or even orgasm. But we are embarrassed when others see us shedding tears.

The best course of action is not to react that way. You can mentally prepare yourself not to cry when you laugh. When you get emotional, you shed tears. There’s nothing to worry about it.

Chewing food

A female friend of mine confessed that she is sickened to see people making a sound when they chew food with their mouths open. We are supposed to chew food with our mouths closed. However, there are people who do not follow this rule. A US psychologist says if you get irritated by such sounds, you may be suffering from an obscure malady called “misophonia” which is a condition characterised by an intense loathing of a range of sounds, including the sound made by people when they eat.

The only remedy seems to be to train yourself to be less bothered by such noises. Sometimes when you hear a strange name of a person or place, you may not be able to get it out of your head for days or weeks. Prof. Franklin Schneier says such annoyances are not serious. If you cannot get over it, try a more aggressive approach. Repeat the strange name several times. When you do so, you will simply get sick of it. If possible try to remember the funny name and display your erudition. Your guests will be surprised.

When I visited my grandmother a long time ago, I saw one of her rooms filled with old newspapers, empty bottles, cardboard boxes, old clothes and broken pieces of furniture.

When I asked her why she was keeping them, she said, “I want to get rid of them one day.”

A US psychologist says hoarding becomes more common in old age. Some experts believe that it is a way of denying ageing.

That means objects live on while the body decays. Sometimes hoarders themselves do not know why they are doing it. Hoarding becomes a problem when the hoarder does not get involved in any other activity such as entertaining guests. In the United States, psychologists treat compulsive hoarders by gradually exposing them to the thing they are afraid of. I persuaded my grandmother to part with some of her “precious possessions” and she complied. I was able to empty her room of all the rubbish before she breathed her last.

Old age

Do people go nuts in their old age? Very often we hear remarks, such as “My grandpa is nuts” or “My dad is getting nutty.” One reason for such remarks is that many oldies tend to forget names and things. Although loss of memory is not an inevitable part of the ageing process, some elderly people simply cannot remember important events in their lives. When a journalist questioned President J.R. Jayewardene in his old age, he said he could not remember many things he had done as the President. When older adults are held in high esteem as in China, people are less likely to show memory losses.

When older people in Western countries are reminded of the advantages of old age, they tend to do better in IQ tests. People in the West believe that age brings wisdom.

The question whether you are normal or nuts has remained unanswered for some time. Psychologists have paid much attention to how to distinguish normal from abnormal behaviour. Because of the difficulty in distinguishing normal from abnormal behaviour, they have devised a scientific definition of abnormal behaviour.

In the first place, abnormality can be treated as a deviation from the average. We can observe what behaviours are rare in a particular society and label the deviations as abnormal. However, some statistically rare behaviours cannot be classified as abnormal. For instance, a person with a high IQ is statistically rare, but he is not abnormal. Abnormality has been defined as a deviation from the ideal.

However, society has a few standards on which people agree. They have faith in many religions. As such, there cannot be any agreement on a common ideal. Therefore, this approach has been found to be thoroughly inadequate.


Thirdly, abnormality can be treated as a sense of personal discomfort. However, even this definition has limitations. For instance, in some severe forms of mental disturbance, people feel happy. Another definition of abnormality is the inability to function effectively. Most people can adjust themselves to changing patterns and demands of society.

According to this definition, those who fail to adjust themselves to changing patterns and demands of society are abnormal. For instance, a street beggar may not be able to function effectively in society. It does not mean that he is abnormal in his behaviour.

Courts have considered abnormality as a legal concept. A US court found that Andrea Yates was quite sane when she drowned her five children in a bathtub.

Although you may not agree with the verdict, the distinction between normal and abnormal behaviour rests on the definition of insanity. The trouble with this definition of insanity is that it varies from one jurisdiction to another. On appeal, Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Throughout history, people linked abnormal behaviour to superstition and witchcraft. Abnormal people were supposed to be possessed by the devil. In the past, abnormal people had been treated with severe forms, such as whipping, immersion in hot water, starvation or other forms of torture. Today, different types of abnormal behaviour are treated differently and humanely.

Abnormal beliefs

Apart from abnormal behaviours, there are abnormal beliefs. The most common of which are persecution and grandiosity. In the first instance, a person claimed that the Royal family and the British Home Office were conspiring to kill him.

In the second instance, a person claimed that he was Christ reborn. Such beliefs are held with extraordinary conviction.

They are resistant to counter arguments or contradictory evidence. However, psychologists believe that true delusions are incomprehensible because they arise suddenly without any context.

The Buddha used different methods with different people afflicted with abnormality.

The rehabilitation of each of these individuals was based on his theory of suffering, but the techniques applied varied with each person. Rahulovada Sutta is a compendium on educating and rehabilitating an obsessed child. While Queen Khema was an example of narcissism, Kisagotami was a neurotic.

The Buddha reaffirmed mind as the forerunner of deeds. The abnormal behaviour is due to Kamma conditioned consciousness. However, Sigmund Freud’s views on abnormal behaviour are at odds with Buddhism. While Freud developed techniques to tap the unconscious, the Buddha depended heavily on wisdom to overcome abnormal behaviour.

[email protected]