A Brave, New You: Learning to Live Fully and Freely

“The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does. They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.”  ~  Aldous Huxley, A Brave New World , Goodreads.com.

A friend of Psychology in Everyday Life recently posted this quote by Aldous Huxley.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I remember so many people whom I’ve counseled throughout the years, (patients, family and friends) who have suffered more from their loved one’s adjustment to a “normal” existence than their actual mental health condition. Let me share a story with you, to show you what I mean. Many years ago, a teenage boy was admitted to the inpatient adolescent psychiatric center at which I worked. He was admitted for explosive rage and signs of paranoia. In group psychotherapy, one day, the young man shared the event that got his parents to admit him to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. He had gotten into a fistfight with his father, because his father called him gay for wearing a pink shirt. Of course, the young man said, “My father denied that he said that to me.”

Later that evening, I attended group family therapy and got a chance to meet and observe the young man’s parents. As you know, adolescence is a time of trying to find oneself. Questions of identity can lead adolescents to dress in colorful ways. Unisex makeup, dress, and haircuts, safety pins in eyebrows, and a taste for the color black characterized the look of the young patients that evening. The black eyeliner circling their eyes seemed to say, “Heh, you adults, back off; don’t mess with me.” The only thing that let on that these non-conforming Gothic-dressed teenagers were actually harmless was the youthful blush that came to their faces when their moms gave them a hug or said something loving that made them smile. They were someone’s children. I could tell who the parents were of each child by the flow of warmth that connected them to each other, except for the young man whose fistfight with his father led to his hospitalization. Both of his parents were noticeably distant from their son, especially the father. The father looked at the young people in the room, like they had committed some evil crime. He had disdain in his eyes for these young people, but especially, for his son.

I understood so much that evening. I knew that this young man’s father had forfeited authentic self-expression long ago, in his own childhood. Someone in this man’s past stifled his inner voice, and so, now, he would stifle anyone or anything that didn’t consent to his view of the world.  He epitomized Huxley’s idea of abnormal normalcy. This man became so well adjusted to what others (parents, teachers, religion, society and culture) had told him to believe, and what was the right way to be, that his inner voice was silenced. Now, he doesn’t even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms mainly because he’s so shut down to his self. Other’s are ill or sick or bad or less than, rather than him. Because, according to him, he is “normal”.

My heart went out to the young man. The next day in psychotherapy, the young man asked me: “How can I get along with my father?” “How can I fit in?“ “I am not like my parents or even my friends.” “I want something different.” “I want to do good in this world.” To which I replied:

You know, I learned a long time ago that if I would dress like them (symbolically), I could make my way in this world, although I wasn’t like them.” “It’s okay to fit in, as long as you never lose your inner voice.” “You can be for the world, but not of it.”

Although he was only 16-years old, he understood me. I saw it in his eyes. And, the following day, I was told that he repeated what I had shared with him in group psychotherapy.  I don’t know what happened to this young man. I know he was being considered for antipsychotic medication to calm his rage outbursts and the possibility of a paranoid schizophrenic disorder. Yes, I know what some of you might be thinking right now. Was he being medicated to silence his inner voice? I don’t know; he might have had an underlying psychotic illness. Nonetheless, although this happened twenty-two years ago, I have never forgotten him, mainly because of how tough it was for him to be raised by people who believe that anything other than what they believe to be true is abnormal.

To Be Fully Human

It’s hard to be fully human in a world that is enslaved to ideas of the larger group. You can opt out of mainstream existence. This is your choice. Or, you can find a way to express your own voice in life while at the same time fitting into the world as it is. Because, there will always be a world normed with ideas and beliefs that organize us into a group of people. It’s the anchor that grounds us, but, can also be the context from which we can evolve into fully human beings, if we choose it to be.

What does it mean to be fully human? I like the great personality theorist and spiritual counselor Carl Roger’s take on the subject matter. In his classic text, On Becoming a Person (1961), Rogers sees being fully human as a process, rather than a state of being or destination; it’s a direction of living that moves you toward the authentic you. But, you have to challenge any ideas and beliefs that shut down this inner process. You have to live life bravely. Specifically, you open yourself to a living process that leads you to new, healthier psychological and spiritual expressions of yourself. To do this, you have to:

  1. Increasingly open up to experience, especially within you. Become less defensive. Open yourself to things that you do not understand or are unfamiliar to you. See what you think. You have a right to examine experience and to decide what you think for yourself. Acknowledge your fears and wounds and your feelings of awe and joy. By experiencing fully, you have choices. When you have choices, you live freely.
  2. Live increasingly in the present moment. This is mindful, existential living. When you dare to experience each moment as if it were new, then, you bring nothing to the moment other than your intuitive self. What things mean arise from your inner voice that is separate from those ego-based ideas and reasoning that twist and distort what’s happening into these structures of mind. Many of you are familiar with my post Love is Being Present. I knew my husband was talking about himself, rather than the roses, because I was open to the moment and to my inner voice. If I was controlling the process, then, my set ideas, resentments, and stereotypes would have led me to be defensive and much less sensitive to what he was saying.
  3. Increasingly learn to trust in yourself. You do know what’s right for you. When you become less defensive and present to the moment, you increasingly see that you can trust in your own self. YOU are the instrument for sensing what you need to live healthily and to evolve your life purpose.  You will increasingly get better at sensing the entirety of a situation in need, desire and demand and for determining courses of action that grow you into a fully functioning being.

If you liked my post today, please let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 it. Here is to a Brave New You! Warmly Deborah.




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16 Responses to “A Brave, New You: Learning to Live Fully and Freely”

  1. avatar renato tiamzon says:

    Wishing you a blessed day Dr. Deborah. I am impressed by your wonderful article. It expresses in simple terms the quandary many of today’s youth face in their efforts to “fit” in. I’ve seen many examples and instances of this. I’ve gone through this predicament as ,I would suppose,a lot of others in my generation (boomer) have. With your permission, I would like to share your article with other parents so that they may understand why their children behave and take on ways that they do within the context of our own gene rational struggle of, as you put it–“finding the authentic you”. Thank you most kindly and more power.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Renato, thank you for your kind words. I agree; it’s hard on the youth of today. It is a different world and they need support and understanding to help them to be able to create their lives as we have done. Yes, you can share this with other parents. Blessings to you too. Warmly Deborah.

  2. avatar Deana says:

    Great post, and excellent choice of epigraph. That feeling of being in though, not of the world, is ever present even now. Getting along in the world is far less difficult now for me than it was even 10 years ago. I too have had many talks with sensitive, uncommon, deep thinking and feeling youths similar to the one you describe, and my heart aches each time. I refer to the abnormally normal populace as the “worldlings, ” borrowing from some philosopher. I squeam every time someone asks me why everything always has to have meaning, because I know that soon I will be rejected and called a freak, or something along those lines. We dress and learn their speech patterns, we educate, grow, become, succeed, and establish a fulfilling yet insulated life among similar others, wherein we find solace and protection. We become fiercely independent and self-sufficient so the abnormally normal cannot have control over our daily existences and destinies. We know how they like to scare and exclude. Incidentally, I knew a little boy who had severe autism spectrum disorder. His mother was a brilliant surgeon, and a minority. She used to dress him in a shirt that said, “One day, you’re gonna work for me.” I would see him and think to myself, right on!

    • avatar Dr. Deborah says:

      Hello Dr. Deana, there are so many things you say here that speak to me. “Establish a fulfilling yet insulated life among similar others, wherein there is solace and safety.” Beautiful, because it’s very true. I also love your insight on how the worldlings ( I haven’t heard this term till now ) become “fiercely independent and self-sufficient so the ……cannot have control over their daily existence and destiny”. Also, an excellent insight. I know you have lived it. Thank you for your tireless service to the worldlings in the work you do with exceptional, learning disabled children. Warmly Deborah.

  3. avatar Rose Breeze says:

    You said “like” ? oh God i loved it…
    “When you have choices, you live freely” its so very true… and you really expressed it awesomely. I read it many times… don’t know why? but i cant stop thinking one thing… if the world is facing any kind of crisis, its bcz of these abnormally normal people… they intoxicate the natural settings… and i love that sweet line of yours a lot Dr. and i believe on it that freedom comes with choices…

    • avatar Dr. Deborah says:

      Thank you Rose Breeze. I’m glad you loved it. I love the subject very much; true to my heart too. Maybe you read it many times because to have it put into words that sometimes “normal” is abnormal is healing to so many people. You are very dear Rose Breeze. Thank you so much for your commitment and friendship and for your dedication to your psychological and growth. Warmly Deborah.

  4. Once again, Deb, you have identified what is very important for all of us to do, in our interactions with others. And, you have helped us see just how to bring about the best in our development and sense of living. I am so impressed.
    Warmly, Sal Maddi

  5. Great saying, and excellent way of thinking . I have had many talks with sensitive, uncommon, deep thinking, unbelieving way and feeling youths similar to the one you describe i like it so much…

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Waseem. Thank you. It is wonderful to listen and to help the youth of today. They are as you say, sensitive, uncommon and deep thinking…. Very true. Warm regards to you Wassem. I see you’ve read many of my posts. I appreciate you being here. Deborah.

  6. avatar Sana says:

    GoOd PoSt…..I like that….:)

  7. avatar Maria says:

    Hello Debbie i am 17 and this might seem a bit weird that i am asking this but would you mind diagnosing me? I mean i just wanted to know if there is something wrong with me psychologically and if thats affecting my life in anyway i wanna do it over email or chat if u agree to help 🙂 thanks

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Maria, thank you for writing me. Maria, I can’t diagnose people who I am not seeing professionally. Our profession does not allow this. I may from time to time guide a person and if they describe a situation that sounds like something to me, I can say this is what it sounds like. But, I never diagnose a person through this venue. Maria, it would be an injustice to you because you deserve to have someone who meets you, can observe who you are, learn about your whole history and seeing you long enough to see if his or her first diagnostic impression changes.

      People can get wrongly diagnosed and sometimes those labels haunt them for years. Your request isn’t wierd. I understand. But, I can’t do it. I hope you understand. May I suggest that you find a person professionally who can do this for you? I also suggest that you learn as much as you can about yourself from your readings and self-exploration. Even when you see a professional therapist, it’s your information that helps them to diagnose.

      It’s wonderful that you have such a strong interest in your self-development. I love it. Congratulations on wanting to explore your psychological nature at the age of 17. This will serve you well in life, because the more you know about yourself, the better decisions you will make, and the less pain or troubles you will have from doing things that are not right for you or hurt you in some way.

      You take good care Maria. I hope to see you here again soon. Warmly Debbie 🙂 🙂

  8. avatar Maria says:

    hey Debbie i understand thanks for your help and i cant meet a peofessional because my parents think m normal and they would probably say no. I want to be a clinical psychologist myself i have loved psychology for years, but i thought i should help myself first before helping others. I might start my bachelor in psychology later this year depends on how well i pass my exams.
    You are just amazing i hope to be like you someday just read your few articles and they make me love the field even more and thanks for replying to my comment means alot 🙂

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you dear Maria. You can be what you desire in your heart and mind. I see there’s a psychologist in you. You have the interest and passion. I’m glad to connect with you here and look forward to talking with you again. Warmly Deborah.


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