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Psychology Today am I normal

Am I Normal?

They call him "the Shark."

Bill, a 26-year-old lawyer, is proud of his nickname and the ruthlessness that inspired it. Confident and charming, he can also be arrogant, manipulative and deceptive—though he sees nothing wrong with these qualities, useful as they are in winning cases and attracting women. Lately, however, Bill's character has been landing him in trouble. He's begun abusing cocaine. He can't resist the temptations of strip clubs and casinos. He's already been married and divorced twice. Even his successful career has been endangered by his habit of propositioning female coworkers. Bill is bothered enough that he pays a visit to a psychologist's office. There he's told that he has an "antisocial" personality: He consistently, and often unscrupulously, places his own interests above those of others. Bill's antisocial tendencies pervade his entire way of being—just as someone with a narcissistic personality can't see past his own grandiosity or someone with an obsessive-compulsive personality can't lift her eyes from her meticulous, exacting tasks.

The idea that human nature can be refracted through personality traits—distinct clusters of thoughts and feelings that color all of a person's actions—has been around a long time. But it is gaining new momentum. For one thing, it gives us a high-definition picture of human character and its variety. It also encourages renewed appreciation for the diversity of influences on behavior, from genes to lifestyles. As a result, the new view of personality heralds a revolution in how we view disorder, marking a shift away from rigid categories of pathology to a more organic sense of the way individuals fit in their world. After all, aren't lawyers supposed to be aggressive? Aren't, say, actors almost universally narcissistic? Aren't accountants and copy editors rewarded for their compulsive attention to detail?

For many years, serious problems of character and personality were believed to be relatively rare. What's more, they were regarded as virtually untreatable—and bereft of any benefit or utility. Personality disorders were sequestered on their own island of pathology.



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Related facts

  • "Am I Normal?" is a programme which is broadcast on Radio Four, presented by Vivienne Parry. It enjoyed a brief airing on BBC television, when it was presented by Tanya Byron,but is more commonly presented on Radio Four. It deals with issues surrounding how far...

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