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It seems to me like the distribution of most everything conforms to the standard bell curve to one degree or another. There may be a skewing to the right or the left, but there is a curve.  By nature we need stories to make sense of our lives, and we make sense according to how we are taught.  We put people and everything else into categories that make sense with how we want/choose to see the world. We don’t even realize that what we have is a construct culturally made up. We see it as just “what is.”

 The thing about bell curves, about “normal distributions” is that there are always outliers.  Take those behaviors we thing of as addictive for example.  Now anything that can act on the pleasure center of the brain and anything that can ease stress and tension can be “addictive.”  It becomes a behavior that we come to rely on to make us feel better.  People can be “addicted” to drugs, shopping, a person, work, the online world, sex, exercise, gambling – whatever relieves stress and works.  There may be consequences that aren’t pleasant, but that rush of adrenaline, dopamine, oxytocin – that instant vacation from what is ailing us and gives us a longed for feeling is difficult to let go.

 One of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Rush, classed addiction to alcohol as a disease back in the 1700s as a way to ease the stigma.  But when addictive behaviors are called an illness and unusual behaviors are classed as mental illness, the danger is that the stigma actually increases.  They can’t help it, they have a disease, and as often happens with physical illnesses, people ostracize them and fear them.  The fear them not because they are worried about contagiousness, but because “that person has no control over his behavior – you just can’t trust him.”

Think for a moment of “unusual” behaviors as outliers, and take alcohol as an example.  A small percentage of people on the right side of the curve drink more than the average daily consumption of the alcohol, and consume a lot of the alcohol drunk. The middle of the curve drinks but no individual drinks “more than their share.” At the left of the curve are outliers that drink nothing at all. There is no moral judgment in that curve, just differences in behavior mapped on a graph. There is also no notion of disease. People do what they do. Some of the outliers to the right that drink a lot get into trouble.  Some don’t. There are individual differences.  Just as there is no pure yin or yang, there is no pure 100 percentile person or 0 percentile person.  What is important is what tends to happen to you when drink (or do any of those behaviors). What is your relationship with the behavior? Is it overall healthy or unhealthy?  Is it overall positive or negative?  How would you like it to be?  Is it how you would like it to be and if not, what do you need to do about it.  How can you get there?  The thing about outliers is that they stand out, just because they are different.   A person may love computers or art and may spend a lot of time on programming or drawing.  A parent may be concerned that the kid is “addicted” to the behavior. Again, look at the effects.  The child may be passionate about the behavior and may struggle against the parent to follow that passion. Another thing about outliers, people often want to change them to be more like the middle of the distribution. Power struggles can be destructive or constructive. They can be destructive when each side has to win no matter what the cost and control is the goal.  They can possibly be constructive when the individual learns to get better at what the passion is. But again there is rarely a pure yin or yang and there is a cost either way.  It comes down to how you choose to see or live the story.

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