Defining Abnormality

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The concept of abnormality is a fluid one, fluctuating and changing in “an endless process of man’s self-creation and his reshaping of the world” (Eva Syistova, 2010), caving to the will of cultures and individuals over the course of history, thus making a true definition almost impossible. However, using statistical and social deviations, the notion of what ideal mental health is, and that failure to function adequately exists, psychologists have created a method to help classify abnormality.

Perhaps to fully understand abnormality, one must first grasp what it really means to be normal. Marie Jahoda (1958) came up with a list of criterion that people with ideal mental health would be able to fulfil, namely efficient self-perception, realistic self-esteem, voluntary control of behaviour, true perception of the world, sustaining relationships and giving affection as well as self-direction and productivity. Aside from the glaringly obvious fact that these criterion are not measurable, Jahoda neglected to consider other cultures, such ‘collectivists’ who value cooperation over independence, and how they would view such a list replete with Western morals. By having a set list of what it means to be normal, the pressure to conform increases, and combined with the intrinsic human desire to feel included, people appear normal when they are not, which creates an inner conflict, often worsening the initial situation. The pressure to normalise also increases shame in some individuals who then never identify with their abnormality or come to terms with their disorder (Ruth Bridgens 2009).

Much like Jahoda’s criterion, statistical infrequencies make sense until they’re looked at again. In this definition, behaviours which are statistically rare are seen to be abnormal. However, the term ‘abnormal’ has generally negative connotations with the implication that treatment is needed, when in fact some rare traits are often quite desirable, such as having a high IQ for...
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