What Is Abnormality?

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What is Abnormality?

The definition of normal is that which conforms to a standard or a typical state or condition. Statistically the definition of normal behaviour is that which is shown by most individuals. The concept of abnormality is difficult to define, therefore, it is difficult to diagnose. When it comes to observing behaviour observers are influenced by their own interpretations and biases. The term ‘abnormal’ means deviating from the average. Therefore, if we were to adopt this approach to defining abnormality literally then we could conclude that any rare behaviours or abilities are abnormal. However, this literal way of defining abnormality does not take into account whether the behaviour or ability is desirable or not. The ways in which abnormality can be defined are; deviation from ideal mental health, violation of social norms, failure to function adequately and statistical infrequency, [Saul McLeod, 2008].

Under the statistical infrequency definition of abnormality an individual’s behaviour is classed as abnormal if it is statistically unusual or rare. However, this method of definition has its limitations. An example of this would be an IQ; if an individual has an above average IQ society would deem this as being abnormal. However, in reality it is the contrary that is true and they would be regarded highly for their intelligence. This is where the desirability of a certain behaviour or ability needs to be taken into account. Some characteristics have no bearing on either normality or abnormality yet they are regarded as abnormal even though they are quite frequent, being left handed is an example of this. Under the definition of deviation from ideal mental health rather than define abnormal it is what is classified as normal that is defined; anything which deviates from this would be classified as abnormal. However, in order to define if someone deviates from ideal mental health we have to classify what ideal mental health is. Jahoda (1958) made an attempt to do this. She observed mental healthcare professionals and proposed six categories that were a condition of normality; positive self-esteem and a strong sense of identity, personal growth and development, ability to cope with stressful situations, autonomy and independence, accurate perception of reality, environmental mastery (ability to meet the varying demands of everyday life), [AS Psychology, n.d.]. However, it is practically impossible for an individual to achieve all of these characteristics all of the time. These criteria are not on a measurable scale, therefore, it is difficult to assess to what degree an individual meets them. Social norms are accepted ways of behaving in society. There are unwritten rules regarding normal and acceptable behaviour held by members of society. The violation of social norms definition of abnormality states that a behaviour or characteristic in an individual is abnormal if it violates what society deems to be normal. However, social norms vary between cultures; clothing is an example of this, in Western cultures people cover certain areas of their bodies at all times but in some African tribes very little clothing is worn. What is classed socially acceptable changes over time and what may once have been deemed acceptable may no longer be and vice versa. For example, until 1980 a homosexual was considered to have a psychological disorder by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whereas it is now considered acceptable by most people, [Saul McLeod, 2008]. Conversely, drink driving was once considered to be acceptable but is now socially unacceptable. An individual is considered to be abnormal under the failure to function adequately definition if they are unable to cope with the demands of daily living. This is a more promising approach to defining abnormality as it recognises that a number of criteria might contribute towards abnormality, [AS Psychology, n.d.]. Rosenhan and...
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