Definitions of Abnormality

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  • Created by: Nina
  • Created on: 14-03-13 18:48

Definition One: Deviation from Social Norms

Abnormal Behaviour is seen as a deviation from implicit rules about how one should behave. Anything that goes against these rules is considered abnormal. 

  • Susceptible to Abuse: what could be classed as socially acceptable now, may not have been 50 years ago. Szasz (1974) claimed that concept of mental illneses was a simple way to exclude nonconformists from society.
  • Deviance is related to context and degree: there is not a clear line between abnormal deviation and harmless eccentricity. It cannot offer a complete definition of abnormality as it relates to both context and degree.
  • Cultural Relativism: There may be cultural factors for example what may be abnormal in one culture may be the social norms in another culture. 
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Definition Two: Failure to Function Adequately

By using the criteria of adequate functioning, mentally healthy people are judged as being able to operate with acceptable limits. However, if abnormal behaviour interferes with daily functioning this is considered as abnormal. 

  • Who Judges: It may be that individuals are content with the way they are and it is others that are uncomfortable with the situation and jusdge their behaviour as abnormal. 
  • Adaptive or Maladaptive: Some dysfunctional behaviour may be adaptive (e.g. depression or eating disorders) to gain extra attention for the individuals.
  • Cultural Relativism: Some cultures are judged as failing to function adequately as their lifestyles are non-traditional in one culture. Whereas in fact in their culture it may be seen as normal.
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Definition Three: Deviation from Ideal Mental Heal

Abnormal behaviour is seen as deviating from ideal positive mental health. Ideal mental health includes positive attitude towards self, resistance to stress, and accurate perception of reality. 

  • Who can achieve all these criterias: According to this, most of us should be abnormal to some degree. Jahoda presented them as the ideal criteria but how much do we need to lack to be classed as abnormal?
  • Is mental health the same as physical health: Physical illnesses have physical causes which make them easy to detect however its not that easy to detect with mental illnesses. This means they are not the same thing.
  • Cultural Relativism: The criterion of self-actualisation is relavant to indivualist cultures but not collectavist cultures, where individuals strive the greater good of the community rather than self-centered goals. 
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