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Abnormality has three definitions. The first definition is deviation from social norms. Social norms are the approved and expected ways of behaving in a particular society. In terms of social norms, abnormal behaviour can be seen as behaviour that deviates from or violates social norms. The key weakness of the deviation of social norms is cultural relativity. Social norms by their very definition are specific to a particular culture or society so a behaviour seen as a deviation in one society may appear acceptable but may not be accepted in other society.
Social norms vary as time changes and vary from culture to culture. Secondly, abnormality can be defined as the failure to function adequately. It means that a person is unable to love a normal life, they have experiences outside the normal range of emotions or do not engage in the normal range of behaviour. This can be seen as the person not being able to cope with life on a day-to-day basis.
Functioning can be measured on the Global Assessment of Functioning scale (GAF). The first strength of failure to function is it is practical and focuses on treating the abnormal behaviour.
Failure to function means those outside the individual do not have to label a person as mentally abnormal which still carries stigma in many societies. Unlike the deviation of social norms focusing on public view, it recognizes a person’s subjective experience as a means of helping to define who is abnormal. We can focusing on treating the behaviour that is hindering the person from leading an adequately normal life and offer treatment to encourage more adaptive behaviour.
However, it is not without its problems. The first limitation is that apparently abnormal behaviour may actually be helpful, functional and adaptive for the individual.
For example, those with obsessive-compulsive disorders find that their obsessions (some maybe socially acceptable behaviour such as hand-washing) make them feel happy. The second limitation is some of its criteria depend on subjective judgements of other people. It may be that someone is deemed abnormal simply because the observer experiences discomfort in watching their behaviour and in their own mind believes them unable to function adequately. Thirdly, abnormality can be defined as the deviation from ideal mental health.
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