The term abnormal is defined as deviating from the norm (Spoor, 1999). The definition however is problematic in that it addresses other factors. For instance, one needs to consider what the norm is and who labeled it as such. Norms are also dynamic; a norm today may no longer be one in the future. The fact that norms are also culture specific (Syque, 2007) leads one to consider that abnormality is largely relative.
Delineating between normal and abnormal behavior is thus more complicated in that a medical implication is often involved. Several criteria have been proposed to account for such. For instance, the first criteria accounts for the behavior’s deviation from cultural norms. Cultures impose upon its members certain norms and the deviation from such often results to being labeled as abnormal. Men who wore earrings forty years ago were thus considered abnormal. Second, abnormal behavior deviates from the statistical norm (Smith, Nolen – Hoeksema, Fredrickson, Loftus, 2003). Most people tend to fall within the mean of certain traits.
An individual with an IQ of 40 falls on the extreme end and is therefore considered abnormal. Third, abnormal behavior is maladaptive; that is, it has detrimental effects on the individual and society. A woman who fears crowds and avoids taking the bus to work even if she has to is an example. Lastly, abnormal behavior causes personal distress (Smith, et al, 2003). An individual who harbors self – defeating belilefs about himself is deemed abnormal.
Abnormal behavior is rarely diagnosed effectively using just one from the aforementioned criteria. For a subject that calls to draw the line between normality and abnormality; one needs to be cautious in that people are inevitably affected and involved.
Smith, E., Nolen – Hoeksema, S., Fredrickson, B. & Loftus, G. (2003). Atkinson & Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology, 14th Edition. Singapore: Thomson Learning Asia.
Spoor, Katrina. (1999). What is “abnormal”? A Beginner’s Guide to Abnormal Psychology Site. Retrieved December 12, 2007 from http://www.purgatory.net/merits/abnormal.htm
Syque. (2007). Elements of Culture. ChangingMinds.org Site. Retrieved December 12, 2007 from http://changingminds.org/explanations/culture/elements_of_culture.htm