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Discuss Two or More Definitions of Abnormality

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    “Abnormality is very difficult to define. It can be hard to decide where normal behaviour ends and abnormal behaviour begins” Discuss two or more definitions of abnormality AO1 = 6 marks Knowledge and understanding of definitions of abnormality. AO2 = 6 marks Commentary on definitions of abnormality. The term ‘abnormal’ means deviating from the average. Therefore, if we were to adopt a literal approach to defining abnormality, we would conclude that any rare behaviour or ability was abnormal. This, however, is not a useful way of defining abnormality as it doesn’t take into account whether or not the behaviour is desirable.

    There are three ways of defining abnormality; deviation from social norms, failure to function adequately and deviation from ideal mental health. Deviation from Ideal Mental Health focuses on what is normal as opposed to what is abnormal by deciding what normality is, anything that doesn’t satisfy this idea of ‘normal’ must therefore be abnormality. Jahoda 1958 spoke about ‘normality’ as being a positive state of mental health. According to Jahoda several conditions should be met in order to satisfy what she calls ‘optimal living’.

    The conditions for optimal living are as follows; a positive view of self (meaning the person must have a feeling of self worth and a reasonable extent of self esteem), actualisation (meaning the person must become the best they can, autonomy (the person must show a level of independence), accurate view of reality (their view must not be distorted e. g. they must not think that everyone’s untrustworthy and everyone is watching them), environmental adaptability (the person must be able to adapt their behaviour to different environments e. g. ertain behaviour is appropriate for weddings but not for funerals) and finally resistance to stress (the person must be able to deal with the stresses of everyday life. )

    Strengths of this explanation include the fact that it is a positive explanation of the definition of abnormality, focusing on what’s desirable rather than undesirable. All that’s required to see if a person is mentally healthy is if they fulfil the defined criteria, making it easier to define mental health as there is a set of conditions to be satisfied. However, this definition assumes that the absence of one of these onditions implies abnormality. In reality a number of the criteria are quite difficult to achieve e. g. actualisation is reached by only a few people in life. If this definition is applied most people would be deemed as abnormal. Also it is not always clear what some of the conditions mean in practice e. g. accurate view of reality. It’s not certain what this refers to given that reality is a product of each individuals mind. For example, a soldier in Afghanistan would have a different reality to that of an accountant in London.

    The definition of what is mentally healthy varies across cultures. The categories of ideal mental health cannot be generalised to all cultures. Some of the criteria are based on Western ideas which are not shared by all cultures of the world for example there’s an emphasis on autonomy which is a particularly western idea. Some cultures place a great deal of emphasis on collective responsibility. Deviation from social norms is behaviour that violates implicit and explicit rules and moral standards of a given society.

    For example; paedophilia and sexual exhibitionism violates moral standards concerning sexual behaviour in British society. Norms are unwritten rules created by society to guide behaviour. They tell us which behaviours are expected and acceptable and they provide us with some sense of order in society. They are learnt through socialisation, that is, we pick them up from others around us during childhood. Deviation from social norms can be a useful way to identify mental problems. We learn what to expect from individuals, and if their behaviour drastically deviates from this we become concerned on their behalf.

    For example, people with clinical depression are oft4en unable to motivate themselves to seek assistance and therefore depend on others to summon help. The strengths of this explanation are that the model distinguishes between desirable and undesirable behaviour. The social deviancy model also takes into account the effect behaviour has on others. Deviances is defined in transgression of social rules and ideally social rules are established in order to help people live together. Behaviour that is deviant is socially unacceptable for the rest of us.

    This way of defining the abnormality takes account of the greater good of society. According to this definition abnormal behaviour is behaviour that damages others. On the other hand, the weaknesses are that societies change over time and so therefore do their norms; because of this we cannot use opinions held in the past to judge a behaviour as deviant. It must be based on present day thinking. For example; in the 1970s homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the diagnostic and statistical manual (the DSM is the main classification and diagnosis system for mental illness used in the USA.

    Homosexuality between consenting adults over 18 is now legal and would not be considered abnormal. Also norms must be considered in context, dress codes give us a good example of this. In the eighteenth century it would have been considered normal for men to wear elaborate wigs, by the twentieth century the habit had completely gone. Furthermore breakings social norms s not necessarily a bad thing, it can stimulate positive social change such as the abolition of slavery.

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