The fact that it is difficult to define atypical behaviour makes it difficult to define the psychological word ‘abnormal’, due to extremely varied human behaviour it is difficult to assess whether a person’s behaviour can be categorised as ‘abnormal’ or ‘normal’ as we all have different perceptions of what these two things are. This also raises the question on whether these words even exist.
Abnormal psychology aims to discover to what extent biological, cognitive and sociocultural factors influence behaviour which is classed as ‘abnormal’.
Throughout the years many people have attempted to define abnormality and normality but we concluded that there is no single adequate definition of abnormality. There are many different classification systems such as the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) which categorises the features of abnormal behaviour, these features then lead to a diagnosis of the psychological illness the patient is suffering from. This manual however cannot be a completely reliable source of diagnosing psychological illnesses and has to be revised continually due to the changes in social norms. This also makes it difficult to define atypical behaviour as society and its expectations and what it finds acceptable is changing at such a rate that what is normal for one person may not be for another, therefore one cannot be classed as ‘abnormal’ because of this difference in opinion.
Marie Jahodah (1958) also attempted to categorise mental illness by devising a list of characteristics typically exhibited by people who are perceived as ‘normal’ (known as ideal mental health); these included: efficient self-perception, realistic self-esteem and acceptance, voluntary control of behaviour, true perception of the world, sustaining relationships and giving affection and self-direction and productivity. Jahodah suggested that a noticeable lack in one or more of these characteristics would be a cause for serious concern of their mental state. This list of characteristics is flawed in the sense that it does not take into consideration whether the patient had had previous ‘problems of living’ which lead to the decrease of these characteristics, for example if someone has just been dumped their self-esteem would be incredibly lower than usual – it does not suggest unstable mental health. This leaves the field of abnormal psychology in an unsound position as it appears that it is virtually impossible to define ‘abnormal’ without considering social groups (and norms), religious normality, and individual opinion of abnormal.