The term ‘abnormal’ means deviating from the agreed way of behavior. Therefore, if we were to use a literal approach in defining abnormality, we would conclude that any behavior that is seen as unacceptable in society was abnormal. However, this is not a useful way of defining abnormality as it doesn't take into account the context of the behavior, nor is cultural relativity. There are three ways in which abnormality could be defined; deviation from social norms, failure to function adequately and deviation from ideal mental health.
Deviation from Ideal Mental Health (DIMH) focuses on what is normal as opposed to what is abnormal by deciding what normality is, anything that doesn't fit this idea of 'normal' must therefore be abnormal. Jahoda 1958 spoke about 'normality' as being a positive state of mental health. According to Jahoda several characteristics of ideal mental health should be met by all humans; Resistant to stress, Be in touch with your own identity and feelings, focussed on the future and self actualisation, show empathy and understanding to others and be competant and adaptable to change. Self actualisation is when an individual achieves their full potential in life, however it is impossible for one to do so, therefore according to Jahoda’s criteria we are mentally unhealthy. Although deviation from Ideal Mental health may use a positive approach in defining normality rather than abnormality which is seen as negative, both culture and collectivists are ignored. What one culture may see as normal, another culture may see as abnormal. An example of this would be the Mersi Tribe in South Ethiopia; Woman of the Mersi Tribe lip plates in their lower lip; the bigger the lip plate the more attractive the women is seen. In western culture this would be seen as abnormal, but due to the tribes different culture it is seen as normal.
Deviation from social Norm (DSN) focuses on the way an individual should behave in society. There are unwritten rules that society see as being normal and acceptable, and anything apart from that is seen as abnormal.Examples of this would include women wearing feminine clothing and men wearing masculine clothing, being clothed whilst in public etc. However there are many problems with using social norms in order to define abnormality and does not always mean that any behaviour that debiates from the norm is a mental illness. Whilst defining abnormality, context is always a limitation; On an ordinary day man may not walk around in public dressed like a woman because it would be seen as inappropiate and abnormal, however if he was doing it for charity it would be socially acceptable.Another issue is that deviation from social norm can not provide an actual definition