There are many ways to define abnormal. One simple definition is that whatever i different from normal is abnormal. This is a statistical definition, in the sense tha researchers can statistically determine how often something occurs and, if it is rare, call it abnormal. In this sense, colorblindness or polydactyly (having more than 10 fingers) is considered abnormal. Another definition of abnormal is a social definiti based on what society tolerates (Shoben, 1957). If we define the term in this sense behaviors that society deems unacceptable are labeled as abnormal. In this sense, incest and child abuse are both considered abnormal. Both the statistical and the social definitions of abnormality su fer from changing times and changing social or cultural norms (Millon, 2000a, 2000b). Behaviors deemed of fensive or socially inappropriate 20 years ago might be acceptable today . For example, 20 or 30 years ago, homosexuality was considered to be both rare and socially unacceptable, a form of abnormal behavior or even a mental illness. Today, homosexuality is not considered abnormal in itself (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) and is protected under civil rights laws in the United States. Thus, the statistical and social definitions of abnormalit are always somewhat tentative because society changes.
Psychologists have consequently looked to other ways of identifying what is abnormal in behavior and experience. They have looked within persons, inquiring about subjective feelings, such as anxiety , depression, dissatisfaction, and feelings of loneliness. They have looked at how people think and experience themselves and their worlds. Psychologists have found that some people have disor ganized thoughts, disruptive perceptions, or unusual beliefs and attitudes that do not match their circumstances. They have identified ways in which people fail to get along with one anothe and ways people have trouble living in the community . They have analyzed patterns of behavior that represent ineffective efforts at coping or that put people at higher risk for other problems, behaviors that harm more than help. From a psychological perspective, any of these may be considered abnormal.
Combining all these approaches to abnormality (statistical, social, and psychological), psychologists and psychiatrists have developed the field of psychopathology, or the study of mental disorders. The diagnosis of mental disorders is both a scientific discipline and an important part of the clinical work of many psychiatrists an psychologists. Knowing how to define and how to identify a disorder is the first st in devising treatment or in designing research on that disorder .
A system for diagnosing and describing mental disorders that is widely accepted is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disor ders, now in its fourth edition, commonly called the DSM-IV, published by the American Psychiatric Association (1994). This is a widely used manual for determining the nature and extent of psychological disorders, based on various symptoms and behaviors. This manual lists more than 200 mental disorders. Working through this manual often forms the basis of advanced or graduate-level courses in abnormal psychology .
To the student interested in mental disorders, there is a great number and variety for study. In this chapter, we will cover only the disorders of personality functioning. There are many other disorders, such as those that af fect thought processes (e.g., schizophrenia), those that af fect emotions (e.g., panic disorder), those that af fect eating behavior (e.g., bulimia), those related to dysfunctional sexuality (e.g., pedophilia, or the sexual attraction to prepubescent children), and those that result from long-term substance abuse (e.g., cocaine-induced psychosis). Personality disorders represent only a small part of the list of possible psychopathologies.
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