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Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal Psychology


What is Abnormal Psychology?


Abnormal psychology would, at first glance, be a fairly simple term to define.  We assume that it refers to mental, emotional and behavioral manifestations in a person that are not normal.  These are the people with the more severe difficulties seeking therapy from a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist.  The issue gets a little more complicated when we begin to try and define what is normal.


Normal for one age group may not be seen as such for another age group.  The same applies to different cultures.  We can apply the notion of "good" to normal and "Bad" to abnormal, but that is a weak foundation for defining a major psychological phenomenon.  Some theories use statistical curves, which show that perhaps eighty percent of people react in one way to a certain action, while twenty percent react in another fashion.  Those twenty percent are therefore reacting in abnormal fashion.  There are limits to this approach: about twenty percent of Californians smoke today.  Is that abnormal behavior?


Personal distress is often sited as a signpost for abnormal psychology.  Someone who is profoundly unhappy with their state of mind or behaviors surely needs help, and perhaps could be considered in an abnormal psychological state.  But that begs the question of how to qualify the guy in an organdy dress cruising down Park Avenue on a skateboard.


The most common basic criterion for abnormal psychology is the concept of "maladaptiveness."  Perhaps one way to define this notion on a personal basis is when you feel like a misfit to yourself, or are perceived as such among others.  The two defined components of this state are:


  • Maladaptive to one's self - inability to reach goals, to adapt to the demands of life.
  • Maladaptive to society - interferes, disrupts social group functioning.  

Some Disorders in Abnormal Psychology


 There are a number of human internal difficulties that fall under abnormal psychology and for which people seek treatment.  People who experience inexplicable panic or general anxiety often have their lives disrupted by these paralyzing symptoms.  Phobias are a similar phenomenon.  A phobia is an irrational fear that the person knows is irrational but is unable to control. 


Elevators bring on phobias in many of us.  Social phobia is a fear of social situations, of the responsibility for interacting with others.  Fear of public speaking is a social phobia.  Agoraphobia is the most common phobia that people seeking professional help have. This type of phobia creates an irrational fear of unfamiliar situations. People with agoraphobia avoid open spaces, crowds, traveling, and in extreme cases do not even leave their home.  It is also among the most difficult of phobias to cure.


There are several subcategories of 'personality disorders'.  Antisocial or paranoid behavior falls in this category.  Overly dependent or histrionic individuals have personality disorders.  Someone with a borderline personality disorder has highly unstable personal relationships.  Some of the more serious personality disorders include schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive behavior (which includes addiction), and the grandiosity associated with narcissism.
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