What is Normal???

by: Anthony Smith

Psychology is a wonderful field of study for just about anyone. If you are a person who feels a greater calling to reach out and help people who are in need, psychology can be that calling. Psychology can also be a hard area to study because not only do you learn about other people’s abnormal issues, but you get to assign names to your own issues. It can be a tall task to dissect yourself if you are not ready to do so. Over the next couple of paragraphs we will examine what abnormal behavior is and whether or not there is such a thing as normal. We will look at some of the root causes of abnormal behavior and learn about some of the treatment approaches. Finally we will see how we all fit into this conversation even if we don’t want to admit it. This is going to be fun!

I grew up in a family that offered a wide range of challenges for any child. My family suffered from an unfair range of ailments from the physical to the mental types. I struggled as a teenager in finding what “normal” was. It seemed to me that we all portrayed attitudes that register on a wide spectrum of behavior. We all find ourselves on this spectrum, but can any point on it be labeled as “normal?” Plus, we can move all over the spectrum as we progress through life. Today I am a very optimistic person who loves life and worships my Heavenly Father for the gifts that I have been blessed with. But, at one time in my life I was deeply depressed. Now, because of all the things that I have been through in my life I am able to turn around and help others with my rich testimony.

So what exactly do we mean when we say abnormal behavior? It is defined in the text Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology by Ronald J. Comer as:

The field devoted to the scientific study of abnormal behavior is called abnormal psychology. Its goals are to understand and treat abnormal patterns of functioning. Abnormal functioning is generally considered to be deviant, distressful, dysfunctional, and dangerous. Behavior must also be considered in the context in which it occurs, however, and the concept of abnormality depends on the norms and values of the society in question.

This shows us that the topic of normality is a very wide range and becomes difficult to define. What is normal behavior today can be thought of as weird tomorrow, so the behavior has to be compared to the social norms of the times and culture.

Researches are constantly trying to gain understanding in what the root causes of mental abnormalities are. Are abnormalities genetic or are they caused by external factors? The easy answer to this question is that it can be both. Wikipedia.org states, “The causes of mental disorders are complex, and interact and vary according to the particular disorder and individual. Genetics, early development, drugs, a loss of a family member, disease or injury, neurocognitive and psychological mechanisms, and life experiences, society and culture, can all contribute to the development or progression of different mental disorders.” I believe most point to genetics when looking for a root cause, but my personal experience shows me that “life” can thrown you a bone sometimes.

The history of treatments that accompany abnormal behavior has been just as interesting as the various disorders themselves. Electric shock, insulin, water, medicine, prayer, and physical harm have all been used in the treatment of mental disorders. Most of these have had very little success, and have been deemed abusive and unreliable. Over time the treatment approaches have become more reliable and more humane. In the later part of the 1800s came a rise in what has been referred to as “moral treatment.” Moral treatment is treatment that values human life and considers the long range health of the individual.

So what does the Bible have to say about this type of abnormality and how we need to approach it? Actually the Bible has quite a lot to say about how we “treat” people! Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’." Since we are created in the image of God we are all perfect in design and equal in importance. We do not have the right to say that others are less than us because they act differently. The Christian response for treatment would then be to love them and use our talents to offer help to people on an individual basis. Those who have talents in the medical field would offer their expertise. Those who have talents in counseling could offer their services to the person in need. God has a perfect non-failing plan, and we need to trust this plan. Just because someone is less mentally adapted than us does not mean that God does not have a perfect plan for their lives too.

As we conclude we now see how we all fit into this matrix of an equation. No one is “normal” and we all have needs. Plus, we all have talents, abilities, and interests that can lend itself to the needs of others. This is not a perfect system nor is this a perfect world. If it was then this would be a very boring place to live. I am optimistic for the future when considering the new developments of abnormal behavior. New breakthroughs are happening every day, and brilliant minds are lending themselves to cutting edge research. These people (and us) need to have hope and not only do they need hope in science, but they need to be offered hope in Christ. Jesus can do things that we can’t, and I am thankful for this simple truth…Amen!

References

Comer, R. J. (2007). Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology (5 ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Bible Nlt) (2nd ed., p. 2). (2004). Genesis. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers.

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved May 22, 2010, from http://www.wikipedia.org

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