Abnormal behavior is difficult to define in very few words. When it comes to defining abnormal behavior (and/or normal behavior) the results are often subjective in nature. To date, it has not been possible to define the specific meaning of abnormal behavior, and considering the many variables involved, it is unlikely that there will ever be any one specific answer. What is considered abnormal behavior to some individuals may be considered normal by others; however, the "four D's" can help to describe criteria relevant to behavior which is considered out of the ordinary for a specific place and time.
Some definitions of abnormal behavior associated with what are known as the "four D's", are as follows:
Deviant behavior is that which differs greatly to the behavior of a particular society at a particular time. Individual circumstances can sometimes justify abnormal behavior, but in the absence of these circumstances, the particular behavior is considered deviant.
When thoughts, actions or emotions cause an individual to become distressed, those functions can be considered abnormal. As an example; a person who collects red, plastic milk crates by the dozens may be considered abnormal, but unless his or her actions cause them to become distressed, he or she may simply be a happy eccentric. People who are eccentric do not necessarily have mental disorders which cause them to behave abnormally (Comer, 2005, p.4).
When a person is behaving abnormally due to mental illness, they cannot cope with day to day life in a successful manner, or one which is acceptable to the society they live in. Dysfunctional behavior may manifest itself as a lack of personal hygiene, malnutrition or substance abuse. A person who lives a dysfunctional life may not be able to manage taking care of themselves or their families, and is possibly unable to get, or keep a job.
Abnormal behavior can also involve an element of danger. A person may be a threat to themselves or others, and intervention may become necessary before injuries occur, or the person is incarcerated. Some mental disorders can cause people to behave in a manner that puts society or themselves at risk, although typically, most abnormal behaviors do not. For example; delusions can cause a person to have irrational thoughts and become defensive if they feel they need to protect themselves from impending dangers. Paranoia is another cause for becoming defensive and possibly suicidal.
The time factor is important when considering abnormal behavior. Not so many years ago, it would have been abnormal to think that an African American would be the President of the United States. Now, that thought has become a reality and the occasion is celebrated by society in general, rather than being considered strange. The place where a behavior is considered abnormal is another aspect which must be taken into account when defining abnormal behavior; mowing the front lawn while naked may be an exhilarating experience for some, but in most places, this behavior will typically result in an arrest for indecent exposure.
Cultural and religious differences can also account for some behaviors which are seen by some people as abnormal behavior. Chanting verses from the Koran or praying at certain times of the day in a public place would be abnormal in the town where I live, but these practices are seen as normal and respectful behavior in a country or community where most people are Muslims.
Comer, R. J. (2005). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology (4th ed.). New York: Worth.