Insane People

Abnormal versus Insanity

People show a tendency to be afraid of any occurrences that may contradict what is generally expected. That, what inconveniently falls down on the known and accepted, is labeled as abnormal or insane. The paper discusses these notions in relation to a human being from psychological, social and historical perspectives. The most important criteria of defining abnormality and insanity are also analyzed.

Abnormality and insanity are regarded as concepts that are defined as a deviation with, in most cases, an implicit negative connotation. The notions under consideration have a set of definitions. In order to understand the topic we should take a closer look at some of them. According to the Concise Dictionary of Psychology, the word abnormal is used to describe: any deviation from what is considered typical, usual, or healthy, particularly if the deviation is considered harmful or maladaptive. In statistics, for example, abnormal scores are those that are outside the usual or expected range. This term is usually used in context of behavior that often indicates a mental disorder (thus, there is a branch of science called abnormal psychology). The term insanity finds its particularization mostly in criminology and is recognized as a condition of the mind that renders a person incapable of being responsible for his or her criminal acts. Insanity is also used as a socially acceptable synonym for calling someone mad.


There is a line between the ideas expressed by words abnormality and insanity. The common thing between them is that people whose behavior is called either abnormal or insane show some patterns of conduct that are not normal. To explain these two ideas, another point of view is required. We take the idea of normality as a tertium comparationis (the third part of the comparison). This element helps us to evaluate the terms. If we take normal as something natural, then we may create a scale of measurement. The approximate scale can explain the difference between the discussed concepts according to the level of severity. On the basis of semantics, we take a scale of 10 points and illustrate the terms as follows:

  • Normal 0 points.
  • Abnormal 5 points.
  • Insane 10 points.

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This scale suggests that everyday actions of people are not something that needs to be restricted. At the same time, abnormal patterns of behavior are tolerable, but only under special circumstances (depending on the abnormal element), and that what is insane is considered to be extreme. An insane act means that one does not just a deviate from the norm, but a person who acts has no notion of the norm. Apart from the linguistic distinction, we may say that one is a medical term when the other concerns the law. Nevertheless, the word insane is also addressed to those called, without exact semantic distinction, insane, alienated, deranged, demented, extravagant. Another aspect of insane is that it is treated as something hazardous. This is the reason why people with even slight indications of strange behavior are marked as insane. There is a system created to manage the insane in society. A number of people are taken to different kinds of asylums on a regular basis. The treatment of insane people is established in order to physically exclude not normal occurrences from society. It is in the sphere of medicine to determine whether a person called insane is indeed sick, but it is always a matter of society to respond to acts of unusual conduct.

The medical point of view is stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The abnormal aspect of a personality is studied by psychopathology. There is a theory for mental disorders, proposed by Wakefield that is known as the harmful dysfunction theory. Wakefield relates this with the following words:

I argue that a disorder is a harmful dysfunction, wherein harmful is a values term based on social norms, and dysfunction is a scientific term referring to the failure of a mental mechanism to perform a natural function for which it was designed by evolution. Thus, the concept of disorder combines value and scientific components.

The definition also shows how the terms of abnormality and insanity may be compared. Here, abnormality stands for something that a person fails to do with accordance to the norm, and insanity is a failure to follow the order made by nature. It is important to take other criteria into account. For example, abnormal may be a positive thing if it is a physical shape of a sportsman that establishes a new record. The Cambridge Dictionary confirms this: in psychology this term is used both in the statistical sense of deviation from the central tendency of a distribution and in the sense of behavioral deviation from the social norm. Abnormal may also be an emotional distress when a person just feels unhappy. Insanity is not used in pathological sense but often is stated within the idea of legal responsibility.

History gives us wide and vivid explanations. Back in the Middle Ages, abnormal and insane were in the same line. A person was considered to be possessed by the devil if he or she did something strange. It was considered not only a violation of social standards, but no less than a menace to the world. There are a number of stories from the ancient period when insanity took place. For instance, some events may be read in Bible. A story of Nebuchadnezzar is a clear picture of how one being sane comes to insanity. Nebuchadnezzar's condition was a punishment. This partly explains the negative attitude that some show towards people with mental illnesses. What is more, there always seemed to be a way to deal with people marked as insane or abnormal. In the past, the power was in the hands of the church, so there were chosen people who cured the abnormal ones with the help of religious attributes. Now it is pills, at that time it was blood and crosses. People would cut the scull in order to make it bleed, thus they believed the evil force would go away.

One more thing that is in common is fear. People are afraid of the abnormal and insane as it is hard to predict their behavior. Not normal individuals are not bounded by the routine and that is why there is a need to dismiss such cases in some way. The so-called asylum era had been launched amidst utopian expectations of cure. Today, we have antidepressants and compassion towards the insane shown in the mass media, we live in an age of medical science, where even the formerly dark art of psychiatry has advanced into modernity. The thing is that people away from norm do not need compassion, as a rule, it is just a method to cope with massive fear of the abnormal.

Abnormality and insanity are the notions that are used to name something that is beyond the norm. Abnormal is a term to define an unusual behavior of an individual. Insane is considered to be something extreme, it has a higher level of severity. The difference between the terms is in the sphere of their usage (medicine, law, society). Both notions have a history that formulated their meanings.

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