The term "abnormal behavior" can refer to any action or behavior that is unusual, but is most commonly used to describe the actions and behaviors associated with psychological conditions. This encompasses a large range of behavior types that fall outside normal or acceptable behavioral patterns. Behavior modification therapy is often used to resolve the behavior and convert inappropriate actions and interactions to appropriate ones.
Common types of abnormal behavior include antisocial behaviors, such as breaking laws; failing to respect the needs and boundaries of others; and injuring or abusing others, either verbally or physically. Other common abnormal behaviors include talking to people who do not exist, displaying inappropriate attachments to strangers, the inability to form attachments to friends and family members, and the inability to leave home due to incapacitating fears. People who behave abnormally also may perform actions repeatedly and obsessively or may experience delusions, hallucinations, phobias, or paranoid episodes.
Psychologists and behavioral therapists often focus on identifying the cause of abnormal behavior. In some cases, these causes are organic, meaning that they stem from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain or from another similar physical condition. These conditions often are controlled with prescription medications, such as anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety medications, but many see some improvement from long-term therapy and diet and lifestyle changes.
Abnormal behavior may also stem from psychological conditions. There is some evidence that some such conditions are inherited genetically, but many are caused by environmental factors. These factors could be long-term or may be a single event, and they can cause behavioral repercussions in childhood or adulthood.
For example, a child raised with parents who display antisocial behaviors may learn to behave antisocially. If this behavior goes uncorrected, the child may eventually teach her own children to behave abnormally one day. Likewise, a woman who is the victim of an assault may develop a fear of being victimized again that results in a fear of the world in general. Such a woman might eventually be unable to leave her home because her fear is so intense.
Once the abnormal behaviors and their causes are identified, the work of modifying behavior can begin. Therapy can involve group or one-on-one sessions that might occur in either a residential or an outpatient basis. Work could include facing fears, finding ways to empower the self, and learning or relearning to behave appropriately. Therapies also may be augmented with short- or long-term medications as deemed necessary by a psychiatrist or medical doctor.