Friday, December 12, 2014

Mental Illness and Selfishness

Is selfishness a symptom of mental illness - or the cause of it?

I've had a lot of exposure to mentally ill people in my life.  My Mother, my friend's brother, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a college roommate, among others.   And there was a pattern in all of these people - they were incredibly selfish people who viewed other people as mere wallpaper.

No empathy whatsoever.   Now, I know what you are going to say, that maybe I don't tolerate a lot of bullshit or have a lot of empathy for other people.   But that is not true.  I have little tolerance for stupid behavior, but I respect other people and their rights.   If there is a line at the stop sign, I take my turn and wait for others to take theirs.  The mentally ill just charge right in and say "screw you" to others.

That is the difference.

Sadly, the "cure" for mental illness is to throw gasoline on the fire.   They send people to a "therapist" who then encourages them to talk about themselves and "get in touch with their feelings" and to be introspective and think more and more about how the world impacts them and not vice-versa.

And as I noted before, this encourages the mentally ill to make a hobby out of mental illness.  My girlfriend would bore everyone for hours about what her therapist said, or what her "problems" were.   What problems other people had were of no interest to her.   And in her personal life, she took what she wanted, whatever was convenient, without a care for what others thought.

My friend's brother was the same way.  His parents sent him to a therapist, which was a sort of status symbol amongst the troubled-teen-angst set.   And he would just take what he wanted - my paper route money, my mother's car, whatever.  He didn't think very much - if at all - how his actions impacted others, nor did he give a shit about anyone else but himself.  When his girlfriend finally left him, his reaction was how "unfair" this was to him - he could not fathom why a young woman in her childbearing years would want to find a husband with a steady job, who might want to settle down.   How their relationship impacted her was of no consequence to him.   The same thing happened when his wife left him.

My boyfriend was the same way - he actually had not one, but two copies of the Physician's Desk Reference, and every time his "doctor" prescribed a new pill, he would read up on it and bore everyone about his new "meds" and how they worked and what the side effects were.  Whenever any subject came up for discussion, what his doctor said (or allegedly said) was the deal-breaker.  "Well, my doctor says I should...." and that was the end of that.   It was like having a third party in the relationship.   And yes, he was selfish, too, wanting a relationship, but not wanting to move out of his Mother's basement.   You know, normal people want something more than that.

My roommate in college was a tragic case.   Growing up in child protective services and foster homes, he still vividly recalled his Mother being arrested for prostitution when he was only eight years old.  This kid really had a rough life.   But once he stopped taking his "meds" the world took on a carousel kind of view - with him in the middle and everything else spinning around him.   Paranoia, which is a form of narcissism (if you think people are out to get you, you have an overindulged sense of self-worth!) starts to set in. He became more and more erratic, until he disappeared one day.  Once he was re-institutionalized and put back on his "meds" he came back, apologetic about his lapse.   He was one of the few mentally ill people who had the balls to own up for his actions, and I have to admire that.

Most mentally ill people take the opposite tack - everything is someone else's fault or society's fault.

But this got me to thinking - is mental illness caused by (at least in part) selfishness?   Do people become mentally ill when their brains turn in on themselves and they start to view the world too much through their own eyes and not that of others?

Or is it a mere symptom of the illness - that they are mentally ill, and thus become more self-centered and selfish?

Or is it a third possibility - that the treatment of mental illness forces people to become more self-centered, introspective, and less considerate of others?

Or some combination of the three?

Or maybe it doesn't matter?   Maybe if you treat the symptom of selfishness by encouraging empathy for others, that the symptoms of the disease - and thus the disease itself - would abate?

The answer is, of course, "I don't know" as I am not an expert in these fields.  I just have questions.

But I do know one piece of advice given to me by a Psychologist:  Don't try to form a relationship with a mentally ill person.   It will be a disaster.   Run away.   Run away as fast as you can.

It seemed like odd advice at the time, as I was brought up to be empathetic.   Don't the mentally ill need our help?   Well, they need help, but not the kind a lay person can provide.   Trying to make a relationship work, with a person who can't even manage their own life (or who barely can) is just a recipe for disaster.

And no, this is not "selfish" at all, to look out for yourself.   Trying to form a relationship with a mentally ill person is a sure-fire way to make yourself miserable and make them miserable too.   Chances are, they will have trouble establishing and maintaining a relationship.   Unless you want to spend the rest of your life in loud arguments and shouting matches, it probably isn't a swell idea.  For someone struggling to keep their mind in order, perhaps just learning to live one day at a time is enough, at least for the time being.

You have an obligation to fulfill your part of the unwritten social contract.   And again, this is not "selfish".  Selfish is when you do things without any consideration as to how it impacts others.    Stealing your brother's paper route money, for example, is selfish.   Saving the money you earn, for the future, is not.  Taking care of yourself is not being selfish.  Taking from others, however, is.  And that is the odd thing, in most cases, the mentally ill do not really even take care of themselves, even as they take from others.

And maybe right there is the key.

NOTE:  As I have noted before, many homeless people in our country are mentally ill.   And many Liberals think we should hand out more money to the homeless as anything less would be "selfish".  But consider the drug-addicted beggar on the street who uses no shoes as a device to elicit sympathy from strangers.   He owns shoes - and even has an apartment.  But it is a device (like a dirty-faced child) used to solicit sympathy from people - who then feel better about themselves (and superior to others) for having "helped" the "less fortunate."   Are these people being altruistic or selfish?   The homeless, I mean.   By not taking care of yourself, and then begging for money to buy alcohol and drugs, isn't that sort of the ultimate selfishness?

Many, particularly on the Left, don't see it that way.  The homeless and poor are sainted people who need our help.   But talk to anyone who works with the homeless and you'll hear another story - many don't want our help but just cash-money, if you please.

Yes, there are some who are truly needy and want to get ahead.  Those aren't the ones with cardboard signs living under bridges drinking 40 ounce cans of malt liquor and trying to shame you into giving them money.   Yes, the mentally ill are selfish.