• advertisement

Our Mental Health Blogs

Is Mental Illness an Excuse for Bad Behavior?

Some mental illness symptoms can hurt others, but is mental illness an excuse for bad behavior? More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

Recently a commenter talked about how she felt taken advantage of by a loved one who had schizoaffective disorder. This particular individual seemed to take a lot from his family and gave nothing in return. He refused to shower, help out around the house, pay for anything and would eat out at restaurants with no money and then insist his family come down to the restaurant and pay for him.

The person with schizoaffective disorder was being medically treated and the loved one felt that he was just manipulating the people around him.

Now, I can’t say what the motivation was in this scenario, but certainly, this commenter is not the only one to have found herself in that situation. So the question is, is mental illness an excuse for bad behaviour?

Yes, Mental Illness Can Cause Bad Behavior

“Bad,” of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but yes, mental illness can cause behaviour that hurts others. Certainly when a person is paranoid and screams at you that you are from the government sent to spy on them, or when a person is manic and has an affair, or a person is so depressed that they miss their child’s birthday party, one could say that their mental illness has caused that behavior. And it’s behavior that one could certainly characterize as “bad” under ordinary circumstances. But leeway needs to be given to people who are experiencing acute episodes of illness and simply cannot control what is going on.

Mental Illness is Not an Excuse for Everything

Of course, that being said, I don’t get to just run around hurting people because I have a mental illness. I can’t expect people to accept just any old behavior at any old time because I have a diagnosis. That isn’t right and it isn’t reasonable.

Some Things Can be Accepted, Others Not

So when it comes down to it, it’s really about an individual relationship. Maybe your partner could never get over the fact that you slept with someone else, even though you were manic. Maybe your sister can forgive you for screaming at her because you were delusional. Maybe your children will grow up with the understanding that sometimes you missed important life events because of an illness you couldn’t control.

Or maybe not.

I would like to think that people could find compassion in their hearts for those of us who try our very best but still find the disease gets the better of us now and then. But that being said, no one should have to put up with being walked all over on a daily basis. So there’s a line between when symptoms become manipulation or abuse or just nastiness. And that line differs for everyone.

For me, I know I’m responsible for what I do, symptom or not, and I need to take ownership of that, and I simply try to make things as right as I can when I slip up. But this would be true regardless of the label of a diagnosis.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

22 thoughts on “Is Mental Illness an Excuse for Bad Behavior?”

  1. One of the safest and best ways to deal with some mentally ill people is to always have two people present especially if that person is passive aggressive. Having a would-be witness helps signal the mentally ill person that he/she needs to try to be responsible for behaviors. Try. I said. I have, e.g., a mentally ill in-law who used to rant and scream at family gatherings, a lot, I sense, because siblings had grown up and “moved on”, and this was his way of trying to pull they dynamic back to an earlier stage and to get the attention. This person said to me once as an excuse for the screaming, “I am mentally ill.”
    I said, “Yes, but you have learned to use it and your siblings don’t want to be around you” and carry reactive behaviors, caused by pain back into their own lives. After that, the person starting controlling himself much better. The other thing is when conversations start heading into “Woe is me” and you are the appointed counsellor of the moment, just say, “It’s best you talk with your therapist. Then add that we all, mentally ill or not, have to interpret life with the glass half empty metaphor OR the glass half full. Tell the person to make a list of “what’s good” in their lives and to CHOOSE to focus on those thoughts when the bad and/or irrational ones come up.

    Perpetuating “sick” family dynamics by caving in to the ill person controlling the situation does not a. help the person and b. has the potential for making others sick. Be authoritative and loving, but do set up boundaries. They help the ill person and they help YOU.

    1. I agree on your take with the brother. I have horrible behavioral disorders and it can be frustrating to condition myself to factor what is considerate to others with my impulses. I want to talk over others and push my opinion like a willful child.. but allowing myself or others allowing me isn’t good. I’ve been around others who don’t restrain themselves and litterally gloat that they’re being an asshole.. and when someone gets upset with them, they eagerly and loudly say they have a behavior condition. It’s very much like a person with the “terrible two’s or rebellious teenager issues”. I’m not saying it’s the fault of others who humor the person with the condition.. At my worst I can barely control myself.. in an inpatient facility I was terrorizing the staff, other patients, and even myself. I still knew that I had to try to help the staff help me. I also seen other patients act up purposely. I got on this site because I’m curious on ill behavior vs. being “bad”. I think the difference is when someone knowingly and deliberately acts up beyond what their illness provokes them to do.

  2. To all of you who have posted on this page, these comments are exactly what I needed to read at this moment. Sel, your post is so intelligent and insightful. Ond of the best discussions I’ve read on this subject.

    I was diagnosed with BPII 21 years ago after my older son was born. Now his brother, my son who is 16, is showing signs and his behavior is becoming increasingly more difficult for me to manage. Thank God I have my own experience to understand, and hopefully help, him. He has his first appointed with a psychiatrist in a few weeks. I hope it goes well and that he will be receptive to taking mediation. He is so angry at me now. It really is hard to take, but I understand what he is experiencing and his anguish about it.

  3. @jan I know this is coming a couple months late, so I hope things have gotten better for you and your daughter. And while I don’t feel my sharing with you my experience will give you the answers you are looking for, I’m hoping it will help somehow.

    First off, I’d like to comend you for your obvious love of your daughter and the efforts you’re making to support her. Not all of us receive this and I know it would have meant the world to me. Even though I have the suspicion that at that age, I’m 33 now, I may have responded very similar to her.

    I had an early onset of bipolar at 13, I also suffer from ptsd from multiple traumas I’ve experienced throughout my life beginning at 3. Needless to say I’ve been a mess most of my life. The thing about bipolar is, unfortunately, it’s different for all of us. Oh we share the same inability to physicaly regulate our moods and thus the cycling within the vast spectrum of human emotion, but because expression of emotions does have it’s own uniqueness to the individual, no matter how many bipolar sufferers you speak with, you’ll realize that your daughter will always have her specifics you’ll need to watch out and adjust for.

    That being said, I can sympathize with her “bad behavior” you describe. My mania was at its worst ages 13-18. I was unmedicated and had mostly absentee parents. I ran the streets and any attempt to reign me in, even though I knew it came from a good place, just blew up in the innocent parties face. That doesn’t mean whoever it was handled or approached me perfectly, but even those that did, as close as humanly possible anyway, suffered.

    I was defensive and irritable and got to points where emotionally I felt nothing, which was the worst because at those moments I could cut and hurt the ones I loved so bad. And only after that disconnect passed did all the hurt I caused mean something, which then spiraled me into a self-loathing depression. Being manic is like a motor running with no gas in it, it runs so hard for so long and then it siezes, leading to a crash.

    I made so many bad decisions, got myself into so many bad situations I could easily be dead right now. And I honestly don’t think anyone could have stopped me, as much as I wish they had.

    I thought I had it down, that I could handle anything, could do anything. For me that was part of the grandiose symptom some of us suffer from. I later realized I only felt that way, one because of the disease, and two, because at those times I had a relationship I felt supported in, usually a boyfriend.

    However, they were supportive because what I told them was specifically geared to elicit that response. I, like others I’ve spoken with, crave that attention, especially with someone new, hence why adultery can be an issue for bipolar sufferers.

    My inclination is that your daughters boyfriend is satisfying that craving. Unfortunately though, you’ll be able to count on people leaving her side as quickly as they joined it. Some of us can be quite charming drawing others to us almost immediately, but as soon as the crazy starts to show, and it will, they flee, like we’re lepers. And to some extent, emotionally we are. So know that she will be back and she will need you so desperately then.

    Other than being there to love and support her especially in those times of need, to a point that is healthy for you mind you, I don’t know that I would suggest anything else for you to do. Applying for guardianship, if it was me, would be met with the strongest resistance, possibly inciting me to sever that connection. It would be wrong on my part to respond that way, but it would happen all the same. But do not let that solidify your decision, you will know what is best for YOUR family.

    The choice for people like us to get better is exactly that, a choice. But let me clarify, that does not mean cured, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. But just like with any other disease, diabetes, cancer, we can take steps to mange it. To live the best life we can in spite of it.

    I make this choice everyday twice a day when I take my medicine. When I see my psychologist and tell him everything, the good and the bad because I know that honesty will lead to real help. When I catch myself expressing a symptom that hurts others and employ the tools I’ve developed to stop reacting and show myself the space to ride it out. That last fails quite a bit, but I do rejoice in the victory when it doesn’t.

    It has taken me 20 years to get to this level of awareness. And my genuine commitment to that didn’t happen until I had my first daughter at 20. I often say she saved my life. It’s been a long hard road with so much heartache along the way and I have so much further to go, but I have hope.

    As much as you can handle it healthily, please don’t give up hope on her. Encourage her to take responsibility for her own well being, don’t push and ensure her that you’re there to support her through it, if you really mean it.

    Another sufferer said “stability is a place bipolar people visit, none of us actually live there”. This has helped me keep a realistic view of the disease and thus keep my expectations reasonable. For nothing can be so defeating and demoralizing as feeling like a failure because we expect more than we’re really capable of.

    My one real piece of advice is take all advice with a grain of salt. Some things that work for others will also work for you and some won’t, but that does not reflect negatively on you or her.

    I apologize for the length in my response but hope that you are able to glean something that brings you comfort if nothing else.

    If you’re interested, in regards to medication I take, lamotrigene (lamictal) is an anticonvulsant. There have been studies that have found synaptically manic episodes are similar to seizures. I have had only one episode in 6 years. I am currently scheduled to meet with a psychiatrist to start treating the depression.

    Your family is in my prayers <3

  4. We have a caregiver who has a fake wife and cats. He even shows us pictures of his cats and wife…yet they are Stock fotos off Net. Wtf r we dealing with hete? He talks to himself, too, but is a great caregiver..do w schizo affective..yet also takes on dx of his patients/clients..ease help..we r we seeing here..

  5. I’m in a bit of a crisis but in the dark, because my daughter is 18 and therefore, her counselor no longer speaks to me.
    Here’s the situation. At 16, her counselor (a different one, who had to quit) stated that my daughter was one of only two “true bipolars” she had ever seen in children. So yes, I’ve considered that part of her. Further, I was told she’d probably need to live with us forever, so we should get adult guardianship. However, she constantly spoke of wanting to live with us forever, and since she never had friends, let alone dated, I thought nothing of this. Then she turned 18, and TWO WEEKS after meeting an older boy online, said she wants to move out. (She spent a weekend with him soon after, and came home, calling me “overbearing,” a word I’d NEVER heard her say about ANYbody. Obviously, whatever she was saying over there got them to respond that way.) She has no job, and we’re still in the application process of trying to get her SSI, with the intention to still get her an education so she could at least get a part time job.
    All that said, I get so frustrated with her behaviors. I have NEVER known her to take ownership of her own behaviors, but maybe twice. However, she is GREAT at taking everyone else’s inventory. Someone say, “May I help you?” is perceived rude to her. Today, I restarted the computer, and it made a SINGLE, very loud noise. She started screaming at me and then justified that behavior. BUT when I simply CALLED her and didn’t hear her reply, so I got loud so she could hear me, she said she got “p.o.’ed” at me for screaming at her, as if I were mad at her.
    I’ve heard others say she just doesn’t make connections. She really doesn’t SEEM to, but for that amount of bullying and manipulating, what else could it be?
    If the others are right, what type condition prevents someone from making those connections? I don’t have a clue how she’s going to survive on her own, even with a boyfriend, if she can’t distinguish between someone calling her loudly because they can’t hear her being okay, and shouting a whole lecture over a single noise NOT being okay.
    I’ve thought about getting adult guardianship, to prevent others from taking advantage of her, but not sure if it’s smart or not. Being she’s 18, I don’t even know who to consult.
    I’d LOVE to know what others think about this whole situation.

  6. I am a 50 year old woman managing with my own problems including clinical depression. Because we lost our home, my husband, children, and I came to live with my mom and schizoaffective brother. It’s like I’m 12 years old again, living in fear of my older brother. I try to be as understanding as my mom, but I simply have a hard time being verbally abused by him. He is selfish and just doesn’t have a clue what an affect he has on our living environment. No matter how nice and caring a person is to him, he still disrespects you. We are oppressed by his anger. He believes we owe it to him to do housework for him, while all he does is listen to music and surf the internet. He becomes irritated if the house is out of order. For the past two years I have taken care of my elderly mother and done the household chores, but I began to have an issue with my meds and became severely depressed which meant I couldn’t take care of things well enough. This angered him and he would yell at all of us. This gave me panic attacks but he still had no compassion. His house wasn’t clean. You see he believes he owns everything my mom owns. He is the lord of the manor in his mind. We have to ask his permission to use my mom’s car or else he throws a tantrum. he often slams doors and breaks them. He never apologizes for degrading you, insulting you, making you miserable because of course he’s ill and he knows it. We are moving out soon when we get money for renting a home but it won’t be soon enough. I have just become Tired of my mom excusing him for the pain he causes. To a certain degree he deserves compassion, but my mom has spoiled him. Nobody else’s feelings count to him but his because of course he is mentally ill and he knows it.

  7. I grew up with mental illness in my family. Both parents were loving but my father’s war ptsd turned into severe ocd with psychosis which turned him from loving to a monster – restricting and controlling every aspect of our lives. My depressed mother was helpless to protect us and I developed complex ptsd which has lasted my whole life. I loved both my parents deeply (I still caretake for my mom) but if their mental illnesses had been treated or even addressed (which was hard to do in the 1960’s and 70’s), I doubt I would be writing this entry. We need to educate children and teachers how to respond to mentally ill parents so they don’t suffer in silence. Talk helps erase the stigma and the shame.

  8. I struggle to find balance between bad behavior and mental illness. My bf’s mother is bipolar and she is manipulative, sneaky, dishonest, and verbally abusive towards her own son and myself. I try very hard to be compassionate, understanding and patient, but there are days when I just can’t give any more. I have to keep a distance from her on days where she is looking to fight. Boundaries seem to never work, she violates our trust, our privacy, and she does everything she can do to sabotage my relationship with her son. I’ve had enough and wish that my bf could see how much damage she is causing him and our relationship. I know he loves his mom, but boundaries and limits need to be placed in order to move forward. I suppose it’s easier said than done.

  9. I have Bipolar II, so I am no stranger to mental illness. My close friend is schizoaffective, and I notice that she consistently asks for loans, and hints that she wants me and others around her to buy her things, clothes, meals, etc. She is able to work, spends all she earns, then has nothing, and expects others to rescue her. I used to do this, and I have money troubles myself. She is a nice person, but is also very jealous and annoying. I wonder if manipulative behavior is part of schizophrenia or just her way of getting whatever she wants because she feels she has been screwed in life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us

Subscribe to Blog

  • advertisement

in Breaking Bipolar Comments

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Mental Health
Newsletter Subscribe Now!

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Log in

Login to your account

Username *
Password *
Remember Me