On Mental Illness: We Shouldn't Torture Ourselves

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday June 07, 2011 - 04:50:00 PM

Self victimization takes on many forms, and I wonder if this subject may be too deep and too touchy for me to approach in the context of this column. If I just cover some of the ways that I have internally persecuted myself, what I have observed in other people, and what little I know about this subject, I think that might work. 

The self torture that I am talking about is usually invisible, and takes the form of negative thoughts about oneself. Self criticism on the level of thoughts can create chronic bad moods, depression, and continuous angst. It can drive us to deprive ourselves of things that could be enjoyable in life, and it can stop us from being happy with the way things stand in the present. 

It is very common for people to be upset over their body image. The mass media seems to deliberately brainwash people to covet an image of supposed bodily perfection with their advertisements of Victoria’s Secret, and all of the body enhancement products out there, such as weight loss and workout products, hair and cosmetics, hair transplants, and strengthening products for men. It seems like a conspiracy to make people obsessed with “the perfect body” while making people feel inadequate or unattractive if they have a “muffin top” around their waist. I suggest that all of us average looking people band together in a boycott of these products and their advertisements. This media barrage may be responsible for the epidemic of anorexia. People were not getting anorexia in the early 1970’s, when I was a child. 

Many persons with mental illness suffer from thoughts of inadequacy or insecurity when not employed. Further, we often believe we can’t accept ourselves as valid, capable people unless we prove to ourselves that we can work. It ties into being diagnosed as having a disability. If we are unable to prove to ourselves that we can hold a job, we may feel that the mental illness defines us. In order to prove to ourselves that we can work, we may put ourselves through a great deal of unnecessary suffering. 

Employment has been an area of “love and hate” for me since the time I first tried to work at the age of fourteen. I remember I got a job in door to door sales because my older brother was doing that job. I was bitten by a Doberman while approaching someone’s house. Beside that, I have always been a poor salesman. 

At my first “real” job, in which the employer kept records at least, I programmed myself to have a huge amount of anxiety because at first, I was working too slowly. This self programming that I performed in order to be fast enough on the job turned out to be a demon that plagued me for years to follow. Not only did it create anxiety for me in future jobs, which sabotaged my performance, it was also a form of self persecution. 

The issue of needing medication or not needing it is another way that we can and should not internally persecute ourselves. The idea of needing medication, for many people, is a blow to the ability to like oneself, and to believe oneself a strong and capable person. Our society teaches us that if there is a “defect” in how we are built, it supposedly makes us less of a person. 

I suggest, if upset about the ideas of needing medication or about difficulties in working, that the person having those thoughts ought to work on changing the thoughts, first. Once the negative and self persecutory thoughts are resolved, you are in a better position emotionally to deal with the external world and to fix the actual “problem” that you believe exists. 

Sometimes we may seek validation from another person when in fact we should be giving it to ourselves. On the other hand, if our lives are pockmarked with individuals who withhold approval, it can be difficult for us to learn to approve of ourselves. Yet, self validation and self approval are things we must not deny ourselves, even if this takes work. It may be the only way toward genuine success.