ON MENTAL ILLNESS: "Negative" Judgmental Messages

By Jack Bragen
Friday April 12, 2013 - 03:12:00 PM

"Why can't you be more like your brother?" "Why don't you get off your rear-end and get a job?" These are the well-worn lines that have become a cliché of a judgmental parent. We are taught that we must earn our keep, or be considered an invalid person. 

Taking criticism can be a challenge. When it is well-intentioned and carried in at least a somewhat gentle manner, it is easier to digest. 

Two years prior to my first psychotic episode, when I was a teen, someone who had at one point been a friend confronted me because she thought I needed to realize that I was "messed up." The warning from this person was carried in the manner of a vicious verbal attack. At the time, it did more to send me farther over the edge. 

My father was judgmental when I would lose jobs, and he would say I lacked enough "fortitude." (He a nd I both didn't realize the extent to which my illness made everything harder. My problems aren't apparent to an outside observer.) 

When criticism stops being constructive and enters the zone of telling someone they are a bad person, it only compounds a problem. 

Along these lines there is also weight-ism. Our society punishes people, especially women, who do not have the skinny body type. This is a source of a great deal of unnecessary self-punishment. 

Excess weight may be a health risk, but it does not mean that people deserve the bad treatment that gets put on them. People are okay and deserving of love at any weight. How many movies have you seen with a leading lady who isn't picture-perfect skinny? None? Bigger actresses are relegated to doing only comedic roles. 

The message of Hollywood, and all of the hundreds of television commercials, is that if you're not thin, you're nobody. I use the term "nobody" because in all TV commercials and ninety percent of movies, bigger women aren't even shown. 

Additionally, movies and television idealize men with muscles and flat abdomens, causing normal looking men to think something is wrong with them. 

People are judged for having a mental illness and for being unable to earn money. Depression, Bipolar, and Schizophrenia are real medical illnesses that can interfere with holding a job. If we can work, some or all of the time, we should be supported and helped at that. And if we can't work, if work is unbearable or impossible for us, it should be fine. 

Before I met my wife, when I wanted to socialize with potential partners who weren't disabled, my psychiatric condition and not being able to work full-time was an instant disqualifier. In the singles scene, (at least back in the 1980's and 1990's) a man's job and his money defined him. As a man with mental illness who usually could not work, I was judged "not good enough" to be in a relationship. 

We are often our own worst tormentors, especially when we think we can't appreciate ourselves exactly as we are in the present. 

I am talking about a habit of comparing ourselves to something that may or may not be realistic, yet a standard that we have not reached, and unnecessarily berating ourselves as a result. When we learn to accept ourselves as we are, it can be a big relief. 

When someone we care about or who we respect doesn't believe we're "good enough" it can be painful. When we ourselves don't believe we're "good enough" it really hurts. 

The conclusion is that we ought to be easier on ourselves, criticize ourselves a little less, and appreciate ourselves for the things we have already achieved.