How often have we been hurt or confused by the closest people in our lives, only to be told by them that they’re not really responsible for their bad behavior? While mental health can be a cause of problematic actions, it’s never an acceptable excuse.
Mental health is an important yet often stigmatized and avoided topic. We hear a lot from mental health professionals and advocates on the importance of accepting and trying to understand our friends and loved ones with mental health issues (and even ourselves), but there’s strangely not a lot of material on how those issues can be manipulated to suit the selfish ends of individuals. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but poor mental health isn’t an excuse to treat others badly.
Hurt People Hurt Other People
Throughout my young adult life, I’ve tried to never judge someone on their behavior towards me and to treat everyone as I’d want to be treated myself. But sometimes, people prove that they just can’t or are unwilling to unlearn bad behavior.
Someone who instantly comes to mind for me is a close friend I had during college. While we’re no longer in each other’s lives, we were at one time pretty tight with each other. Because of this, I discovered that she had very serious issues with a traumatic upbringing, with her parents, with dating partners, and how she related to other people. She had intense depression and went through severe periods of highs and lows. I tried to be there for her as best as I could, but often I was completely ignorant on the best way to truly help her.
She would disappear for days on end, party constantly, self-medicate, sleep with many of our friends, and incorrectly accuse me of reporting her behavior to her parents. At first, I felt intense sympathy for her, even when she slammed doors in my face, stole things from me, talked about me behind my back, and exhibited jealousy towards me. Then, I started to notice that she had no qualms about canceling her weekly therapy appointments, not taking her medication, and using her diagnosis as a scapegoat for every criticism and comment meant to motivate her towards productivity or better health. “I’m depressed” became a constant and consistent theme.
Some people prove that they just can’t or are unwilling to unlearn bad behavior.
I began to question if she was really serious and committed when it came to treating her diagnosis. I then realized that she didn’t really want friends like me around her – she wanted people who didn’t question her stealing from others, her reckless drug use, or her intentional sabotage of personal relationships and the carelessly selfish way she treated others.
I constantly had to remind myself, even going through my own mental health journey, that people hurt others for all kinds of reasons, but oftentimes because they themselves are in pain and have no idea how to handle it. It was only when I realized that she knew she was hurting people and just didn’t care that our relationship dissolved.
Using Your Issues To Evade Responsibility
Much of this probably seems heartless or in complete disregard of the genuine struggle of others. Having struggled with anxiety, depression, passive suicidal ideation, and post-traumatic stress myself, it can be painful or invalidating to hear that your loved ones don’t take you seriously, or that your coping mechanisms are harming you more than they’re helping.
But chances are, most of us probably know one or more people who use mental health or related issues as an excuse for mean, selfish, cruel, narcissistic, or just plain toxic behavior. If you need an example of this, look no further than the very public fall from grace of YouTuber Gabbie Hanna.
Gabbie started out on Vine and quickly rose to popularity on YouTube through her storytime videos and her friendships with other famous content creators. But recently, she’s become something of a villain on the platform and social media as a whole. Furthermore, she’s used her mental health diagnoses as the scapegoat for her bad behavior, the majority of which is well-documented.
Gabbie Hanna blames her mental health for her bad behavior, accusing critics of bullying her.
Gabbie most commonly accuses her critics or former fans of being bullies and even “abusers.” As an artist trying to make it as a poet and a music creator, she’s opened herself up to public commentary, but seems entirely incapable of taking constructive criticism or of engaging in productive discussion. Gabbie, who has adult ADHD and complex PTSD, constantly refers to herself as “neurodivergent” but offers no explanation to her audience of what that means or what kind of behavior that entails.
This year alone, it’s been revealed that Gabbie is proud of her sense of entitlement and that she’s an absolute nightmare to work with. She’s also tried to derail the careers and relationships of many of her former friends, but all of this criticism amounts to nothing more than “abuse” to Gabbie, because...she’s mentally ill.
Though It Can Be the Cause, It’s Not the Reason
Nowadays, mental health issues have been appropriated as quirky personality traits, and not only does this downplay the actual seriousness of our issues, but it encourages us to resort to hiding in a victim mentality instead of taking responsibility.
So, why isn’t poor mental health an excuse to act like a horrible person?
Because there’s absolutely no productivity in that kind of reasoning. A person who uses their problems as a scapegoat becomes accustomed to thinking they’re the only person in their life actually going through real, difficult experiences. Not only that, but when we use our issues as an excuse, we make it easier for ourselves to not listen to what our bodies are telling us, to ignore our symptoms, to write off our bad behavior, and to not engage in healthy coping mechanisms and tactics which actually benefit us more.
Emotions are temporary, but behavior has lasting consequences.
It also removes any sense of agency from our lives. When we become so accustomed to thinking that our issues dictate all of our words, our actions, and the choices we make, we remove the ability to choose from the conversation and let our emotions completely drive our behavior. Letting emotions have full control over our every thought and action is dangerous because emotions are entirely temporary – but behavior has lasting consequences.
Struggling with mental health can result in defensive, aggressive attitudes or just plain bad behavior. While mental health can be the reason we’re reacting in these ways, it’s just not an excuse. At the end of the day, we still have the right to choose to not let those problems control us, and it’s the more empowering decision not to.
Whether you’re struggling with mental health yourself or you’re a loved one trying to support someone who is, you probably know what it feels like to want to react negatively or to be on the receiving end of that behavior.
We’re all humans with flaws, and sometimes that simple realization can be the motivation behind blaming our behavior on the outside problems we seemingly can’t control, instead of owning our decisions and our issues.
A diagnosis or realization of something seriously wrong with us can feel like that influential power owns our choices and our behavior. But there’s a difference between knowing those labels don’t really control us and giving them complete ownership over our lives.
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