Category: Mental Health

via Daily Prompt: Adrift

Who am I w-out you3

This is a digital painting I did when thinking about my sisters borderline personality disorder, which has estranged her from me since we were kids. It was after our father died that she seemed to go off the rails mentally.

Did you know that the loss of a parent in childhood is often associated with the onset of borderline personality disorder and is believed to be one of the possible causative factors. BPD is a difficult disorder to treat as the anger, insecurity and mistrust that individuals who suffer this disorder feel makes it difficult for them to accept help. Unfortunately, this is what I believe my estranged sister suffers, though, to my knowledge, she’s never been diagnosed.

It is very important that children receive some professional counseling on the death of a loved one so that they learn how to process the experience in a healthy way.

In relation to the debate over corporate salaries you might have heard the cliché, “If you offer peanuts for salary, you only get monkeys”,. The reality turns out to be that if you offer ridiculously large financial incentives, you get psychopaths.

The Great British Psychopath Survey conducted by Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the Calleva Research Center for Evolution and Human Sciences at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, provides us with some evidence of the paths of employment that psychopaths are attracted to in everyday society. The top ten of these professions are listed in the left hand column of Table 1. It is interesting to note that each of these professions could be said to offer one or more of three motivations that appeal to the psychopath, direct authoritarian power over others, social influence, and financial gain. These are incentives that they can, and do, abuse for their own benefit. It offers a precautionary warning to those involved in the recruitment processes for these professions that they should consider making the screening for psychopathy a standard part of the application process. It would certainly make a nice, prosocial change from screening out those who suffer depression from employment.

The masks psychopaths wear.

Looking at the right hand column, unsurprisingly, it appears that professions involving caring don’t seem to offer an appeal to the psychopath. Number 10, the accountants, is interesting. Perhaps corporations should only be offering their CEO positions to those in this profession at the standard accountant salary rates. Then they’d be getting someone who is not only financially competent, but who is not going to slash and burn a company’s staff, quality of products and services, safety standards, and environmental standards for the sake of increasing company profits to earn themselves some extra bonuses. Just a thought.

Table 1. Top 10 professions that are Most / Least occupied by individuals testing positive to psychopathy as measured on the Levensen Self-Report Psychopathy Scale. (n=5400).

The psychopaths you meet Table 1


K. Dutton. 2013. Wisdom From Psychopaths? Scientific American Mind. Vol 23, No. P42, No. 6, January/Febuary. New York. Nature America Inc..

Just do a websearch for “myths about child abuse” and you will find that there are a number of cruel myths that surround child sexual abuse that make it difficult for victims to recover from the scars left by sexual abuse. The one that I think is the worst and cruellest is this one: “Victims of child sexual abuse grow up to become child sex abusers themselves”.

This fallacy creates the fear in the victim that if they tell anyone about the abuse, they are then going to be an object of suspicion themselves for the rest of their lives. This additional fear, (along with the fear of not being believed, called a twisted liar, being an object of disgust and so on), very powerfully robs the victim of the ability to disclose to anyone what has happened to them. Corollary to this fear is the hurt that people would believe them capable of the sadistic behaviour of the monster or monsters who abused them. This false belief held by the community at large, robs them of the hope that they could ever gain a sense of respect or acceptance from others. They feel as though they would be the social leper that acquaintances wouldn’t want to see near anyone’s children, nor having children of their own. And so they stay silent. It is a very effective myth for the real abusers to perpetuate when you think about it.

A little depressed avatar

In the criminological and psychological research literature it has become clearer and clearer that there is absolutely no basis to this poorly conceived belief. As the Australian Institute of Criminology points out in it’s report “Misperceptions about child sex offenders” by Kelly Richards
(ISSN 1836-2206), there is no causal relationship between being sexually abused and becoming a sexual abuser. Very few victims become abusers themselves. When this does occur, it is not as a result of the sexual abuse. The fact that most victims do not become abusers and that most abusers were never abused should be enough to destroy this myth. One can only hope, I say with an ounce of pessimism, that the public will become more educated as to the facts and that the cruelty of such false beliefs will fade over time. Thus making it easier for victims to heal and feel an accepted part of humanity rather than an outcast.

There is a lot of ignorance, assumptions and discrimination surrounding depression that results in a lot of unnecessary, additional harm to those suffering the disorder. For instance the myth that people with depression are self-absorbed. Research has shown the exact opposite. Those with depression have a greater degree of empathy for others. This is possibly due to the amount of pain that we have experienced in our lives. We become highly sensitive to the pain or potential pain in others and tend to be more prosocial in our behaviour toward others than neurotypicals.

Another great misunderstanding about depression is that it is just a state of being ‘sad’. Sadness is a natural emotional reaction to losses or temporary unfortunate events in a persons life and the experience is short lived. Depression on the other hand is often, but not always, the result of severe trauma, years of relentless abuse, bullying, neglect, and/ or social isolation that ingrains a negative pattern of thinking that is very hard to remove without help from a competent Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. Along with this cognitive aspect, physiological changes take place inside the brains of its victims. The exact mechanisms are complex and not fully understood as yet but they centre around a dramatic decrease in the brains ability to produce enough of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Sustained child abuse has also been shown through scans to cause damage to neurological structures themselves. This all makes the experience of depression very different to the occasional sadness that most people experience. The experience of depression is one of severe emotional pain that feels as real as any physical pain. This emotional pain can become so extreme that it results in suicide to escape this relentless experience of pain (to sink the boot in, those who attwmpt or commit suicide are labelled “cowards”).


The reduction of serotonin in the motivational and pleasure centres of the brain means that it is almost impossible to feel happy about anything, and results in great difficulty engaging in everyday activity, hence the myth that we’re lazy. In extreme cases a sufferer cannot even bring themselves to look after their own well-being on a day to day basis. Assuming that this is because the sufferer of depression is just lazy is like assuming that a sufferer of paraplegia doesn’t walk because they’re just lazy. Just because you can’t see the cause of disablement, doesn’t mean it’s not there.


Another assumption that people make comes as a result of Joe Pleb being unable to distinguish between a mood disorder and intellectual impairment. People seem to automatically treat those of us with depression as though depression makes us stupid. An unfair irony considering that they are the ignoramuses. Having an IQ of 170 I often feel like a I’m talking to monkeys who are hiding bananas behind their backs and thinking that they are much cleverer than I…even though I can plainly see the banana over their diminutive shoulders. But how do you explain that to a stupid monkey?

Then of course is the assumption that having a mental illness makes you dangerous. As they say, “You have to watch the quiet ones!” Being socially withdrawn and reserved as a result of feeling so much pain and no motivation to interact, obviously we are plotting the serial murder of everyone we know. In this case they are confusing what is referred to variously as psychopathy, sociopathy, or it’s proper psychiatric designation, anti-social personality disorder (APD). Soon you find yourself suspected of all the unsolved murders in the local area. Another unfair irony with this is that sociopaths are quite often charming and outgoing and the last person to be suspected of crime within a community. They are quite often considered pillars of the community in fact, and are very good at hiding their indiscretions.

I had the next assumption bluntly thrown in my face once from an acquaintance from my amateur ballet days. The individual in question was a principal dancer with the Queensland Ballet who had choreographed a pas de deux that I had performed in an amateur production. I was walking down the main street in West End in Brisbane and happened across he and his wife. He introduced me to her as, “Roger, the snob!” This is in fact a prime example of what is known in psychology as the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). A curse to anyone suffering, even temporarily, from mental dis-ease. Put simply, it is a phenomenon whereby a person’s behaviour is attributed to an internal trait as opposed to an external influence. So, to this principal dancer, the reason that I was quiet and withdrawn was not because I was suffering, as I have since childhood, major depression as a result of various abusive personalities and traumatic experiences. The reason, to his minds assumptions, was that I consciously chose not to be talkative and bubbly towards him because I saw myself as superior, ie a snob. Fundamental Attribution Error is essentially an act of cognitive laziness. It is a failure on the part of those who engage in it to reason more deeply as to the motivations and causes behind the behaviour of others. It is cognitively easier to attribute a behaviour as an internal, consistent trait of the individual rather than as a temporary state resulting from environmental circumstances. That would require the individual to use cognitive resources to conceive of possible environmental explanations.

One expects ignorant bigots, to have a complete deficit in empathy. The real hurter is family, and people you considered friends who show you absolutely no understanding or compassion. This lack of compassion causes so much extra unnecessary pain. That is why it is so important for sufferers to surround themselves with a social network that is understanding and supportive…if they can. I have to admit from personal experience, that understanding, empathic people are very hard to find, even among the clinical profession that is supposed to be there to help. Of course, having studied psychology and seen the plethora of privileged young people studying psychology who don’t appear to have any sense of suffering beyond missing an episode of their favourite tv program, I’m not surprised that they don’t show empathy with their clients. Don’t give up trying to find empathic people though, and don’t give up on seeking therapy either. A competent cognitive behaviour therapist will help you recover despite being a compassionless twit. It is the structured program of CBT that does the work. It would be nice to live in a world where those of us who suffer depression are not told, “Cheer up”,or even worse, “Harden Up”, as if that is the problem, it would make recovery from depression so much easier. The general attitude and lack of understanding of people towards those of us with depression however adds an extra layer of stress in our lives and a perceived need to keep our affliction to ourselves. We live in fear of the treatment we will receive from neurotypicals.

Addendum: I thought I should mention that I have finally found genuinely empathic therapists who have helped me immeasurably.

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