ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Creating And Maintaining Self-Respect

By Jack Bragen
Friday September 21, 2012 - 12:21:00 PM

Many people who are "helping professionals" in the mental health treatment system do not believe that persons with mental illness are their equals. This is a message that gets delivered repeatedly to persons with mental illness: "You are something less"-less of a person, less intelligent, less competent, and, less worthy of self respect. 

There are some counselors who would try to pick apart my statement and analyze it as though it were a symptom. He or she would say, "What is it specifically that makes you feel that way?" And then whatever answer gets delivered is further analyzed. The tendency of therapists putting us "under a microscope" instead of being accountable, is one of my pet peeves. 

Self-respect is a thing you can give to yourself that no one else can give you. It is created and maintained by having self-talk that supports it. In some cases, psychosis or depression can interfere with the blossoming of self-respect. However, I believe the thoughts that support it are at a deeper level of a person's existence than are the symptoms of mental illnesses. I believe self worthiness runs very deep. 

Self respect provides the will to pick oneself back up after being knocked down. It allows you to defy people who openly (or subtly) doubt you and put you down. It allows someone to get angry at one's abusers. It allows a person to believe, through confidence rather than through evidence, that they can accomplish something. 

Self respect and believing in oneself, or their absence, are self-fulfilling prophecies. A track record of achievement or of overcoming adverse circumstances, are useful but not essential. A person could live half of one's life as a habitual victim, but could one day get tired of that, and could decide to be more confident. 

I've met a counselor who believed I was unable to bake a cake from a cake mix without supervision. I've met others who doubted me in other ways. I was told that I had grandiose beliefs about my intelligence. What is the evidence that I am average? I passed an informal version of the test for Mensa. I took another aptitude test at Department of Rehabilitation, and, rather than give me the results, I was told that the evaluator had suddenly become ill. 

A certain amount of defiance goes along with respect for oneself. 

There is such a thing as having too much of this self respect, which includes being arrogant and perhaps overconfident. That once described me. I created enough problems for myself because of my arrogance that I have backed off from that since. Yet, I continue to pick myself back up after being knocked down, although now, perhaps, a bit more slowly.