It is so not black and white. Many times, our reactions to comments or behaviours of others are put down to our mental illness, when in fact our reaction is completely justified. The comments that follow from the other party show that they either have no insight, or take no responsibility for their own comments or behaviour and they completely absolve themselves of any wrong doing.
Yes, we know and understand that when we are unwell we lose perception, have irrational or exaggerated reactions and can’t think logically. BUT, this is only when we are unwell. When we are well, it is beyond frustrating when we are treated as though we can no longer have an opinion or respond to others maddening, angering or inappropriate comments or behaviours.
Sometimes we raise relationship issues to communicate something that is unsettling or triggering for us to work on the issue, clear the air, negotiate a compromise and learn better ways of interacting. These attempts at providing insight to our perspective of the issue and desire to improve the relationship are met with dismissive comments or turned around to be our fault and again blamed on our mental illness.
For example, whilst discussing an article in the newspaper on current events, my mother said “I don’t think this acceptable, don’t you!”. It wasn’t a question, it was put as a statement, foisting her belief on me. I responded “no I don’t, I believe……..”. She became angry that I should dare to have an opinion in opposition to her and snapped at me. I explained that “I am my own person, with my own views, morals, values and ethics and they are not necessarily the same as yours”. Mum then became argumentative and I listened to her point of view, but she would not listen to mine. I attempted to end the discussion, because she was obviously not open considering my perspective or opinion, by stating “we will have to agree to disagree on this topic”, then I walked away to talk to someone else. No, I didn’t ‘storm’ away, I just removed myself from her sphere in self-preservation. Later I heard her telling my husband “Nicci is obviously not well, she won’t listen to reason”.
I felt hurt and extremely angry that she would blame my illness and dismissed my right to an opinion or belief because it is opposition to hers. I might have an illness, but I am capable of thinking for myself and like everyone else, I have the right to express my views. I also have the right to be angered by her comment devaluing my ability to have coherent, rational and logical thoughts.
I walked over, calmly saying to my mum “Mum I feel hurt and frustrated when you blame my illness because I don't agree with your view and beliefs. I am not unwell and it is not fair that you should devalue my right to have an opinion or belief if it is in contradiction to yours”. Her response was “your comment to…….. earlier on wasn’t usual, you are obviously unwell, you just can’t see it!” I was triggered and enraged by this response and her inability to see it was her behaviour that was inappropriate, not mine. I was so enrage; bottling it up we left the family gathering, instead of allowing it to become a full blown argument.
Once I calmed down I started doubting myself, analysing the interaction with mum and trying to identify where I may have been out of line. I knew that if I had indeed lost perception, I would not be able to identify that I was inappropriate and perhaps she was right, I was unwell. I had to clarify this with my husband, because my anxiety around the incident was increasing the more I thought about it.
WallE (my husband), having witnessed both interactions with my mum, assured me I was not in the wrong, I was not unreasonable or inappropriate. Believe me, if I was in the wrong, he would tell me. WallE is my go to barometer. WallE went on to tell me that he thought I conducted myself very well and that in the past, when I felt a reaction from someone else was unjust, I would fire up and become quite caustic/cutting. He said he was proud of how far I had come and how hard I had worked to get to this level of insight and control.
So how do we overcome the continued dismissal of our right to have a view, opinion, belief that is opposition to others or a reaction to their comments or behaviour, without it being blamed on our illness? I have no clear strategies to combat this, as I just take each instance as it occurs.
But what helps me remain calm and able to respond without my anger taking over is my devout belief that it is my right to stand up for myself and I do so assertively. I use ‘I feel’ statements instead of going on a personal attack and starting the revolving blame game. For example, “I feel belittled when you blame my illness when I am more than capable of having rational thoughts and opinions. I am not always unwell”. Or “I feel frustrated and unheard when you blame my illness. I am wish to have a reasonable and important discussion with you”. "I feel my views and opinions are devalued when they are in opposition to yours and you dismiss them as me being unwell. We are two different people, so it is only reasonable to expect that we will not agree on everything."
If you have any strategies you would like to share with other readers, please email me and I will include them at the end of this blog. In learning strategies to help ourselves, we might be able to help others by sharing them.
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