The Myth of Mental Illness - Part I

Written by Sam Vaknin

"You can knowrepparttar name of a bird in allrepparttar 126205 languages ofrepparttar 126206 world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever aboutrepparttar 126207 bird… So let's look atrepparttar 126208 bird and see what it's doing – that's what counts. I learned very earlyrepparttar 126209 difference between knowingrepparttar 126210 name of something and knowing something."

Richard Feynman, Physicist and 1965 Nobel Prize laureate (1918-1988)

"You have all I dare say heard ofrepparttar 126211 animal spirits and how they are transfused from father to son etcetera etcetera – well you may take my word that nine parts in ten of a man's sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend on their motions and activities, andrepparttar 126212 different tracks and trains you put them into, so that when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, away they go cluttering like hey-go-mad."

Lawrence Sterne (1713-1758), "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" (1759)

I. Overview

II. Personality Disorders

III. The Biochemistry and Genetics of Mental Health

IV. The Variance of Mental Disease

V. Mental Disorders andrepparttar 126213 Social Order

VI. Mental Ailment as a Useful Metaphor

VII. The Insanity Defense

I. Overview

Someone is considered mentally "ill" if:

His conduct rigidly and consistently deviates fromrepparttar 126214 typical, average behaviour of all other people in his culture and society that fit his profile (whether this conventional behaviour is moral or rational is immaterial), or

His judgment and grasp of objective, physical reality is impaired, and

His conduct is not a matter of choice but is innate and irresistible, and

His behavior causes him or others discomfort, and is

Dysfunctional, self-defeating, and self-destructive even by his own yardsticks.

Descriptive criteria aside, what isrepparttar 126215 essence of mental disorders? Are they merely physiological disorders ofrepparttar 126216 brain, or, more precisely of its chemistry? If so, can they be cured by restoringrepparttar 126217 balance of substances and secretions in that mysterious organ? And, once equilibrium is reinstated – isrepparttar 126218 illness "gone" or is it still lurking there, "under wraps", waiting to erupt? Are psychiatric problems inherited, rooted in faulty genes (though amplified by environmental factors) – or brought on by abusive or wrong nurturance?

These questions arerepparttar 126219 domain ofrepparttar 126220 "medical" school of mental health.

Others cling torepparttar 126221 spiritual view ofrepparttar 126222 human psyche. They believe that mental ailments amount torepparttar 126223 metaphysical discomposure of an unknown medium –repparttar 126224 soul. Theirs is a holistic approach, taking inrepparttar 126225 patient in his or her entirety, as well as his milieu.

The members ofrepparttar 126226 functional school regard mental health disorders as perturbations inrepparttar 126227 proper, statistically "normal", behaviours and manifestations of "healthy" individuals, or as dysfunctions. The "sick" individual – ill at ease with himself (ego-dystonic) or making others unhappy (deviant) – is "mended" when rendered functional again byrepparttar 126228 prevailing standards of his social and cultural frame of reference.

In a way,repparttar 126229 three schools are akin torepparttar 126230 trio of blind men who render disparate descriptions ofrepparttar 126231 very same elephant. Still, they share not only their subject matter – but, to a counter intuitively large degree, a faulty methodology.

Asrepparttar 126232 renowned anti-psychiatrist, Thomas Szasz, ofrepparttar 126233 State University of New York, notes in his article "The Lying Truths of Psychiatry", mental health scholars, regardless of academic predilection, inferrepparttar 126234 etiology of mental disorders fromrepparttar 126235 success or failure of treatment modalities.

This form of "reverse engineering" of scientific models is not unknown in other fields of science, nor is it unacceptable ifrepparttar 126236 experiments meetrepparttar 126237 criteria ofrepparttar 126238 scientific method. The theory must be all-inclusive (anamnetic), consistent, falsifiable, logically compatible, monovalent, and parsimonious. Psychological "theories" – evenrepparttar 126239 "medical" ones (the role of serotonin and dopamine in mood disorders, for instance) – are usually none of these things.

The outcome is a bewildering array of ever-shifting mental health "diagnoses" expressly centred around Western civilisation and its standards (example:repparttar 126240 ethical objection to suicide). Neurosis, a historically fundamental "condition" vanished after 1980. Homosexuality, according torepparttar 126241 American Psychiatric Association, was a pathology prior to 1973. Seven years later, narcissism was declared a "personality disorder", almost seven decades after it was first described by Freud.

Gender and the Narcissist

Written by Sam Vaknin


Are female narcissists any different? You seem to talk only about male narcissists!


I keep usingrepparttar male third person singular because most narcissists (75%) are males and more so because there is little difference betweenrepparttar 126204 male and female narcissists.

Inrepparttar 126205 manifestation of their narcissism, female and male narcissists, inevitably, do tend to differ. They emphasise different things. They transform different elements of their personalities and of their lives intorepparttar 126206 cornerstones of their disorder.

Women concentrate on their body (many also suffer from eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa). They flaunt and exploit their physical charms, their sexuality, their socially and culturally determined "femininity". They secure their Narcissistic Supply through their more traditional gender role:repparttar 126207 home, children, suitable careers, their husbands ("the wife of…"), their feminine traits, their role in society, etc.

It is no wonder than narcissists – both men and women – are chauvinistic and conservative. They depend to such an extent onrepparttar 126208 opinions of people around them – that, with time, they are transformed into ultra-sensitive seismographs of public opinion, barometers of prevailing social fashions, and guardians of conformity. The narcissist cannot afford to seriously alienate his "constituency", those people who reflect his False Self back to him. The very proper and on-going functioning ofrepparttar 126209 narcissist's Ego depends onrepparttar 126210 goodwill andrepparttar 126211 collaboration of his human environment.

True, besieged and consumed by pernicious guilt feelings – many a narcissist finally seek to be punished. The self-destructive narcissist then playsrepparttar 126212 role ofrepparttar 126213 "bad guy" (or "bad girl"). But even then it is withinrepparttar 126214 traditional socially allocated roles. To ensure social opprobrium (read: attention),repparttar 126215 narcissist exaggerates these roles to a caricature.

A woman is likely to label herself a "whore" and a male narcissist to self-style himself a "vicious, unrepentant criminal". Yet, these again are traditional social roles. Men are likely to emphasise intellect, power, aggression, money, or social status. Women are likely to emphasise body, looks, charm, sexuality, feminine "traits", homemaking, children and childrearing – even as they seek their masochistic punishment.

Another difference is inrepparttar 126216 wayrepparttar 126217 genders react to treatment. Women are more likely to resort to therapy because they are more likely to admit to psychological problems. But while men may be less inclined to DISCLOSE or to expose their problems to others (the macho-man factor) – it does not necessarily imply that they are less prone to admit it to themselves. Women are also more likely to ask for help than men.

Yet,repparttar 126218 prime rule of narcissism must never be forgotten:repparttar 126219 narcissist uses everything around him or her to obtain his (or her) Narcissistic Supply. Children happen to be more attached torepparttar 126220 female narcissist due torepparttar 126221 way our society is still structured and torepparttar 126222 fact that women arerepparttar 126223 ones to give birth. It is easier for a woman to think of her children as her extensions because they once indeed were her physical extensions and because her on-going interaction with them is both more intensive and more extensive.

This means thatrepparttar 126224 male narcissist is more likely to regard his children as a nuisance than as a source of rewarding Narcissist Supply – especially as they grow older and become autonomous. Devoid ofrepparttar 126225 diversity of alternatives available to men –repparttar 126226 narcissistic woman fights to maintain her most reliable Source of Supply: her children. Through insidious indoctrination, guilt formation, emotional sanctions, deprivation and other psychological mechanisms, she tries to induce in them a dependence, which cannot be easily unravelled.

But, there is no psychodynamic difference between children, money, or intellect, as Sources of Narcissistic Supply. So, there is no psychodynamic difference between male and female narcissist. The only difference is in their choices of Sources of Narcissistic Supply.

An interesting side issue relates to transsexuals.

Philosophically, there is little difference between a narcissist who seeks to avoid his True Self (and positively to become his False Self) – and a transsexual who seeks to discard his true gender. But this similarity, though superficially appealing, is questionable.

Cont'd on page 2 ==> © 2005
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