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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Is admitting your syndrome the better alternative?

After writing the post two days ago about worthwhile tattoos, it occurs to me, maybe some would be better off actually admitting to whatever their syndrome is, given that the alternative is moral condemnation.

If someone has Aspergers Syndrome, but doesn't admit it, people will inevitably peg him as a "stiff," "clueless," "temperamental," "rigid," and "charm-free." These are all, in a sense, moral judgments, since they imply that the person has chosen to be those things. But if the person simply admits he has Aspergers, not only will the moral aspect evaporate, he might even receive some sympathy.

Likewise, "moody" and "unreasonable" are both, at heart, moral judgments. But if someone admits to being bipolar, others would realize he is struggling with an organic handicap, and might try to be helpful, rather than just being frustrated with him. ("Sorry, I'm struggling with bipolar disorder. I go from my manic phase to my depressive phase, and I'm aware of the cycle, but there still seems to be nothing I can do about it.") Use of the word "struggling" is helpful, as it implies one is making an effort to be less unreasonable.

Of course, no one feels sympathetic to someone who admits to sociopathy (which is why no one ever admits to that). But if a sociopath claims to be trying "to overcome an abused childhood" -- and the chances are he was abused, or, at the very least, neglected -- the image of him as a helpless child is certainly more likely to evoke sympathy than the reality of the remorseless adult. (Then again, why am I giving useful advice to sociopaths? Never mind; ignore this paragraph.)

Likewise, "asshole," "jerk," and "pompous" are, at heart, moral judgments. But "narcissistic personality disorder" is too mild to be considered a real handicap, too common for any exotic value, and too tiresome to evoke sympathy. Plus, even though it's actually an actual official DSM term, most people just think of narcissists as conceited types who enjoy the view in the mirror. So, maybe narcissists should (falsely) admit to bipolar disorder, and claim that their boasts were uttered while in a manic phase. (What else is narcissism but a constantly manic state of egotism?) Then again, most narcissists are probably too egotistical to admit to such an imperfection.

It  might also help one's case if one invoked famous people with same condition: "I have Aspergers -- you know, like Bill Gates and Albert Einstein." Or, "I'm bipolar -- you know, like Ernest Hemingway and Friedrich Nietzsche." This could conceivably make the listener feel he's in the presence of someone special.

I'm not suggesting these things be said when first introduced; a premature admission will only have an off-putting effect. It should only be brought up after one has established a bit of a relationship; at that point it will seem more as if one is confiding in a close friend, and will serve as a convenient excuse for whatever misbehavior has just been exhibited.

It might even be worthwhile for people who in fact do not have these syndromes to lay claim to them, as they will provide a good excuse for misbehavior. One should probably stay away from the psychoses, as they are scary. ("What? I told you you're ugly? Sorry about that; I have multiple personality disorder, you know. That must have been Joe; he's a real prick.")

Better to blame a fairly common, less threatening disorder. ("Sorry about standing you up the other day; my ADD sometimes makes me forget things.")

Otherwise, one will be found wanting morally. ("You are such a selfish asshole.")


Glen Filthie said...

I have far too many psychological problems for tattoos or casual conversation, John. That's why I advocate microchips like they have for pets and dogs!

You could put ALL my psychological problems on the chip, and still have memory left over for other helpful medical alerts such as my poor reaction to baked beans, sauerkraut, and other tasty but dangerous fart foods.

John Craig said...

Glen --
Ah, but it's too much trouble to carry around that microchip reader. Also, the idea of the tattoos was to warn others, not help the person with the tattoo.

As far as those tasty but dangerous foods, you'll have to police yourself.

Anonymous said...

Oh, for Heaven's sake, when will people realise that Einstein and Gates do NOT have autism? That's just a fabrication by Aspie activist Temple Grandin to try and make her disorder seem more socially acceptable. Take a look at this convincing analysis:

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
I just put that paragraph in of humorous effect; I wasn't out to make the case either way about Gates or Einstein. Both are frequently mentioned in lists of people with Aspergers, I was just going on that.

Just read the article you linked. I agree about Einstein, I don't think he was autistic. Not so sure about Gates. Yes, Grandin makes some silly points, like about the youthful face, and I can believe that Aspies like to make their club seem larger than it is the same way gays are always trying to claim some attractive celebrity as one of "theirs." But the rocking back and forth IS usually an Aspie trait; I've known plenty of people with lots of energy, and none of them expressed it by rocking back and forth that way. (They are more likely to wiggle their foot, or bounce their leg up and down, or chew gum, and do drum rolls with their hands, or any number of other things, but not rock back and forth. Plus Gates may have had "normal" relationships with women, but the real question is, what sort of love life would he have had if he hadn't been a world famous billionaire? The fact that he was able to get with several women is hardly evidence of great seductive ability, given his status.

Anonymous said...

But is there really enough evidence to diagnose Gates? The only "evidence" I've heard seems to point to garden-variety introversion, not a psychiatric sickness. I've never heard anyone report anger management problems or meltdowns in him.

As for the rocking, I'd like to quote psychiatrist Allen Frances, author of 'Saving Normal':

"Psychiatric symptoms are fairly ubiquitous in the general population. Most normal people have at least one, and many have a few. When present in isolation, a single symptom (or even a few) do not by themselves constitute psychiatric illness. Two additional conditions must also be met before symptoms can be considered mental disorders. First, they have to cluster in a characteristic way. Isolated symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, memory difficulties, attention problems and so forth are never by themselves sufficient to justify a diagnosis. Second, the symptoms must cause a clinically significant distress or clinically significant impairment in social or occupational functioning. This caveat is so important that it is a central and essential aspect of the differential diagnosis for most psychiatric disorders. Keep always in mind that it is never enough to identify symptoms; they must also create serious and persistent problems."

Based on this, I daresay that Dr Frances wouldn't diagnose Gates with autism.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
There's certainly not enough evidence to do an ironclad diagnosis of Gates. But it seems to me Dr. Frances is erring on the side of caution.

I'd say that in the same way you can usually tell a sociopaths from evidence of two or three of the normal markers of sociopathy (especially if they're extreme enough), you can usually make a pretty good educated guess from two or three markers of other syndromes (not "sicknesses").

Anonymous said...

I suppose autism is one of those conditions one can't really diagnose without speaking to the person face-to-face, unlike sociopathy which is arguably the opposite. I'd say it's easier to diagnose sociopaths from behavioural reports than from speaking to them as it took me a long time to figure out the sociopath I once knew (even though I'd read about sociopaths before meeting him). On the other hand, I could tell that one Aspie I met wasn't normal within half an hour of speaking to him (he couldn't make eye contact, and his speech was abnormal - he'd go off on monologues and inadvertently offend people by saying inappropriate things).

I'm sure you'll understand that I'm a bit touchy about this because of my history with being diagnosed. It's easy to cherry pick someone's traits to make a case that they have autism whilst ignoring the traits that would preclude diagnosis. I don't like the thought of people being diagnosed unless they are psychologically suffering. IMO, it's not enough to simply say "shy + computer geek + lack of interest in fashion = autistic", which is what people are doing with Gates.

- Gethin

Shaun F said...

I don't see stating that someone is a jerk as a moral judgment; to me it's just a fact. Of course I would qualify it to frame in a context that allows for better understanding. On the other hand if a fact is a moral judgment - I'm ok with that. "He is deceitful as he has consistently cheated on his wife with my sister for years".

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Good point about sociopathy being more diagnosable from a distance; certain sociopathic patterns of behavior are recognizable simply because they're things that non sociopaths would be too embarrassed or ashamed to be able to do, or at least pull off. And Aspies by their nature are not good at fooling people or dissembling.

I understand your sensitivity completely, I remember that story you told me. But I do think that people are basing their judgment of Gates on more than his interest in commuters and lack of interest in fashion.

John Craig said...

Shaun F --
Yes, "jerk" -- or any of those other words -- ARE moral judgment as long as they imply a choice in the matter. The example you give is more of a moral one, but all the other words I mentioned in the post are often used in disapproving ways which imply various degrees of disapproval. To call someone a "stiff," for instance, is obviously disapproving, but has less of a moral aspect. To use the all-encompassing "asshole," on the other hand, usually implies selfishness and boorishness of a sort which the person being described is thoht to have control over.

Also, just because something may be a fact ("that guy is a jerk, no question about it") doesn't mean there's no moral judgment attached.

Zaitigo said...

But *everyone*'s an asshole, to a good approximation. It's called competition. And psychos and socios were once simply called "ambitious" and "cunning" and such like.

The rarities--statistical outliers like someone who'd actually maul you-- are outliers, which don't justify putting labels like these on every ordinary person.

Labelling everyone this or that is like talk about regulating all dishonesty out of some industry like politics or finance--not realistic.

I don't get people who talk like this. My guess is that they all think they're "normal" and wouldn't get a label on themselves.

Being able to deal, yourself, with assholes and dingbats and weirdos is a part of being human. One of the duties of being a free man. One of the risks you have in a free society.

I'd love to see the agency or bureaucracy set up to brand everyone.

I know (or assume) this is all tongue-in-cheek what people say, but sometimes I worry that they'd actually like to give it a try.

John Craig said...

Zaitigo --
This post was actually meant slightly more seriously than the one about tattooing people's foreheads, you seem to be referring to both in your comment.

I actually think that some people -- for instance, those who have Aspergers or bipolar disorder -- might be slightly better off admitting their syndrome, it could actually win them some sympathy and understanding they wouldn't otherwise get.

As far as the tattoos, no, of course I wasn't seriously suggesting that people get stamped. But I do think that life would in a certain sense be easier if we could somehow be forewarned about particularly difficult people.

Is learning to deal with a wide variety of people an essential part of life? Yes, of course. But…..but…. how much easier things would be if we knew ahead of time what to expect.