What Not to Say to People who have Mental Disabilities or Personality Disorders
…. First, realize that they are just different, that’s all
While it’s natural to want to help people, unless you are professionally trained to help people with mental disabilities or personality disorders, it is better to accept them as just being different than the rest of the people you know who you consider as normal.
There is no absolute normal. Just as there is no supreme human race. Spiritually you could say “we are all God’s children” and then accept that each person may have been born for a reason, not necessarily ours to know.
Having been a facilitator at local meetings of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness, I would like to share what I learned.
In most cases, the best way to relate to a personal with mental health issues is to accept them where they are. That means, not making suggestions about how they might remember better or act differently, etc. Like normal people, no one really wants to hear that you aren’t enjoying them the way they are.
Think about this. Especially when we haven’t asked for advice and it comes unsolicited, it can sound like a scolding. The same is true when you make a point of their “different” behavior. It can lower their self-esteem and make them resentful. Therefore, you are not helping. Suggestions or advice you may be tempted to give to their caregivers may make the caregiver feel that he or she isn’t doing enough or doing too much, which is hurting more than helping them also.
Loving someone, unconditionally is one of the hardest things to do because loving unconditionally means without having any expectations or giving any suggestions or advice to someone. This can be especially difficult when the person is a family member.
The overwhelming sadness inside someone can make them feel invisible and worthless. You may never see them smile. They do not want to be fixed. They just want you to understand their human condition and not point the finger at them about anything. Sometimes, all they want is to be seen and accepted for who they innately are.
When you understand and accept that people with mental and personality differences are wired differently in the brain, you can become more compassionate. Medications can sometimes alter some of their behaviors. However, that is up to doctors to prescribe, so please don’t ask them, their caregivers or family whether they are taking meds.
Choose to accept them as them are without judgment. Look for something that is “normal” in them and talk about that. Notice their nice hair, pretty eyes, or something that they are wearing. Say positive things to them and don’t get offended if you don’t get a response. Some may be inhibited, shy or lacking communication skills that are just a part of the symptoms of their condition.
People with Difficult Personalities:
The people with personality disorders, Antisocial, Borderline, Narcissistic, etc. will not seem normal to you either, but only in some ways. They usually appear to function in life as well as others and their disorder is not noticed until you begin to have a relationship with them. A close relationship with one of those types of personalities is difficult. Many of their responses will seem abnormal to you and the degree to which you know how to respond to them positively will be the degree that you find it less difficult.
First acknowledge that their personality is different than what you know to be “normal.” Then know that you will have to change your own responses to them, which will not be normal for you. An example might be: how to react to a person who has just insulted you by calling you a name that is disrespectful? If it were your child, it would be easy to know that you could just talk to them about what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviors and perhaps the child would not act like that in the future. Not so with someone with a personality disorder, especially an adult, who might just tell you that they were just speaking the truth. Don’t expect to ever hear an apology.
You could choose to not have anything to do with that person again, as you might if they were just an obnoxious person that you didn’t care about. If they are a relative, friend or lover you may want to make another choice.
When he or she treats you badly and you choose to stay in the relationship, then you will need to ignore their mistreatment of you and forgive it with the understanding that it is just a symptom of their ailment and not meant to be nasty or mean. Their brain does not direct their responses to be what is socially acceptable in our culture.
If they have a good heart, treat their animals well and are not mean to you, then it may be possible to live with them. In order to make the relationship go as smoothly as it can, you must “Go to Google” and research how to interact with people with personality disorders. It is definitely a learning process. Remember, these relationships are not what one would call normal.
This article is not meant to go into the details of how to live with people with personality disorders or mental health problems, but to give you a heads up on knowing that your relationship with them does not have to be as difficult as it seems. My reason for writing this article is to give you hope that there is a solution, not to their problem, but to yours. Once you learn how to relate to them and practice the different, strange and sometimes outlandish responses to cope with them, you will be proud of yourself for understanding these different individuals and it will definitely improve your ability to be understanding, kinder and more compassionate.