a phrase people like to say a lot is “no mental disorder is inherently abusive”. it’s a good phrase. it’s simple, to the point, and very true. but I’ve seen some confusion on what exactly it means, and it’s causing some people, especially young people, some very serious problems. let’s talk about what it means.

here is what it DOES mean:

being mentally ill does not mean being abusive. a diagnosis for a mental disorder is not the same as a diagnosis for being an abusive person. no one is a bad person for being mentally ill. no matter what their mental illness, everyone deserves kind judgment and forgiveness when they make mistakes. you cannot assume someone is abusive just because of their mental illness, even if the mental illness makes them act out sometimes.

and here is what it DOES NOT mean:

if you are mentally ill, you cannot be abusive. you cannot be judged for the actions you take due to mental illness, and you do not need to apologize or make amends for actions your mental illness contributed to. you have no responsibility to keep your mental illness in check whenever you are able. if you hurt someone due to your mental illness, their pain is not “real”.

if you have hurt someone because of your mental illness, I’m very sorry. having a mental illness is tough. the correct thing to do next is to take some time to try and pull yourself back. then, as soon as you are able, go to the person you think you may have harmed and ask if they are okay. apologize if necessary. explain that you didn’t mean to harm them, and that your mental illness makes this difficult. it’s possible to do this without making it into an excuse, but it’s important that you apologize and try to set things right. if you can, talk to the person about ways they can help you do what’s necessary to keep it from happening in the future. I know it’s hard, but this is your responsibility.

if someone with a mental illness has hurt you, I’m also very sorry. being hurt is hard, and it’s difficult to know when you should forgive someone when their mental illness can make them lash out. please take a look at the above paragraph. that is how you will know whether the person is doing their best. in some cases, mental illness might also prevent the person from approaching you openly. please try to be receptive to their apology. apologizing is very hard even when you don’t have mental illness getting in the way. ask if there is anything you can do or change to help them keep it from happening again. this shouldn’t be something extremely hard or unreasonable for you to do. if it is, or if the person continues to hurt you because of their mental illness and shows little or no concern for your feelings after hurting you, you are being abused. it’s okay to call it that. please leave the person if you can, and ask for help if you can’t.


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