Why I don’t have to be offended by the same things as somebody else

29 Jun


offending people


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the 2013 update to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) classification and diagnostic tool. In the United States the DSM serves as a universal authority for psychiatric diagnosis.

A friend of mine sent me a public tweet listing the DSM 5 criteria for one of the borderline personality disorders, with the wry observation that Tony Abbott’s public behaviours seemed to fulfil them all.

I thought this was pretty good on several levels, the most imaginative being that I know both my friend and I regard the DSM 5 as a frightful load of bollocks, and using its criteria to categorize Abbott, whom we also think of as a frightful load of bollocks, made a satisfying little irony.

However. Within hours we were set upon by two blokes who stridently accused us of using mental illness as a political tool against an opponent, and in so doing, being unbelievably disregarding of other people’s pain. One of them was a psych student. The other said we had no right diagnosing Abbott when we hadn’t ever treated him. Which is true, of course, except that my friend wasn’t diagnosing Abbott, she was pointing out the self-evident truth that the DSM 5 criteria bore a striking resemblance to Abbott’s way of being in the world, a way of being we can all daily, even sadly hourly, observe.

I am very sorry that I have never treated Abbott. I would give my right arm to treat Abbott, and to what, I will not, at this point, say.

I should say here that both my friend and I have our battles with mental ill-health, and we both feel comfortable with finding certain characteristics in the DSM 5 that seem to scream at us: Abbott. I do not feel using such criteria to describe Abbott is a personal insult to my mental health or lack thereof. That everyone will not share my view is inevitable, as I pointed out to the angry blokes, and I see no reason why they should. However, I insisted, I do have the right to express a differing opinion without incurring abuse, as do they.

What I understood afresh after the increasingly abusive exchanges we were treated to on Twitter, is that there is apparently an expectation that everyone with, say, a mental illness, will feel the same as everyone else with a mental illness, react to stimuli in the same manner, be offended by the same things, and that if you don’t you either aren’t really suffering mental illness, or you are a traitor who cares nothing for the suffering of others. In this mindset, there appears to be little distinction between mental illnesses: they’re all the same, apparently.

This, to my mind, is offensive. The assumption that there is a stereotypical mentally ill person offends me profoundly.

It doesn’t matter to which situation this totalitarian perspective is applied. I’ve heard it used about survivors of child sexual abuse, and  survivors of all kinds of trauma. If this has happened to you, you will think, feel, and behave in these ways. At its source, it is a typical right-wing nut job argument, and Tony Abbott employs it better than anyone: if you don’t think like we do you aren’t one of us, ergo you are bad because we are good.

The totalitarian mind cannot bear variation: what offends it must offend everyone.

Defending against the mindless stupidity of this argument is what got me embroiled in the Twitter fight in the first place: one cannot, in this zeitgeist, pass up any opportunity to take on these hive minds who believe that if you do not think as they do, you are a very bad person in urgent need of re-education. These minds turn up in the most unexpected of places: they are as common amongst the so-called Left as they are amongst the Right. They are why the victorious revolutionaries always become the bourgeoisie.

While there are definitely characteristics common to certain human experiences, reactions to those experiences are as individual as the human beings involved in them. Even within the individual reactions to trauma will change over time, and what brings us to our knees initially will, hopefully, lose much of its force and its ability to hurt.

Everyone has, to my mind, the inviolable right to deal with their mental illness, or trauma, or physical illness in ways that best suit them, within the parameters of everyone’s safety. So I sat in a cafe with my friend who’d just lost a testicle to cancer and we told one another cancer jokes someone else might very well find extremely offensive: does this mean we can’t tell them, even though for us, black humour is a central part of how we cope with our circumstances?

I understand you are offended by my friend’s tweet, I told one of the angry blokes. I am not offended. I do not have to be offended to please you. Are you intending to attempt to bully me into pretending offence, because I will not do that. I have the right to not feel offended. I have the right to be true to what I feel, and I do not feel offence.  Would you like to shoot me, because this is where the continuum you are on eventually leads.

We have a terrifyingly secretive government, and a useless opposition. We are, as citizens, being controlled and silenced to a degree many of us have never before experienced. Our freedoms are being eroded, bit by little bit. There is no freedom without the freedom to offend. There is no freedom without the freedom to decide what is offensive to you, and what is not.  I can imagine a future in which if we are not overtly expressing offence at circumstances the government decrees we must find offensive, we could well find ourselves in all kinds of trouble.

There is no I in team, yet without I, the team is nothing more than a herd.



21 Responses to “Why I don’t have to be offended by the same things as somebody else”

  1. Michaela Tschudi June 29, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

    Proud to be your friend. Those two blokes were quite different in their initial attacks, but they followed the same trajectory. Most offensive was their assertions, or rather their claims, that only THEY could speak about mental illness. And typical of many people who shoot first and ask questions later, neither bloke took the time to scan timelines or bios. In other words, they were both spoiling for a fight…mindless thuggery on Twitter, mindless thuggery in Government. No wonder I’m in therapy. I should send my bill to the PM. Oh, and another thing, DSM5 is a crock. Thanks to it, many people (including moi) have so many labels and drugs (to deal with the labels) that we rattle. So thank you friend for your valiant defence. May the force be with you. X

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jennifer Wilson June 29, 2015 at 8:14 pm #

      The force is always with us babe. xxxx

      Liked by 1 person

    • townsvilleblog June 30, 2015 at 9:58 am #

      I find the cat5 illness of insatiable greed as suffered by Twiggy Forest and Gina Reinhart to be a most distressing disease that actually creates many victims.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. FreeThinker June 29, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    In their behaviours towards you, the two blokes you refer to, come across as having some similarities with Tony Abbott in the very same ways you have described.

    Mental illness can be framed on different conceptual scaffolding bases. Notwithstanding the significant limitations of the DSM 5, in that it is a profoundly cultural instrument that sharply reflects dimensions of U.S. mainstream ideological thinking, its descriptors of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is what I found a useful rule of thumb in seeking to better understand our present Prime Minister.

    I would add that inevitably there is a dialectical relationship between the Prime Minister position, its sheer demands, and each person holding this position, such that some features of an incumbent’s personality over time, are likely to become more prominent / strident.

    The prospect of a second term Abbott Prime Ministership in this country is the stuff of nightmares.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Michaela Tschudi June 29, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

      Yes, understand your point. I only wish there was an emoji for straight jacket (as hudsongodfrey mentioned below) bc I would have tweeted it many times during that exchange.


    • Jennifer Wilson June 29, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

      Your last sentence…chilling prospect.

      Liked by 1 person

    • townsvilleblog June 30, 2015 at 10:00 am #

      Bugger the two blokes, they acn have their opinion no matter how misguided it is we understand that we have the upper hand in this debate so if it were me it would be like water off a duck’s back.


    • doug quixote June 30, 2015 at 11:08 pm #

      Ha! He’ll be lucky to survive past September.


  3. hudsongodfrey June 29, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

    I hope when this psych student protested your diagnosis of Abbott without treating him that you offered to fetch a straight jacket and begin treatment immediately.

    I don’t know how you got all that in a tweet, but it seems unsurprising that the epistemology of mental illness would elude anyone, let alone somebody with the unmitigated solipsistic gall to expect you to share their offence at something. I wonder did the twitter version condense those thoughts to the word fuckwit?

    If they want to hurl epigrams at twenty paces then tell them that there’s no I in team, but there’s and m and an e.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Michaela Tschudi June 29, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

      Thank you. 😊 I’m sad to say that many people don’t understand irony. We met two such ppl today.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson June 29, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

      It took about a hundred tweets altogether HG.
      Love your last line.


  4. frances June 29, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

    Hilariously incisive post. So glad I came across you 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. samjandwich June 29, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

    Funny… I was just last week reviewing the “capability framework” that all NSW public servants are assumed to aspire to (see here: http://www.psc.nsw.gov.au/sector-support/capability-framework) and thinking how Tony Abbot barely manages any of the “foundational”-level skills (eg, “Be open to new ideas and approaches”, “Help to find solutions that contribute to positive outcomes”), much less the “highly advanced” ones (eg, “Create a climate which encourages and supports openness, persistence and genuine debate around critical issues”, “Use sound arguments, strong evidence, and expert opinion to influence outcomes”) that heads of organisations are supposed to have.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson June 29, 2015 at 8:11 pm #

      Oh my goodness – he doesn’t even fulfil the capability framework. Things are even worse than I thought.

      Liked by 2 people

      • samjandwich June 30, 2015 at 9:38 am #

        And by way of moral support… it is true that one of the more offensive things one can do is to assert that you have more insight into another person’s thinking than they do themselves (I believe it’s called “gaslighting”…). This is why the DSM-5 and other such frameworks should be considered instrumental, explanatory tools only, at least in the absence of a full and comprehensive understanding of how the brain works – which I understand is some way off yet. Hopefully they still teach you thin in psychology school?

        Liked by 1 person

        • samjandwich June 30, 2015 at 9:41 am #

          *this* – unless you’re into pro-anorexia…


        • hudsongodfrey June 30, 2015 at 9:48 am #

          Abbott gaslighting terrorism. Sounds about right.

          Liked by 2 people

      • doug quixote July 3, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

        I love your irony too.


        Liked by 1 person

  6. SPK June 29, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

    Funny, looking at those tweets it seems like both the people in question had mental health struggles of their own. Why did you leave that information out?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. doug quixote June 30, 2015 at 8:44 am #

    I’m surprised that there is anyone left who thinks Abbott is sane.

    Ignore the tweets. If there are three they probably come from Abbott, Credlin and Mirabella. Or their deranged staffers.

    Liked by 2 people

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