Posted by fxckfeelings on November 10, 2014Share This Post
If illness is a painful condition that you don’t choose to bring on yourself, then being an Asshole™ is probably an illness, at least for those born with bad tempers, quick impulses, and no ability to see consequences ahead of time. Depression definitely is an illness, and one that often tricks the sufferer into believing he’s an Asshole™, even though real Asshole™s are incapable of self-awareness. Either way, Assholes™ usually blame others for what’s happening to them, whereas depressed people blame themselves, and neither group can get anywhere unless they can see their problem as a condition, rather than a fault. Then they can take responsibility for managing it without blaming themselves or others; a tall order for Asshole™s, a challenging one for depressives, but a worthy move for anyone.
I think my husband is sick, but he thinks he’s normal. After the last time he got drunk and threw things, he got carted away by the police and hospitalized, but he says the doctors at the psych hospital didn’t think he was depressed and there was nothing they could do to help him. He doesn’t drink every night, and he never hits anyone, but he can be a mean drunk. Even when he’s not drunk, he’s prone to quarrel with authorities, whether it’s a cop giving him a ticket or a waiter. I never know when his evil side will come out, and his mother told me he always had a wicked temper. My goal is to persuade him or his doctors that he has an illness and needs help, before he gets into major trouble.
All too often, either out of fear, denial, or both, people refuse to see symptoms of mental illness for what they are. If someone has wild mood swings, it just means she has an artistic temperament, and crippling phobias means he’s nervous, and hallucinating makes her fun at parties.
Sometimes, however, bad or self-destructive behavior has nothing to do with mental illness, or at least not the kind a doctor can do much about. A lawyer, maybe. Or an exorcist.
Two things might be wrong with your husband, both of which are not his fault, but they differ in the amount of responsibility he can or should take for managing them. It all depends on whether his anger is a symptom of illness, or a sucky part of his personality.
Your bet is that his problem is a symptom of depression, which would be nice; then treatment might stop him from feeling unhappy, which would make him less tempted to drink and act like an asshole. Unfortunately, neither he nor his doctors think he’s depressed, which means every worthy expert has weighed in.
Since there’s no better definition of depression than that it’s a bunch of symptoms that sometimes get better when you take antidepressant meds, it’s probably not a useful diagnosis here. Which means the disorder isn’t related to his mood, but his character. In other words, he might be an Asshole™.
Asshole™ is meant, of course, in the technical sense. It isn’t meant to insult him, but serve as a clinical definition for someone who’s prone to do things that are hurtful and irresponsible and blame them on others, e.g., yelling at a cop for being stupid or his family for not letting him relax and drink once in a while and let out his frustrations.
The good news is that he’s only an Asshole™ when exposed to very specific triggers—the stupid and the sober—which makes him more of a Manchurian Asshole™ than a Perfect Asshole™, which is a much more dire diagnosis, indeed. Most addicts are in the Manchurian Asshole™ category, and many find ways to manage it, along with the addiction.
If he’s that variety of Asshole™ about his temper and drinking, he’s obviously not going to seek help, and there’s no point in your expecting him to change. You can, however, push him harder to change or at least consider his behavior, but first you must put aside your anger and fear. Then prepare a positive but relatively unemotional statement about the risks of his bad behavior, much as you would if he was working for you.
Al-Anon, which is a support group for people with alcoholic loved ones, can help you do this. Even if you’re not certain he’s an alcoholic, he’s acting like one, and the people at Al-Anon meetings will be familiar with your experience and offer good advice.
After letting him know that you appreciate his many good qualities, tell him you see his rage as problem that could get him into trouble with others and might require protective behavior on your part that he will not like. His behavior when he’s angry could easily get him arrested, and it’s only because of good luck that he recently got sent to a psych hospital instead of jail. Advise him to get help, both to keep out of trouble and because, when he’s like that, he’s a jerk, which you presume he doesn’t want to be.
Write up your advice to edit out anger and fear, deliver the message, and avoid discussion. Let him know you expect him to do what he wants, and that his actions are much more important than words. From now on, protect yourself by getting away from him when he’s like that, even though you worry about what might happen to him. He knows where you stand, and that your decision to stand far away during his tantrums isn’t personal.
Hopefully, your actions will get through to him, particularly if it’s clear you take no responsibility for his condition, and if not, you’ve done your best. Unfortunately, that’s the best you can do with someone who isn’t depressed, but occasionally, at best, a dick.
“I wish my husband would get help for his bad behavior and binge drinking, but he’s too good at blaming others to see it as his problem. I’ll develop my own ability to describe his behavior and give him responsibility, and see what he does. I hope he listens, but, in any case, from now on I will do everything possible not to take responsibility for his problems.”
I’ve really made a mess of my life in almost every way. I couldn’t keep my marriage together. My husband didn’t like my moodiness, although I really try to be upbeat, and he dumped me after our daughter went off to college. With paying tuition at a private college, I’ve got very little money and can barely fix the car. I have a steady job but there’s no future in it, and I have barely enough to live on. My knees hurt, my back aches, and I feel depressed all the time. My goal is to figure out how to be less of a loser.
Anyone who tries to make a marriage work, raises a kid, pays for college and works responsibly to support herself cannot be described as a loser. You may be unhappy, depressed, tired, and unlucky, but you’re a big winner in terms of accepting responsibility for a tough job and sticking with it. Real losers don’t actually “lose,” because that would imply that they even tried to gain something in the first place.
Fortunately, you have a record of solid, major accomplishments and shit luck, starting with your marriage to someone who couldn’t accept moodiness. Rule number one for depressed people is that when it comes to friends or partners, choose those who don’t mind your mood. If they love and understand you, but can’t stand your moods, stay away.
It’s painful to be depressed and have to worry about money. Depression in particular has a way of making people feel like losers, which is the main reason for getting treatment; to find a good coach who takes your negative ideas (or the ones you acquired from your ex) and forces you to consider them realistically, taking into account your good values and accomplishments. That technique is often called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and it’s not hard to find a therapist to guide you through it, or a workbook you can use yourself at home.
Medication may also help, but you never know whether or how much. If it does, it will make your thoughts more positive so it will be easier for you to respect your accomplishments. On the other hand, if medication doesn’t work, and you’re still able to resist your negative thinking, that’s even more amazing.
So don’t make your ex’s mistake and equate moodiness with failure. Yes, you have to contend with economic hardship and loneliness, but you sound ready to do what’s necessary and make the best of this time of your life. Give yourself the respect you deserve, and your depression the credit for making that difficult. Then consider getting some help.
“I feel like my life is a series of disappointments, but that’s because it’s hard, and not because I’ve failed. So far, I’ve done a good job of making the best of things, and that’s something to be proud of.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname