The diagnosis of mental illness is the most dangerous time for many of us. Overwhelmed by fear, confusion and the numbing effect of over-medication, we are vulnerable to any messages that can have long-term consequences. It was during my first months after diagnosis that I fell victim to the myths of mental illness.

As I was trying to make sense of what was happening to me, I was given a list of the most offensive comments anyone could say to the mentally ill. I’m sure you’ve heard of at least some of them. Examples include: “snap out of it,” “you can do anything you want to if you just set your mind to it,” “get a grip,” and the worst one of all, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

While the Advocates are well intentioned, the result is quite the opposite. Rather than encouraging those with mental conditions, the implied meaning that we can’t rise above a certain level of mediocrity only feeds self-loathing, low self-esteem and perpetuates the myths that say we can’t change our lives.

I bought into the list so much that only recently did I realize that the very ones who are offended by the suggestion of  “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” are doing an incredible disservice. Encouraging people to see themselves as unable to do anything about their condition actually robs them of a better, more fulfilling life.

Rallying behind the myths are those who use the illness as the excuse to not make an effort to improve their situation. So offended are they by the mere suggestion that they can take responsibility for their condition, they rail against anyone who challenges them. All the while the subtle poison sneaks its way into our subconscious and we begin to believe there is no hope of excelling in any area of life.

Even though I have never used the phrases up until now, I am often told that I am in reality telling people to “snap out of it” or to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” It is always done in a manner that includes a comment like, “I know you don’t really mean that.” When did encouraging someone to make their life better become so evil and offensive?

So far I have backed away from hostile confrontations resulting from suggesting we can have a better life. It is now time to challenge them. If we allow the myths of “no we can’t” to continue to prey on the vulnerable, the myths will continue to cause suffering. If we do not do the hard work of facing our condition and doing something about it, we will continue to suffer needlessly. If we don’t learn to “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps” we will remain in disorder for the rest of our lives.

While I agree that the ability to instantly “get a grip” or “snap out of it” is an advanced skill, perhaps beyond most people’s capacity, we can all accomplish much more than we thought possible if we “set our minds to it” and do the long, hard work of “pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.” Believing that it is possible is the first step to making it happen. Those who are offended by the suggestion that we can accomplish more, need to be presented with information to the contrary. Such negativity should no longer be forced upon those looking for hope and a brighter future.

When accused of saying, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” my initial thought is, “Yes, you should.” However, I am hesitant to go there because of the myth of our incapability and the offense taken by the mere suggestion. Yet, both the myth and the truth need to be addressed.

I am wondering if the readers here can help me come up with a way to do it. How do we stand up to Them without making Them even more hostile? Do you have a suggestion that I might try?

 


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    Last reviewed: 6 Jun 2011

APA Reference
Wootton, T. (2010). “Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps” And Other Myths. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-advantage/2010/05/pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-other-myths/

 

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