Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Insight in Mental Illness & the General Populace

Today I’m going to write about a topic that I and almost every single human have been exposed to, either personally or through friends and family who have been affected — that of mental illness. But more specifically, insight in those who suffer from a mental health condition, as well as insight within the general populace.

Let’s begin by exploring insight specifically. Insight is the capacity to develop an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something. A huge part of insight is awareness. In order to be able to make sense of something and develop a deep and accurate understanding of it, we need to be aware of each of the elements that comprise it.

Awareness is an interesting one. Because you cannot know that which you are not aware of and its pretty normal to, given a specific set of conditions or circumstances, attempt to make sense of it based upon what we do know, or the sensory input that we have been exposed to. Where we are not aware of particular elements for whatever reason, or our senses have been polluted with misinformation (either intentionally or unintentionally), then the result may very well be that we jump to an invalid conclusion. One that we may believe with certainty — the level of which is usually determined by whether others reach that same conclusion with a similar set of information.

Human beings are social creatures. We spend our time participating in many different social circles — home, work, church, our party crew, our group of surfer buddies.

Each of these social circles, as groups, have different ideas or ideals — some of which are seen as being more acceptable and others which may be seen as less acceptable, sometimes to the point of taboo. As we progress through life, the social circles that we participate in may change over time. We might have gone through a ‘church phase’ earlier in our life, and then because of a particular experience (or set of experiences) we choose to distance ourselves from that circle and begin spending more time within a different social circle.

During our time within the church circle we may have formed the belief that sleeping together before marriage is wrong / taboo. However, when circumstances lead to us letting go of that circle — we may begin participating in another circle where this is seen as more acceptable.

As we move around these circles and onward through our lives — the ideas and ideals we are aware of change. If a particular ideal is discussed a lot within a particular circle and/or we think about it or introspect on it a lot then it will remain front of mind — within the realms of our awareness. If it is taboo and we do not discuss it or think about / introspect on it, then we may begin to lose sight of that ideal, until it disappears from our awareness altogether.

You can think of the sum total of all that we are aware of in life as we progress through it as a sine wave.

This pattern of awareness does not only exist in the present. Within our current time frame. It is a pattern that our parents experienced, and a pattern that their parents before them also experienced.

It is normal that when we are younger, we are still discovering ourselves. We may move quite readily between different social circles and experience the above. However, as we age we begin to want and seek stability and we choose the circles that align with what we want — our values, beliefs, etc — and slowly stop exploring other possibilities, potentially locking ourselves into a small sub-set of all of the social circles we had once participated in through the earlier years of our life.

By the time our grandparents got to the point in their lives where they decided to have children, their ideals and ideas had probably stabilized and they had probably formed opinions about what is right and what is wrong. So when they had children, these are the things that they taught to them.

And children are like a blank slate. They have not yet had any experiences when they’re born. They haven’t even developed language, nor formed any beliefs. So the lens through which they perceive the world is wide open. They are bombarded with external stimuli.

Gradually their parents help them begin to make sense of their surroundings. They experience events. And these experiences are impressed upon them as memories. As they begin to develop language, these experiences start to form beliefs. Beliefs form incrementally, as a kind of stack. Where the more foundational beliefs (those that come first, and are lower on the stack) influence how we perceive further experiences, which in turn form new beliefs that are then added to the stack.

This stack of beliefs can also be thought of as coping mechanisms to help us make sense of the overwhelming amount of external stimuli that is coming in through our senses. Aldous Huxley describes the mind (which essentially is this stack of beliefs) as a filter to a broader reality. The stack of beliefs is the filters, or lens, through which we observe and make sense of the world around us.

And if, within our developmental years we are exposed to a stable and loving environment — then we put healthy coping mechanisms into place and become well adjusted as we grow older. Love becomes our motivational force, a pure motivational force.

However, if we experience a traumatic event or series of events, especially in childhood, then the coping mechanisms we put in place and behaviors that we may develop may be unhealthy. This can result in malformation of key constructs like empathy (the ability to put yourselves in the shoes of others) and trust. Especially if there was some kind of abusive behavior demonstrated by the parents (emotional, physical, etc).

But this is really dependent on what the environment was like for the child during their developmental years and as they age. In such circumstances, we do not see love and thus we cannot mirror love. And what is left, when you remove love? Fear. We become driven by fear and it is what motivates us. The extent to which this occurs also depends on the other circles that we are put in — school, playground, family friends or what have you.

And it is possible that this motivation by fear is what creates the symptoms of ‘mental illness’. Anxiety, depression, the feeling of a lack of control over your circumstances. Or if something has caused you to question your reality, then this can lead to delusional disorders.

But what about those people who develop these problems later in life? It’s possible that they managed to put some kind of coping mechanisms in place as children, but those coping mechanisms were weak. And when they were exposed to the stressors of independence — where they had to learn to take the lead and take control of their lives (that period of time during their 20s) or perhaps they were exposed to further traumatic events at around this time in their lives, their coping mechanisms were de-stabilized and their filters dropped. Triggering the development of mental illness.

Anyway, this is my thinking on the topic to date. And I would love to hear feedback from people as to what they think about its validity.