In a comment in response to "The Question of Forgiveness," Jeff raised a fascinating question...."Is the n-individual (for we are talking about an individual and not simply a category) , if they are 'mentally ill', mentally well enough to recognise how ill they are? Is their responsibility 'diminished' in the way that some defendants claim in legal cases?"
It really got me thinking. Do I think of my father as mentally ill? He was diagnosed in later life with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. While he was able to hold a job, marry, save money and, in some ways, rise above a terrible childhood, he was a loner all his life and was incapable of forming lasting, reciprocal relationships. He could also be mean, demanding, needy and jealous.
I've always thought of my father as mentally...deficient. I used to wonder if he had a very low IQ. Before his diagnosis, I used to wonder what the heck was wrong with him because he certainly wasn't normal...he didn't act like other fathers. Mostly, I felt embarrassed.
I think Jeff managed to articulate ideas and concepts that would occasionally pop into my mind...fleeting and half-formed...and then poof!....would disappear.
Do YOU think of your narcissistic parent as mentally ill? Slightly disordered?
Here's what Jeff wrote (brilliantly I might add):
The trouble I find is this: one moment I'll make statements about my parents based on how medical categories shed light on their behaviour, then the next, having suggested they were in some way ill, I'll make other statements that suggest they had the same mental faculties as anyone else, as though they were no different and therefore not ill according to medical categories. This doublethink leaves me alternating on their level of responsibility, whether they had the capacity to do any differently than they did, and therefore whether they can be forgiven. To categorise them while assuming they were as responsible as the next person doesn't feel right somehow, as though I'm trying to have it both ways.
The difficulty with forgiveness may be this entrapment between the intellectualisation in understanding their behaviour in medical terms and the inevitable emotional turmoil in having had parents that denied parental love with impunity. The intellectual side relies on models whose helpful explanations explain away the parent's awareness. The emotional side then craves justice from a defendant whose capacity has just been called into question.