Extremists and Mental Illness

Posted on September 25, 2014

I watched a documentary last night about how a middle class white boy had somehow got involved in Islamic terrorism via close contact with hate preacher Anjem Choudary. It was quite an eye opener, though many of you may have already seen it as it was apparently first broadcast 2 years ago.

Essentially, it was investigating the reasons why people become extremists and how they get drawn into hate and what was fascinating was that all members of extreme groups, whether they are Islamic or members of far right groups such as the EDL (English Defence League) had the same self-esteem conditions or vulnerability.

Anyone with any sense normality in their heads will know that thinking every Muslim is a terrorist is like thinking every Christian is a member of the Klu Klux Klan or that every Irish Catholic once harboured ambitions of blowing up pubs in Birmingham or Guildford, though in fairness, that’s what the West Midlands Police thought as well.

All of these extreme groups have manipulative leaders who prey on young men that have somehow got lost in society and have nothing worth living for, offering them, often through the internet, ways of becoming warriors for a cause, getting their own back on society by creating mayhem and getting their names on the six o’clock news or in the daily papers.

When you look at the members of the EDL or Islamic extremists, they are, except their leaders (who are not stupid) quite pathetic individuals who have spent lives without parental direction or any kind of education that might make them tolerant; they are attention seekers caught up in something where at last, in their mind, they can be someone special.

Society as a whole, has lots of of questions to answer, as do those who operate foreign policy that allows the hatred to simmer and the boil over.

The question is, are these people mentally ill?

What was apparent in this documentary was that these type of individuals who get caught up in extremism, suffer from low esteem which, apparently, is not a mental illness, though it is associated with what is known as Bordeline Personality Disorder, which I can only presume, means it is not quite, but nearly, a mental illness.

It has to be said people who attach themselves to religious fanatics or far right organisations, do appear to be somewhat sick in the head, so low self-esteem must be a pre-cursor to some sort of mental condition or at least, leave the person vulnerable to disorders if they are manipulated in the correct way by extreme organisations?

However, this also leads me to think that if people who have low self esteem and are then dragged into extremism for attention, it must be a social condition and not a mental one but as with things like sporting genius, the argument rages on with regards to whether nature or nurture are the cause…I always tend to wing towards the nurture argument personally.

The EDL hold another march and rally in the Northern town of Dewsbury against the rise of Islam in local communities

Extremist groups are magnets for those with low self-esteem and no direction

I really must do a psychology course, as I find it so fascinating that I am beginning to wonder, with all the conditions that are around regarding attention disorders, whether we are actually all mentally afflicted, though thankfully not in a way that causes destruction in lives as is the case with illnesses such as Bi-Polar (manic depression). Every personality I know could be described as having a disorder…Am I mixing with the wrong people?

People who are shy for instance, can often be described as miserable, unsociable or dare I say it, depressing, when in fact, they just like their own company, pottering around doing their own thing rather than being the life and soul of the party. Shy people can be deep thinkers and will often take a long time before allowing barriers to drop and letting people into their lives. However you can get pills to overcome shyness. What on earth is that all about?

Shyness is a nice thing, not a personality disorder

Then there are myths about ADHD where unruly kids have, in the past, been anaesthetised with drugs like ritalin to control them, purely because their parents feed their faces with sugar and fat. I really feel for parents of kids with autism, a terrible disability, as there are so many fake personality disorders around that it kind of dilutes something that is the real deal and awful for families to cope with. Drugging kids can’t be a good thing, surely?

In my opinion, everyone has a personality, so with that in mind, everyone has a personality disorder because I would like to question what is a normal personality? I have friends that can be bombastic, shy, verbally aggressive, confrontational, funny, occasionally narcissistic and advocates of the Devil, an affliction I suffer from amongst other oddities like an irrational dislike of being in a quiet room, issues with public affection and a constant and often annoying need to be doing anything other than what is described in modern terms, as chilling.

I have one friend who openly describes himself as a ‘compassionate iconoclast’ and he is just that, spending his time and indeed career, methodically challenging, attacking and criticizing popular belief and business/political institutions. To me, he is an engaging and refreshing character, however, to others he has too much of a nose for trouble and they fear verbal debate with him as they don’t like to be challenged in a way they feel might contradict their perceived beliefs. Some people don’t like him and he cares not a jot.

I don’t think that is a disorder, others might do though, so a personality disorder, like beauty, is surely in the eye of the beholder?

I have always been different to my friend mentioned above as I used to worry if people didn’t like me and I would go out of my way to try to forge friendships with strangers in a bid to extend my contacts and enhance my view of the world. However, as I have matured for better of for worse, I have discovered that being as ludicrously open as I am, has gained me little and worse still, has occasionally left me exposed to unsavoury personalities because of my inability to see the character flaws in people that wont match my own values that may or may not be the perceived norm.

Those of you who know me, probably see me as outgoing but I have to say I have come to prefer the company of people who are reserved and thoughtful with a strong social conscience than those who are seen as outgoing and successful, but in turn, demand attention, have grandiose delusions of self entitlement, are never wrong, tell pathological lies to impress people with their outlandish achievements and will suffer from rabid jealously of anyone they perceive to be doing better than them…These people are dangerous as they are often charming at first but can ruin others lives, careers and families for the sheer Hell of it and the worst bit is they will never accept the carnage they have caused.

These groups are often labelled with afflictions such as narcissism, pathological lying or even bi-polar, none of which are pleasant.

There are tenuous links between pathological lying, Bi-Polar and narcissism and the argument goes on as to whether they are hereditary or brought on by social environment from an early age. I guess it is hard to tell because even though a lot of people, in my experience, inherit these traits from parents and siblings, I know others who come from families that show no signs of it whatsoever? It is of course, widely recognised that Bi-Polar is a destructive mental illness whilst pathological lying and narcissism are more open to debate. A life choice rather than an illness perhaps?

Apparently and interestingly, narcissism is on the increase and that is often put down to the demands of Capitalism driving fears in people of not having a big enough house, car, job or holiday so the lies and deceit kick in, often leading to debt, relationship failure, the loss of friendships and all round disaster…Greed and one-upmanship has a lot to answer for. I know friends who have had to call in solicitors to deal with a narcissist who had tried to ruin them with the most bizarre but poisonous lies you could imagine, so they are not to be taken lightly because they will never see that they have behaved badly.

One thing that has altered if not changed my perception of personalities this week, is a long conversation with my eldest sister who has been studying psychological human traits and why people become who they are. It is her opinion that whilst disorders do exist and in some cases are exactly the fit of their medical termination and need treating with chemical balancing drugs, we are lazy or perhaps week willed when we label people with disorders just to satisfy our own insecurities or failings if we have been let down or lied to by a friend, colleague or a family member.

It is my sisters belief that we have choices in life and that one of those choices is to behave in a way that is appalling and disrespectful to others for personal gain or to destroy someone we are jealous of. Her belief is it is not an illness, just like obesity isn’t illness, it is a choice that is made by an individual and no-one else can be blamed for that choice, neither can a personality disorder. To offer someone a medical condition as an excuse for immoral behaviour is like giving them a license to do it again and again and is derogatory to those who are suffering genuine mental conditions like severe depression.

Those of you who think that with your better nature you would be able to bring out the better nature in narcissists or pathological liars, good luck with that, because you are dealing with something that is never accepted by the individual, so you are better off staying well clear of it…There are numerous examples of it that I have seen at close quarters and it is always the innocent who end up getting their better nature crushed into oblivion, which in itself can be very damaging.

Of course, I am not trained in personality disorders and mental health but I know at least three people who will read this who are and it will be interesting to see if my thoughts emanate from my own personality disorder. However, this quote I saw yesterday summed a lot up for me…I would like to claim it but if I did, I would be a pathological liar…

“Once you stop to turn off the emotions for a brief second and call out the analytical advisor within, you’ll begin to realize that there will always be people and situations that are better left to their own devices.”



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