How psychology medicalizes character flaws to remove personal responsibility

Story from Town Hall from moderate conservative George Will. (H/T Muddling Towards Maturity)


The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychiatry’s encyclopedia of supposed mental “disorders,” is being revised. The 16 years since the last revision evidently were prolific in producing new afflictions. The revision may aggravate the confusion of moral categories.

[…]This DSM defines as “personality disorders” attributes that once were considered character flaws. “Antisocial personality disorder” is “a pervasive pattern of disregard for … the rights of others … callous, cynical … an inflated and arrogant self-appraisal.” “Histrionic personality disorder” is “excessive emotionality and attention-seeking.” “Narcissistic personality disorder” involves “grandiosity, need for admiration … boastful and pretentious.” And so on.

If every character blemish or emotional turbulence is a “disorder” akin to a physical disability, legal accommodations are mandatory. Under federal law, “disabilities” include any “mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”; “mental impairments” include “emotional or mental illness.” So there might be a legal entitlement to be a jerk.

[…]Furthermore, intellectual chaos can result from medicalizing the assessment of character. Today’s therapeutic ethos, which celebrates curing and disparages judging, expresses the liberal disposition to assume that crime and other problematic behaviors reflect social or biological causation. While this absolves the individual of responsibility, it also strips the individual of personhood, and moral dignity.

James Q. Wilson, America’s pre-eminent social scientist, has noted how “abuse excuse” threatens the legal system and society’s moral equilibrium. Writing in National Affairs quarterly (“The Future of Blame”), Wilson notes that genetics and neuroscience seem to suggest that self-control is more attenuated — perhaps to the vanishing point — than our legal and ethical traditions assume.

Related to our recent discussions about personal responsibility and blaming others.

2 thoughts on “How psychology medicalizes character flaws to remove personal responsibility”

  1. Wow, I thought all my comments over here would be pretty much gender related.

    I didn’t realize you would go here.

    Anyone telling me ADHD is a made up brain disorder would appear to me like… well…

    Like someone telling Jane Goodall that there are no such things as gorillas, AFTER she lived among them.

    What would she do?
    Laugh in their face?

    My husband has adult ADHD. We didn’t know about it for the first 17 years of our marriage.
    ADHD is not a full-blown mental disorder like Schzophrenia that everyone becomes aware of eventually. It can fly under the radar for years. And it can be so insidious. Things just aren’t right but you can’t put your finger on it.

    Anyway, saying these medical things are just an excuse to blame others, the truth is, my husband used to blame me for everything.
    Now that he knows he has ADHD when he gets frustrated because his brain isn’t working right, he doesn’t blame me first thing. He realizes it’s the disorder.

    (on a side note. My husband suffered with this all the time he was Christian and Pastor and kept looking for answers in the church. But because the church didn’t believe in such things he had to go outside to find relief. or at the very least, a diagnosis)

    Also, when I tell you I minister to wounded, disillusioned, Christian women, many of their spouses have one of these ‘made up’ disorders.

    And I’ll tell you the truth right now. I’m proud to be a Conservative. My parents, grandparents, great grandparents were the epitomy of rugged individualism, enduring the dust bowl, and all. But if Conservatives are going to hide their heads in the sand over what science has been proving, I don’t know what to say.

    One of my biggest gripes with the church is their willful ignorance on brain issues.

    No one has a problem understanding taking insulin for diabetes, a chemical imbalance in the blood, one of many sickness we now deal with because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. But what is so wrong in realizing that the brain can have those imbalances? Did the brain somehow escape the results of the fall? Is it an organ somehow exempt from the effects of original sin?

    Yes, I’m frustrated.

    Oh, and women have these disorders too. And the more I met men who harshly judge women and hate feminism, the more I wonder if these men had a mother or ex-wife/girlfriend with one of these lovely brain imbalances. That’s about the only conclusion I can come to when I meet, otherwise decent fellows who have real hangups where women are concerned.

    Brain and personality disorders are insideous. They hurt the one who has it AND everyone around them. They are like a phantom menace that does terrible damage while everyone is running around looking elsewhere for the problem.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s