Longer observation (15): Is he Bad or Mentally Ill (or Both)?: In these modern times we hear people discussing people who have done something bad. One person says, "He's just bad! No excuses! He should be punished!" and the other person says, "No! He's mentally ill! You would have done the same thing if you had been through what he has been through! We should be compassionate!" The person in question could be a criminal on trial or a political tyrant or even a family member who is hurting and, maybe, tyrannizing, people within the family.

It seems to me that the situation usually isn't an "either/or." A person can be bad and mentally ill. His (or her) badness can come from the illness or not. It can be caused, as it is the current fashion to say, by a flaw in a gene or from a brain defect, or maybe not.

This argument has an abstract, theoretical component, but it also has practical implications. If a father is a vicious tyrant, one family member may argue for leniency: "Remember what he went through in the war! It isn't his fault! He's really a good man!" While other family members might argue that the mother should divorce the father, that no one should visit him or obey him, and so on.

Another point of dispute can be if the person is really bad or just acting or behaving badly. And this is used as part of the argument: "He's not really bad! His PTSD [or depression or ....] is making him act badly!"

From the point of view of an outside observer such as a psychotherapist is that these discussions often go on while the abuser is in the middle of perpetrating his abuse. To the outside observer, the solution seems obvious: Stop the abuse first and then, if you want to try to deal with the illness if there is one.

And this is my position as a therapist and as a person who has been through abusive situations: It doesn't matter what the cause of the abuse! The first thing is to stop the abuse! Then, when the situation is under control, under the control of those acting well and correctly, then it can be figured out what to call the perpetrator and what to do with him or her.

I have one caveat: This assumes you are being abused, in reality, and are not just imagining it and being overly sensitive. It also assumes you are not the abuser and that the other person isn't defending him or herself from you.