Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

There is no bad person disease

Not everyone who behaves badly is a narcissist

We have a tendency nowadays to pathologize the behavior of others. We chalk someone’s actions up to them having some kind of mental illness, instead of bad behavior simply being a part of human personalities. One example of this is the trend on social media of calling everyone we don’t like a narcissist.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined as believing yourself to be much more important and special than other people. Many experts consider it to affect about 0.5% of the population. Despite it being a fairly uncommon mental illness, terms like “narcissist” have become short hands for basically saying that someone has “bad person disease.”

On TikTok, a trend has developed surrounding a battle between narcissists and “empaths,” who are supposedly ultra-compassionate. Many videos have been posted describing ways to spot someone with NPD. The signs used to “spot” a narcissist are usually just signs of abuse that can be done by anyone, regardless of mental health status. When the ways of spotting someone with NPD are so generic, and often subjective, it’s easy to see them everywhere. It’s no wonder that it’s become common to say that everyone we don’t like is a narcissist.

Other videos frame this struggle against the perceived onslaught of narcissists as a valiant struggle between good and evil, with the powers of the empaths being the only thing in the way of the dastardly narcissists.

The issue with this is that there is no disease that automatically makes someone a bad person. A mental illness can sometimes make being kind and respectful harder, but that doesn’t mean it decreases the desire to be those things. There is no mental illness that guarantees you will end up a bad person who mistreats others.

Mental illnesses are not switches in your brain that you are born with, that go on or off. A more apt description would be that they are groups of symptoms that have been gathered under a name. They are usually caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Many psychological experts even question whether NPD should be considered a genuine diagnosis at all.

Studies have shown that people who score high on narcissist personality tests are often more confident and resilient, suggesting that it’s an evolutionary trait to help us survive. All of us display mildly narcissistic behaviors sometimes, but that doesn’t make us inherently bad people. Likewise, someone doesn’t have to have a diagnosis to treat someone badly. There’s no health condition that turns someone evil and the assumption that it does can be incredibly harmful. Having NPD or borderline personality disorder or low empathy has nothing to do with your overall morality. To say that it does is increases the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Mental illness is often seen as more accepted nowadays than it used to be, but there are limits. Whenever someone has a condition with a bad reputation, or exhibits symptoms that are seen as unsavory, they are quickly demonized the same way mentally ill people always have been.

Often people are driven to assign illnesses–ones like “narcissist” that have become buzzwords online–to those who have abused them as a way of rationalizing it. If you’ve been treated horribly, it’s easier to tell yourself that your abuser was some kind of non-human monster due to something in their brain, instead of acknowledging that they too are an imperfect human being who simply made bad choices.

No one is inherently evil, even if they do have a disorder that makes it difficult for them to interact with others. Sometimes, people just behave badly, and it’s important not to blame that behavior on an illness that people have no control over. There is no such thing as “bad person disease.”

Grace Jungmann can be reached at [email protected]

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