Family Acceptance of the Schizophrenic Ameliorates the Terror of the Diagnosis

Acceptance of the schizophrenic family member may not be an easy task. Often, schizophrenia transforms individuals in ways that make them unrecognizable to their families. It should be noted, however, that the schizophrenic may feel that their family has transformed into something unrecognizable to him/her.

Hope and help for schizophrenia - Family acceptance helps the schizophrenic to cope and recover.

Hope and help for schizophrenia – Family acceptance helps the schizophrenic to cope and recover. Art by Ann Olson

The initial struggle to accept oneself when dealing with a serious mental illness, and to be acceptable to others may be difficult and even terrifying to the schizophrenic. The rage and grief associated with the onset of a chronic mental illness, for both the schizophrenic and her family, may be venture towards the extreme.

Family members can bypass some of what seems to be a tragedy for the troubled individual and themselves by educating themselves about mental illness and the diagnosis of schizophrenia. The difficulties of the schizophrenic and the subsequent difficulties of the family in dealing with this diagnosis, which may seem like a life sentence, is cyclic. The schizophrenic may act out, and the family may respond by not understanding this behavior, which further alienates the schizophrenic in such a way that the schizophrenic no longer exists in a way that can be understood by anyone, especially by family members. And for that reason, the person with schizophrenia will act out in ways that may be unacceptable to the family. The family may be compelled to re-evaluate and realign their position of unconditional acceptance of their family member.

As an individual newly diagnosed with a psychotic disorder, I was once having dinner with my family in an expensive restaurant. I became angry at my family, who, as a natural consequence of my own odd behavior, were treating me oddly. I stood up and began to yell at my family members, embarrassing them and perhaps causing them to be ashamed of me. They dealt with this embarrassment as well as they could. I do not even remember what in particular upset me at that time. I do know, however, that I was being treated differently than I had been prior to my mental illness, and that enraged me—mainly because I was scared.

Overwhelmingly, the mentally ill family member wants to feel accepted and loved. The trepidation that the family deals with as a consequence of the diagnosis of schizophrenia in a family member can be intense. But the family should be aware that the aberrant behavior of their schizophrenic family member can be understood, at least in part, as a comprehensible reaction to the idiosyncratic nature of his/her situation. Rage and fear as a response to being diagnosed as schizophrenic make sense–no one thinks that they might be a schizophrenic when they grow up. The “tragedy” of this diagnosed condition can be overwhelming and devastating. Family involvement and acceptance, in particular, may ameliorate much of this tragedy. In fact, it might even make the circumstances relating to a diagnosis of schizophrenia in a family tolerable, for both the schizophrenic and his family.


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