What can you do to determine if you are the toxic one once and for all: Theory

To close out our exploration of the question "Am I the toxic one?" we will tackle exactly what you can do to determine once and for all if you are the toxic one. 

In this post, we will cover some of the theoretical answers to this question. In the next post, we will make that theory a bit more concrete and explore the story of Shannon. Finally, Season 1 will close out with two different action items you can do to start your own journey with answering this question once and for all. 

To begin, we need to revisit what it takes to be a toxic person. Back in the first week of this season, we explored the differences between sometimes engaging in toxic behavior and being a toxic person. In this week's topic, we are going to focus on your status a s a toxic people. 

I use the term "toxic people" to refer to folks with personality disorders. So we can reframe the question "Am I the toxic one?" as the question "Do I have a personality disorder?" The way folks are determined to have any kind of mental health problem today is through the criteria laid out in the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). 

The DSM is a book that features the culmination of several generations worth of experts in mental health. Within its pages, you can find lists of all the currently recognized mental health disorders and symptoms of these disorders. 

While anyone can read the DSM, the only folks that are qualified to use the criteria laid out in it are mental health professionals. These folks are trained to separate out typical human behavior from the kind of behaviors that characterize mental health disorders. As a result, the only folks qualified to officially diagnose mental health disorders, including personality disorders, are mental health professionals. 

So if you want to know whether you have a personality disorder, you will need to turn to the expertise of a mental health professional. Remember, I am not a such a professional- I am trained as a professional philosopher. Thus, I am not qualified to diagnose folks using the DSM. 

Now if this is your first time exploring the mental health professional space, its important to know some of the differences between these kind of folks. Here is a rough idea of the terms and differences: 

  • Psychologists are folks who hold a PhD and are licensed by each state’s government (at least in the US)
  • Psychiatrists are like psychologists but they are also licensed medical doctors. They can prescribe and monitor medication.
  • Counselors, Clinicians, Therapists all hold at least a masters degree. They are also usually licensed by the state government
  • Clinical Social Workers are folks who hold a masters degree is social work and are trained to evaluate folks mental health and use specific therapeutic techniques

So, if you want to know if you have a personality disorder, you need to consult a mental health professional. As tempting as it might be to self evaluate using the DSM, this is not the most accurate method of evaluation. Even trained mental health professionals do not self diagnose using the DSM. In order to be fairly evaluated, you really need a third-party perspective to take a look at your specific situation. 

Ok, but this does bring up an interesting epistemological question. Epistemology is a part of philosophy where we ask questions about how is it that we know stuff. In this case, we can ask how do we KNOW that the doctor is right?

If you go to a doctor and would like to strengthen your evidence that the doctor has given you the right diagnosis, a reasonable thing to do is to get another opinion from another doctor. This is true whether you are seeking a diagnosis for a chronic illness or for a mental health illness. If you vist a few doctors and they all produce the same diagnosis, then you have stronger evidence that this is the right diagnosis. 

So here is the plan if you want to determine - once and for all- if you are the toxic one: 

  • You’ll need to be evaluated by at least two mental health professionals.
  • You can be direct with these doctors as you work with them and say that you suspect you may have a personality disorder and you are looking for answers.
  • With the opinions of at least two doctors in hand, you can reasonably settle whether your current mental health status meets the DSM criteria for a personality disorder.
  • You can then use the relationships you have built with these professionals to continue to work on improving your condition, whatever the diagnosis. 

Now, there are still a lot of interesting questions we might have here. We might wonder about how the criteria in the DSM is selected and whether it should have the authority that it does in the mental health sphere. There are some troubling cases with the DSM. At one time homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a mental health disorder. That certainly suggests the document can be seriously flawed. 

Another thing we might wonder about is the ethical implications of someone needing to visit two doctors to get a diagnosis when mental health services are notoriously expensive. This might make receiving such a diagnosis particularly difficult for folks who occupy a lower socio-economic status, or who come from historically disadvantaged groups. 

I can't go into these interesting questions at the moment, but it is worth noting some of the many things we are left thinking about. 

If you are enjoying these posts, I'd recommend you join our email list. Once a week I send out an update with all our latest blog updates. That way you can follow along as we make our way through the end of this season and into the next. You can sign up here. 

In our next post, we will get to meet Shannon and walk alongside her as she decides to answer "Am I the toxic one?" once and for all. 



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