Will learning Mussar help a psychopath or Narcissist? Among others.

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  • This topic contains 43 replies, has 19 voices, and was last updated by  Health 5 months ago.
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  • #1506461

    Haimy
    Participant

    We learn mussar seforim as a way to improve our character. Modern psychiatry has identified several brain-based disorders which inhibit a person’s ability to empathize or properly interact with others. Including psychopathy & narcissistic disorder, autism, Among other disorders.
    Should some middos problems be treated by a doctor (or therapist) rather than a mussar seder?
    Is the mussar model of human behavior in tune with the medical outlook? Should the mashgiach of “today” know the difference between Bechira & brain pathology? They aren’t treated the same way.

    #1506577

    Takes2-2tango
    Participant

    Shoyld a person suffering from any disease consider learning mussar as a way to remedy that disease ?

    #1506578

    Joseph
    Participant

    Today, mental health excuses are used to blame all bad behaviours.

    #1506579

    Shopping613 🌠
    Participant

    If you are sick, you need a doctor.
    Enough said.

    Of course schools should know the difference between illness and middos.

    #1506583

    Health
    Participant

    haimy -“Should some middos problems be treated by a doctor (or therapist) rather than a mussar seder?”

    You obviously are misguided. In a case where s/o is actually diagnosed with a Mental disorder, therapy/meds is an addition to Mussar, Not instead of!

    #1506659

    Eli Y
    Participant

    As a Ph.D in Experimental Psychology (not a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist), my belief is that certain psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety should be treated with medication so that the individual has the stability to learn improvement to character.

    The OP description of the personality disorders of sociopathy (no empathy) and (narcissism) are notoriously difficult to treat from a psychiatric intervention. Perhaps that why Haimy refers to them as best treated by spiritual growth–in this I think I must agree.

    #1506660

    lesschumras
    Participant

    Health, I’m not clear on what you mean. Unlike , say, depression and paranoia, a psychopath is basically untreatable with drugs or therapy. A psychopath lacks empathy or a conscience. Drugs can’t do anything about it. Mussar means nothing to such a person.

    #1506662

    JJ2020
    Participant

    One of the big problems with ppl sychopaths, narcissistis and the like is that they don’t want to change. If someone doesn’t want to change there isn’t much you could do about it. If someone actually wants to get better a combination of medication, therapy, social support and a lot of hard work may help. For some others the death penalty is the way to go.

    #1506682

    rational jew
    Participant

    The way many people learn mussar, I imagine it would make very little change to their character. Simply reviewing the importance of being kind, even for a healthy person, may make a lot less real change to your habits than you might expect. It may inspire you, but without a careful, calculated approach to mussar, you will probably be disappointed and surprised most of the time that mussar is not helping much. This, I believe, is the true reason why studying mussar is not popular. It does not work. Some may comfort themselves and say that it must be helping somehow and that it’s a long road, it’s not your job to finish, just to do the best you can etc. But anyone who seriously studies the messilat yesharim will see that it requires serious thought, keeping a journal, the basis of the cheshbon hanefesh, deciding which actions are helpful, setting goals, writing them down and developing strategies to improve. Anyone who thinks about themselves will begin to see how he works and realise some obvious changes to make, often very simple. The mussar movement was very different and much more intellectual than the current approach to mussar. However a psychopath may actually be very successful with mussar, since they may be low on emotional empathy, but can often be high on cognitive empathy. A psychopath has the ability to control their actions and can actually have a lot of insights into themselves due to their intellectual ability. Maybe start a new thread on mussar, how to study and different approaches.

    #1506705

    Avi K
    Participant

    A psychopath is the sheid mentioned in the Gemara (Rambam, Guide 1:7).

    As for a narcissist, there is a story about a bachur who rejected every shidduch suggestion as not good enough for him. his rebbe told him to learn Mussar for a year to become an anav. After the year was up he said that now that he was an anav they were certainly not good enough for him. In fact, the Gra says (Even Sheleima 2) that the torah iscompared to water because everything it is pored on grows. Someone who has naturally a bad midda who learns Torah will become even worse. Rav Aviner added that he will even find rationalizations in Torah for his behavior thus magnifying the chillul Hashem. I, in fact, know someone like this.

    #1506709

    Uncle Ben
    Participant

    Jj2020; Are you advocating the death penalty even for psychopaths who aren’t serial killers?

    #1506711

    Avi K
    Participant

    Ben, in fact, the Rogochover says that murder is so heinous that even a shotteh is executed (Responsa Tzefanat Paaneach 19). It would seem that one murder is sufficient to execute him. It should be noted that a psychopath is not necessarily a murderer. He could be someone who advances by crushing everyone in his way. According to Psychology Today “Psychopathy is among the most difficult disorders to spot. The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, he lacks conscience and empathy, making him manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal”.

    #1506713

    Health
    Participant

    LS -“psychopath is basically untreatable with drugs or therapy.”

    NOT E/O agrees to this!
    From Goodtherapy.org:
    “Can Psychopathy Be Treated?
    Professionals in the field often disagree on whether psychopathy is a condition that can be treated. Many believe no therapy or medication can fundamentally change the brains of those with psychopathy, but others believe there are techniques that can be effective in reducing antisocial behaviors, especially when an individual recognizes these behaviors and chooses to seek help.”

    #1506879

    JJ2020
    Participant

    Uncle Ben – I said some. Murdering one person is enough.

    Avi k – thanks for sharing that gra. Derech eretz kadma ltorah. But that quote really takes that a whole step further.

    #1506821

    The little I know
    Participant

    Learning mussar is good for everyone. Period. If the question is whether it will alleviate the personality disorders of narcissistic or sociopathic personality, that is rather tough. The expectation I would have, as a few earlier comments pointed out, these people are unwilling and unmotivated to change anything. And, as one comment suggested, the person with these conditions does not lose their free will, and can change behavior.

    RJ pointed out that “mussar does not work”. I must believe that this statement was poorly worded, and I suspect a few other sentences in that comment were similarly not well expressed. Mussar works great, and that is why so many works have been written on the subject. That is why reb Yisroel Salanter ZT”L made a bigger issue of it, and the many yeshivos that followed that derech pushed the agenda. I suspect that this has diminished greatly in efficacy because it is being approached incorrectly. Mussar is NOT an academic subject, and it is NOT an intellectual pursuit. It is a derech of how to guide one’s attitudes and behavior to become a paragon of kedusha, encompassing both realms of בין אדם למקום as well as בין אדם לחבירו. I also believe that those mussar works that do not make a greater issue in discussion of the regular חשבון הנפש are simply directing their attention to the content of that process, feeling there was little need to emphasize the obvious.

    Basically, mussar, when approached as a practical matter, not simply academic, is a staple in Avodas Hashem, and benefits all who follow it.

    Lastly, there is a quote from Harav Shalom Schwadron ZT”L wherein he stated that “Teshuvah is like a washing machine; it makes clothes clean, but it does not sew on buttons.”

    #1506932

    in galus
    Participant

    תורת ה’ תמימה משיבת נפש

    #1506942

    Avi K
    Participant

    Little, it depends. Really there is no better Mussar than learning Gemara and Halacha (Baba Kama 30a). Some people need to be hit over the head with a hammer. Rav Soloveichik recalls in “Halachic Man” that Rav Chaim compared it to castor oil – it cures the sick and makes the healthy ill. However, a person must first want to change. Even then, as Rav Salanter said, it is harder to change a bad personal characteristic than to learn all of Shas.

    #1506962

    Midwest2
    Participant

    As a mere MA in experimental psychology I would still like to put in my 2 cents worth. Borderline, antisocial (psychopathy) and narcissistic personality disorders are almost by definition due to an underlying lack of ability to perform certain brain functions (like feeling empathy). Think of it as the emotional equivalent of dyslexia. Part of the problem with these three personality disorders is that they don’t distress the person having them, they distress the people around them who suffer from their actions.

    Learning musar is not going to help a dyslexic learn to read – special techniques are needed. For people with these types of personality disorder, change is very hard, because the person doesn’t think they need to change. Psychotherapy with such patients is very, very hard and seldom very successful. The people who most benefit from therapy are the family members who have to deal with the person.

    So no, musar is not going to help the patient. Psychotherapy might, but maybe not. Anyone who thinks they are involved with someone with one of these disorders should seek help for themselves, to deal with the stress of the patient’s behavior, and also ask relevant sheilos as they come up.

    #1506996

    Uncle Ben
    Participant

    Jj & Avi; I should have phrased my question better. Are you advocating the death penalty even for non murderous psychopaths?
    Avi, you raise an interesting point. I read once that many CEOs and top executives are psychopaths and have taken the route you described to the top.

    #1506987

    👑RebYidd23
    Participant

    Of course learning mussar isn’t going to teach a dyslexic how to read–you took that from one side of the metaphor onto the other side.

    #1507018

    Joseph
    Participant

    “Borderline, antisocial (psychopathy) and narcissistic personality disorders are almost by definition due to an underlying lack of ability to perform certain brain functions (like feeling empathy).”

    Is your argument that, therefore, the person is without fault and cannot be blamed?

    #1507023

    JJ2020
    Participant

    Uncle Ben – only if people do crimes should they be punished.

    I would think maybe some people in business are sociopaths perhaps more than psychopaths. There is this documentary called the corporation. In it the diagnose the corporation as a pscyhopath.

    #1507057

    Thinking out loud
    Participant

    I would like to qualify one of the above posts that refer collectively to personality disorders. I do not personally know anyone who has been diagnosed specifically with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    However, I DO know people who fit the criterion and/or have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. In a different thread, I assertively disagreed with a poster who stated as a fact that BPD can not be “cured”. I have since been in contact with one of the foremost professionals who specializes in BPD. She clarified, that often when people are describing a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, the person they are referring to ALSO has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This detail may explain the difference of opinion and experience I have with Borderline Personality Disorder. People who fit the criterion can definitely recover, and overcome most if not all of the symptoms with a mixture of various approaches. It is very hard work, and every step is heroic. A person who is in the process of recovery deserves a lot of support, respect, and inclusion.

    If they have co-existing Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I do not claim to know the dynamics, or how one might recover from that. As a frum Jew, I find it difficult to believe that something that is truly a personality disorder can not be improved upon with the proper approach. But we are using terminology that does not clearly describe biological realities. We are using terminology that was created by humans, to describe a particular group of behavioral symptoms. Only Hashem knows where a person’s nekudas habechira lies at any given time. Maybe for some people, the nisayon is just to recognize that there is something to fix. That recognition may be a tremedous avoda in itself! (meaning it will take a considerable amount of time and effort to just acknowledge that there is a problem). And maybe that is what Hashem wants from them.

    Also, I would like to second the poster who explained that treating an emotional/mental health problem allows the person to get to a place where they can THEN learn mussar, and apply it. Ironically, the people that I have encountered who have worked very hard to overcome emotional dysregulation with therapy, are already practicing actual mussar concepts; they have challenged previous thoughts and behaviors, and systematically use particular skills to CHANGE their default responses.

    However, had they gone directly to a mussar sefer, the effort would have likely backfired. The first thing they would experience is guilt, self-blame, hopelessness, and other non-productive emotions. Their issues would likely get worse, and the mussar would not be able to be internalized. Because the part of the person that can integrate mussar is not functioning properly! Professional intervention is indicated for healthy function to either resume, or possibly to begin for the first time.

    #1507092

    Health
    Participant

    Tol -“I do not personally know anyone who has been diagnosed specifically with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”

    That’s because they never got help – there’s nothing wrong with them! They’re Perfect!

    #1507098

    yrca
    Participant

    yes if you connecting with it

    #1507102

    Avi K
    Participant

    Ben, no I am not (although bnei Noach can be executed for theft, leaving aside what constitutes theft, and ever min chai).

    Think, the concept of “nekudat habechira” only refers to how Hashem judges the person not how we must deal with him. If Rambam’s definition of a sheid refers to a psychopath it could be that he has no reward or punishment like an animal. However, that does not mean that we need not protect society from him just as with any vicious animal.

    #1507108

    Thinking out loud
    Participant

    Avi: I was referring to narcissistic personality disorder, not psychopathology. I don’t know anything about antisocial personality disorder, or whether it is in fact the universally accepted description of a psychopath (as Midwest2 posted), or whether the Rambam’s definition of a sheid does in fact refer to a psychopath.

    I was Thinking out loud about what might be a window of bechira for someone who has narcissistic personality disorder, which I acknowledged I know very little about!

    #1507117

    Shopping613 🌠
    Participant

    I think the main problem with these things is that most of the time, people are not self aware and they do not want to change.

    I’m not saying that is everyone, I know plenty of people with these type of mental illnesses that DID take charge in their life and lead productive lives and finding their zivug without lying and secrets, but many if not most people with these mental illnesses have issues changing and that’s why it’s so hard to treat.

    I am speaking pretty generally.
    But as we all know nothing stands in the way of will, if one just doesn’t want help or to improve, he won’t.

    #1507356

    Avi K
    Participant

    Thinking, that is also Hashem’s cheshbon. The point is will learning Mussar help him. If he finds out about Slobodka’s sheeta he would probably become an even bigger narcissist. He would just reject Navardok out of hand.
    NPD is different than APD, which is similar to psychopathology. Both seem to be genetic. If so we will have to wait for genetic engineering to work on people who have already been born. From what I understand there is no clear evidence as to NPD’s causes. However, a Mussar yeshiva will not do the job by itself.

    #1507365

    Joseph
    Participant

    Avi, would you argue that the person is therefore not responsible for his behaviors in this area, since it is genetic?

    #1507460

    zahavasdad
    Participant

    If a Person really is very seriously Mentally Ill and cannot control himself then he is not responsible

    mental Illness can be a really horrible thing and very severe

    #1507471

    👑RebYidd23
    Participant

    If someone has a neurological disability, why does it matter what caused it (in this context)?

    #1507547

    Health
    Participant

    zd -“If a Person really is very seriously Mentally Ill and cannot control himself then he is not responsible”

    In reality – there are very few like this. just look at the court system – many in jail are Psychopaths, but they weren’t eligble for an Insanity defense!

    #1507966

    👑RebYidd23
    Participant

    An insanity defense would get them locked up in a mental hospital, and they would rather be in prison.

    #1507967

    The little I know
    Participant

    It is almost amusing to read some of the comments here. The basic knowledge about mental illness seems to be almost completely missing in many comments. Having a diagnosis that is within the realm of psychiatric disorder is not the same as legally insane. In fact, mental health professionals struggle with testimony on court, where lawyers and judges need information that follows the terminology and criteria of the law, which is vastly different from the nomenclature and labels used by the professions. Example: psychotic is not a legal term. Insane is not a clinical one. Someone suffering from anxiety carries a clinical diagnosis of a psychiatric nature. That does not qualify to be exempt from responsibility for the commission of a crime, or from standing trial.

    Before making these bold and general statements, a bit of professional study would be worthwhile. Without that, the statements are rather close to gibberish.

    #1507979

    Uncle Ben
    Participant

    Tlik; Bingo, you nailed it. A great deal of the coffee room is gibberish!

    #1507985

    Midwest2
    Participant

    TLIK – yes, some of the posts in this thread are uninformed or misinformed, but I remember a time when discussing anything to do with mental health was strictly taboo. In at least one case that I know of, a clinically depressed bachur killed himself because his parents were too afraid of the stigma to get him help. Who knows how many other lives were ruined because their suffering was kept in the shadows? Torah Umesorah gets the credit for being the first frum organization to arrange mental health care for yeshivas, and since then we have seen much, much progress.

    I’m just happy to see that the subject can be discussed in the open now. If people are willing to talk and listen, misconceptions can be corrected, and those who need help can get it.

    #1508068

    We learn mussar seforim as a way to improve our character.

    Not necessarily – that is, simply learning from a sefer is generally not enough to
    improve a person’s character (although learning b’hispa’alus might be?).
    We might learn them to learn practical methods of improving ourselves,
    to lift our attention from worldly thoughts to the subjects of mussar, etc.
    (The bochur who asked a gadol, “How many times a zman should a
    bochur finish Mesilas Yeshorim?” was laboring under an illusion.)

    #1508051

    Thinking out loud
    Participant

    I would also like to add, a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder will not likely go into treatment…. by choice. However, due to things they may do that hurt others, they may end up in mandated treatment. Apparently, there are ways to slowly have an impact, where the person can (with much difficulty) recognize that they do have a problem. What I said above, is that maybe getting to a place where they recognize that they have a problem at all, is the goal of treatment. There are approaches that have worked. There are many approaches that do not work at all. That much I know. But again, NPD is not a DX that I have personal experience with. I do have first-hand experience with a number of other diagnosed mental health conditions.

    #1508050

    Thinking out loud
    Participant

    @avi K:
    Just to clarify, You do realize that I said that reading a mussar sefer would backfirewhen professional is indicated, right? I gave some examples that apply to depressive, self hate issues. There are other examples, that would apply to grandiosity issues. Either way, I maintain that the problems would get worse, not better.

    #1508114

    Joseph
    Participant

    TOL: “I would also like to add, a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder will not likely go into treatment…. by choice. However, due to things they may do that hurt others, they may end up in mandated treatment.”

    What would someone with NPD likely do that violates laws severely enough that a court would force him into a mandatory program?

    #1508062

    Avi K
    Participant

    Joseph, that could be (not all mentally ill people actually commit crimes) but as I previously posted society would still have to be protected from him. A vicious animal is also not responsible for its actions but we do not let it roam free.
    RY,
    1. A defense will not do anything unless the court accepts it.
    2. Who says what they would prefer? In a mental hospital they would probably not be in danger from other patients.

    TLIK, you are correct. For example, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. yet was found competent to stand trial, was sentenced to prison and sent to Attica (@RY).

    #1508157

    Avi K
    Participant

    TOL, no. I do not read every single post.

    #1508220

    Health
    Participant

    Yidd23 -“An insanity defense would get them locked up in a mental hospital, and they would rather be in prison”

    It’s really not their choice. If one the lawyers or the judge think that his/her’s action was based on a mental condition – they will request a mental eval.
    Did you get that it is their choice from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”?

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