This post was inspired by a recent post by a fellow blogger about the psychology behind excuses. I left a comment about distinguishing between reasons and excuses, and I thought the idea was worth some further expansion.
Defining reasons & excuses
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines reason as “a statement or fact that explains why something is the way it is, why someone does, thinks, or says something, or why someone behaves a certain way.”
Google Dictionary defines an excuse as “a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense.”
The differences may be subtle, but I think they’re actually really important. The word excuse carries with it a lot of negative overtones. It sounds like an attempt to get out of something that you really should be doing but just don’t want to.
It seems like people with limited knowledge about mental illness or other invisible disabilities often have a hard time grasping why we can’t do something because of our illness. As a result, they may think we’re being lazy or making excuses if we call in sick or are unable to work due to our illnesses. This is a very different kettle of fish from what I would consider a reason – recognizing that our illness is causing problems for us, and proactively making decisions about what choices will be best for our mental health.
Mental illness can also twist our own thinking so that we start limiting ourselves with excuses but justifying those limits as being bona fide reasons. Depression might make showering really, really hard, and once a week is about all that’s manageable. But maybe depression starts to become an excuse if it’s used as justification to quit trying altogether. Sure, maybe I’ll reconsider next month, depending on how things are going, you know… It can be a tricky balance to find. For me it comes down to making an effort. Maybe I’ll try and then give up today, tomorrow, and the next day, but if I try and get it done the day after that, that’s not about excuses.
Acceptance vs. disempowerment
The way I see it, excuses are about running away. Reasons are about acceptance of what is, and figuring out how to do the best we can given realistic constraints. Excuses look for ways not to try, and reasons are the opposite. Relying on excuses is disempowering, while acknowledging reasons can be very empowering. Excuses show a lack of insight, while reasons demonstrate that we do have insight into our illness.
If I’m able to accept that my mental illness affects me in certain ways, I can work on managing potential consequences, whereas non-acceptance can make it hard to target the right things. I know that I sometimes experience irritability as a symptom of my depression. I’m also aware that I don’t have a lot of control over the behaviours that it can produce, and I recognize that it’s not a good situation for myself or those around me. Rather than putting myself into situations where I’m likely to behaviourally act out, and then relying on my mental illness as an excuse, I know that that particular symptom is a reason for that kind of behaviour, so I try very hard not to put myself in situations that are likely to exacerbate the irritability. By accepting that reason, I’m reducing the likelihood of having to try to use my illness as an excuse.
What do you think? Is there a difference between reasons and excuses when it comes to how we handle mental illness?
The Coping Toolkit page has a broad collection of resources to support mental health and well-being.