How easy is it, really, for a "sane" person to "go mad"?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, because in pop culture, it seems really easy.

One good, common example is the Joker’s “one bad day.” Another is old EC comics stories, in which a frequent way the bad guy gets his comeuppance is that he causes someone in his life who seemed otherwise “sane” to suddenly snap and brutally butcher him in some ironic way.

I know there’s a lot of complexity in the human mind, the terms we use, and psychology/psychiatry in general, but I was wondering if there was any general sense of just how (un)realistic pop culture is about this kind of thing.

People can appear to be perfectly ‘sane’ when there is actually a storm brewing beneath the surface and one bad day can send them over the edge. I don’t think brutally butchering a person in some ironic way is a common result, some kind of emotional breakdown leaving a person with little capability to do anything is more likely.

I witnessed schizophrenia take over a person’s life some years back. It only took a few days. At first she seemed like she was having a bad day, impatient, distracted, easily irritated. A couple of days later she was hearing voices and in denial about her situation. She would soon would be institutionalized. She had been a rational person one day and a week later had little connection with reality.

Sometimes people get brain tumors and other growths that cause radical personality changes. In the 1960s a man took several rifles up to the top of a building in Texas and began killing people. His family saw him change in the weeks leading up the incident and he told people that he had developed violent impulses. He was killed being apprehended by the police and an autopsy revealed a brain tumor.

When the world is full of care
And every headline screams despair,
All is r*pe, starvation, war and life is vile

Then there’s a certain thing I do
Which I shall pass along to you,
That’s always guaranteed to make me smile:

I go loo-oo-oony as a light-bulb battered bug!
Simply loo-oo-oony, sometimes foam and chew the rug!

Mister, life is swell
In a padded cell,
It’ll chase those blues away:
You can trade your gloom
For a rubber room
And injections twice a day!

Just go loo-oo-oony like an acid casualty,
Or a moo-oo-oonie, or a preacher on T.V.

When the human race
Wears an anxious face,
When the bomb hangs overhead,
When your kid turns blue,
It won’t worry you,
You can smile and nod instead.

When you’re loo-oo-oony, then you just don’t give a fig,
Man’s so pu-uu-uny, and the universe so big!

If you hurt inside,
Get certified,
And if life should treat you bad…
Don’t get ee-ee-ven
Get MAD!

~The Joker

Anecdotal, but a few decades ago one of my relatives “snapped”, though not in a dangerous way. After a series of layoffs and continual job disasters, he lost another job and it was all he could take. He went catatonic, and just wandered out of his office, to home, packed his car with odd stuff, and drove away. He was missing for 4 days while officials searched for him. They found him sitting silently in a park with a fishing pole and some camping gear. He never said a word, but was easily led away and back home to his family. I didn’t see him for many months, but he seemed OK when I next encountered him.

If I had to watch Teletubbies all day long, I would lose it in less than a week.

It depends on your definition of ‘sane.’

There are some who claim it is possible to purposely ‘split’ a child’s mind into multiple personalities. First a ‘trainer’ establishes a close parental relationship with the child. After the child begins viewing the trainer as their Father or Mother figure the trainer inflicts the most horrendous abuse possible on the child, essentially torture. The child cannot resolve the incongruity and so they create an additional personality to cope; this new personality may have no memory of the trainer being abusive.

I could see something like this being possible but I wouldn’t call it insanity; it’s multiple personality disorder.

Hasn’t been called that for years. It became a movie and fictional trope, inaccurately displayed.

The diagnosis is ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’ and it mostly often arises in response to deep and persistently ongoing trauma, especially in formative years.

I prefer Gene Wilder’s take on it.

In a few months of basic training, docile Iowa farm boys could be turned into men who would napalm children and watch them burn. With an almost 100% success rate. People can be taught to celebrate insanity.

Your post is offensive. The Iowa boys are not the problem and had no choice beyond basic or prison for draft evasion. The criminals are the politicians and the military industrial profiteers who engineered that war (and subsequent ones). They are the amoral, psychopathic, insane ones. Not my brothers and uncles and friends.

Again, your opinion as offered, is extremely offensive and devisive. My brother is 100% disabled by PTSD from Vietnam and the pressure that insane political machine exacted on him and thousands of others. My uncle died there and I assure you he did not napalm children or watch them burn.

If this was The Pit I would really tell you what I think of your ideas. I will, however, support your right to express your beliefs. I have several other uncles who died so you could do that.

You wouldn’t be the first.

For what little it’s worth, I read jtur88’s post as a shot against the government that trained/sent the ‘farm boys’, not against the ‘farm boys’ themselves - in other words, you agree with each other.

As to the OP, I’m afraid I can’t resist offering another example from fiction (quoting from memory so may not be word-perfect):

“Arthur was terribly pleased with how things were going to plan for once. Just that morning he had decided he would go mad, and here he was chasing a Chesterfield sofa across the fields of prehistoric Earth.”

Yes, jtur88’s post is offensive.
Not because it is inconsiderate to veterans, but because it is TRUE.

Sanity is a very fragile thing that depends on the worldview of the people around you, and especially for the young their behavior can be altered to what we in our armchairs would consider insane. And it can be done so quickly, easily and with practiced efficiency if society imposes an aberrant worldview on you.

What is offensive is not jtur88’s cry against the brainwashing of war training, but the fact that this war training was real. It happened. In a civilized world, things like that should not be needed.

To me it was clear that the “problem” was in the basic training, not the Iowa farm boys, who were docile before the treatment.

IMHO, it is what Tripolar said, but also a sufficiently bad day to reduce a totally sane person to madness.

  1. As Tripolar said, some people already are simmering with stress, trauma, fear or something, and it doesn’t take much for simmer to become “boil” and make the pot spill over. Just one big, or many small, stressors and that person is over the brink.

  2. If one day is bad enough, then the Joker concept could work. Some tortures, for instance, couldn’t be withstood by people for more than even 1 second (i.e., having an flame burning your skin directly.) I can easily envision someone being driven unfortunately to madness by just a few hours of being burned on and off, on and off this way, countless times.

But the politicians could not have done anything without the hapless farm boys taking care of the dirty work. And often suffering the consequences in the form of PTSD, severe injuries or chemical poisoning.

And it’s not just Vietnam.

I worked with a woman who snapped one day and did violence against family members. As the cliche goes, she seemed so quiet and normal.

It’s “insane” to commit suicide, but suffering from depression almost all my life, I think about it every day. When I likely give in someday, those who don’t know me well (I purposely am not close to anyone) will say I suddenly “went mad”.

A thank you in advance to those that advise me to get professional help and I’m a huge proponent telling others to get help, but am a “Do as I tell you, not as I do.” person.

Just takes two words. “I do”