Yesterday I received the following email from a reader.
“What’s your stance on eccentricity? How do you relate to the general view in the APA that deviation from cultural norms is pathological? And, have you ever read about David Weeks?
I consider myself an eccentric person with many quirks and some fetishes. While I have many friends who share the same interests or many of them, I still feel a little bad about psychiatrists labeling eccentricity with SPD or Schizoid personality disorder. I am 19, and my friends are from the 18-25 years of age, and we share a common love for anime and cartoons. Maybe not always the same but sometimes we share two or more common cartoons. Some of them also are collectors of stuffed animals and figurines like me, and some of them engage in masturbation with those objects as me.
I came across your blog when I was reading about some proposals for the DSM-5 to remove all paraphilias. That was proposed by some psychiatrist who I forgot the name of, and he said that labeling paraphilias as illnesses just reflects social prejudice and a lack of tolerance for difference. Then I started wondering whether removing them would help at all, because we still have the schizotypal disorder floating there like a remaining Cheshire cat smile after it disappeared. The prejudice against difference would still be there, even with the paraphilias removed. Why? because many of us who engage in paraphilic acts such as plushophilia or other fetishes sometimes PREFER introversion, which seems to be a symptom of schizotypal. I can deal with all this by ignoring the DSM bullshit entirely, and even though I am going to be a psychologist, I can pretend I believe its bullshit. What do you think about eccentricity in general, and not just the quirkiness me and my friends engage in? Thanks for reading the email and I’ll await while I read more of your posts.”
I did a post on the so-called personality disorders earlier, and gave some thoughts on what DSM calls schizoid personality disorder. Essentially this consists of being a loner with little emotional attachment to other people. “Schizotypal personality disorder” is the name the APA gives to eccentricity.
In my view eccentricity and/or social isolativeness are simply variations of normality, and are certainly not illnesses and do not of themselves need treatment.
If a socially isolative person is unhappy and longs to be more gregarious, then of course it is a problem. It is not a disease or illness, but he might need help. The kind of help I envisage would be from a friend/family member who would help him get out and about, meet people, etc..
However, in my experience most “loners” simply prefer to be by themselves, and we should respect their wishes.
Similar considerations apply to eccentricity. I think that in former times people were more tolerant of eccentricity. Western society, however, has become very standardized, and I notice in the school systems that children tend to be ostracized fairly severely if they deviate from the norm in dress, manners, etc..
In DSM, eccentricity is included as schizotypal personality disorder. The APA’s criteria are listed below:
A. A pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by acute discomfort with, and reduced capacity for, close relationships as well as by cognitive or perceptual distortions and eccentricities of behavior, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) ideas of reference (excluding delusions of reference)
(2) odd beliefs or magical thinking that influences behavior and is inconsistent with subcultural norms (e.g., superstitiousness, belief in clairvoyance, telepathy, or “sixth sense”; in children and adolescents, bizarre fantasies or preoccupations)
(3) unusual perceptual experiences, including bodily illusions
(4) odd thinking and speech (e.g., vague, circumstantial, metaphorical, overelaborate, or stereotyped)
(5) suspiciousness or paranoid ideation
(6) inappropriate or constricted affect
(7) behavior or appearance that is odd, eccentric, or peculiar
(8) lack of close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives
(9) excessive social anxiety that does not diminish with familiarity and tends to be associated with paranoid fears rather than negative judgments about self
B. Does not occur exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia, a Mood Disorder With Psychotic Features, another Psychotic Disorder, or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
During my career I have worked with a number of individuals who met these criteria more or less. Almost all came to me under some form of pressure – usually from family/friends, etc.. I seldom sensed any interest in major life change. Like the loners mentioned earlier, they seemed fairly content with themselves as they were.
I remember one young lady who came across as quite different in a variety of ways. She claimed that she was clairvoyant, and in particular she always knew when the phone was about to ring before it actually rang. Now I don’t believe she did know this – but what difference does it make? We all entertain erroneous ideas in some area or other. If a person is content with him/herself and is not harming other people, then my position is that they should be left alone.
I would apply these considerations to the so-called paraphilias also. In the old days (bad old days?) one sexual activity was condoned – heterosexual vaginal intercourse (preferably missionary position and with as little enjoyment as possible). Now, as any 12 year old schoolboy can tell you, there’s a lot more to it than that. For a great many generations feelings of guilt were used extensively by society to encourage sexual conformity. This changed considerably during the 60’s, and people today are less guilt-ridden.
The central theme of this blog is that there are no mental illnesses – that people behave and operate in a wide range of ways, and if they are finding contentment with their lifestyles and are not harming others, then what’s the problem?
People who – for whatever reason – are NOT content with themselves and can’t seem to effect appropriate changes should consider asking for help. Because the mental health system is so immersed in the medicalization process, it is unlikely that real help can be found in that area. But there are other places people can turn to: friends, neighbors, family, co-workers, etc.. My general advice here is to try to identify the specific problem that troubles one. Then identify someone in one’s circle of acquaintances who seems particularly skilled in that area – and ask that person for help.
Something truly magical happens when a person asks another person for help in learning something new. Doors get opened, clouds dissipate, etc.. In my view this is a big part of what life is all about.