Thursday, February 14, 2013

Psyching Sherlock: the Impossible Sociopath

It isn't hard to see Sherlock cannot be a sociopath whatever image he wishes to portray.  Sociopaths don't care when someone offers to die for them.  But he is also not an average well-adjusted Sher, having a pint at the pub.   Classes of psychiatric diagnoses address a range of behaviors, overlap with one another and cannot always be clearly defined like the genetic identity of a virus or edges of a bullet wound. 

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)  develops during adolescence or early adulthood. It is marked by a pattern of emotional instability, impulsive behavior, a distorted self-image, and unstable relationships.

Some characteristics are:
  • Efforts to avoid abandonment, even when no real threat exists
  • Unstable and intense relationships with alternating extremes of love and hate
  • Impulsive, self-destructive behavior
  • Frequent, intense mood swings or emotional over-reactions
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Temporary episodes of paranoia or loss of contact with reality

 BPD may occur with or lead to other disorders such as: depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse.  This condition can be present concomitantly with: 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder the person may display dominance, arrogance, show superiority, and seek power. The symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder can be similar to the traits of individuals with strong self-esteem and confidence; differentiation occurs when the underlying psychological structures of these traits are considered pathological. Narcissists have such an elevated sense of self-worth that they value themselves as inherently better than others. Yet, they have a fragile self-esteem and cannot handle criticism, and will often try to compensate for this inner fragility by belittling or disparaging others in an attempt to validate their own self-worth. It is this sadistic tendency that is characteristic of narcissism as opposed to other psychological conditions affecting level of self-worth.
No fan wants to think of Sherlock as being sadistic, yet, we see him take pleasure in revenging himself on others by humiliating them throughout the series.  From the first episode when he was treated contemptuously by Det. Sgt. Sally Donovan in front of Dr. Watson and then exposed her illicit and rather crude sexual behavior with Anderson, visible to all by the "state of her knees," to attacking Molly, dressed to kill on Christmas Eve, fearing she would leave his presence for someone she liked better, Sherlock exhibits the fear of abandonment coupled with intense love/hate dichotomy common to BPD and the narcissistic sadism in belittling of others to show his superiority while venting his  anger.

Studying the episodes we can find multiple examples of the behaviors cited above and these common to the narcissist:
  • Reacting to criticism with anger, shame, or humiliation
  • Taking advantage of others to reach own goals
  • Exaggerating own importance, achievements, and talents
  • Requiring constant attention and positive reinforcement from others
  • Becoming jealous easily
  • Lacking empathy and disregarding the feelings of others
  • Being obsessed with self
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships
  • Appearing unemotional


"If I wasn't everything that you think I am, everything that I think I am..."

Sherlock Holmes is most definitely suffering from some disorders of his personality, but he is not a sociopath and not psychotic. At times he exhibits a rather robust sanity, able to admit most people tell him to "piss off," and admit when he "hasn't a clue" to the answer to his own question.  He accepts his own apparent sexual oddness in a culture obsessed with labeling each according to their preference, and doesn't seek to defend his own choices for himself.  His most marked sign of sanity, is his ability to seek change in himself.

In the end, on the rooftop, he suffers and weeps for the pain he knows he must inflict on those who love him, whom he loves in return. 

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