Nerds and geeks are often labeled as troubled, weird or “having something wrong” with us. I’m here to tell you that this is probably true, but it is not a bad thing. I wear it as a badge of honor; who wants to be normal anyway? The idea that we are weird and troubled does not mean that everyone else is somehow more functional than we are. Even so, people who are aware that they are broken and dysfunctional are the sanest ones because we have better insight into ourselves and by extension, people in general. The crazy ones are the people who ardently believe that they are completely sane and rational. Trust me, I’d rather be socially awkward and under control than “normal” and a raging alcoholic. Yes, those are sweeping generalizations and yes there will be more.
Accepting the hypothesis that as nerds and geeks we are all mad here, let’s delve into the ways we may be mad from a psychological perspective. We have talked before on this site about mental illness, mostly focusing on psychotic, mood, and anxiety disorders. We talk about these diagnoses (what I refer to as “The Big Three”) the most because they’re the most disruptive to the lives of the sufferer and those around them right? I do not find this to be true. The Big Three are the disorders that people can most readily identify, but I contend that Personality Disorders can have more insidious and long-term effects on a person’s life and social environment. A personality disorder has 5 key elements according to the DSM-V which are:
1. An enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior. This pattern manifests in two or more of the following areas:
c. Interpersonal relationships
d. Impulse control
2. This pattern deviates markedly from cultural norms and expectations.
3. This pattern is pervasive and inflexible.
4. It is stable over time.
5. It leads to distress or impairment.
Personality disorders also have 4 common elements common to each diagnosis. These are:
1. Rigid, extreme, and distorted thinking patterns (thoughts)
2. Problematic emotional response patterns (feelings)
3. Impulse control problems (behavior)
4. Significant interpersonal problems (behavior)
Personality disorders are further divided into three groups called “clusters” (I know this seems a bit obsessive itself, but people who study psychology LOVE grouping things. It’s like, our pastime.) These clusters are:
Cluster A – the “odd, eccentric” cluster
Cluster B – the “dramatic, emotional, erratic” cluster
Cluster C – the “anxious, fearful” cluster
I’m sure it won’t be hard to figure out what group your specific personality type is in. Chances are that people have been calling you one of these descriptors all of your life. I usually get Cluster B myself, though anyone who has been around me for more than 3 minutes usually classifies me as “odd” as well. I cannot make this point strongly enough; just because you find that you have some of these symptoms IT DOES NOT MEAN that you have the disorder. All human behavior exists along a spectrum, and all people will exhibit some disordered behavior at some point in their life. Just because you like to clean does not mean that you have a pathological illness. Maybe you just like the lemony fresh scent of Pine Sol. A lot. It is fine if you identify so much with some of these behaviors that you strongly suspect that you may have one, but I urge you to see a mental health professional before self-diagnosing. Personality disorders are hard to diagnose because they can be difficult to distinguish from normal transient states without proper training and experience.
I would say that many nerds and geeks would trend towards Cluster C disorders, particularly Avoidant PD. Many times people who would fall into this category identify themselves as introverts. There is a point when mere introversion can become a crippling inability to excel in interpersonal relationships both professional and personal.
In Cluster B, which I have extensive experience with, I would say many nerds and geeks *cough LARPers cough* could fall into this category as well. I say LARPers and tabletop RPG players because those are games that cater to extroversion and being able to express emotions openly and freely. These behaviors become problematic when the person is unable to regulate their behavior, that is, know when to turn it off and on. It’s fine to be a manipulative, conniving scumbag in your Vampire LARP, but you should not also be one at work the next day. People in this cluster tend to have the least insight into their problematic behaviors, instead constantly blaming others for the problems that they themselves cause. In stark contrast to Cluster C types, Cluster B types rarely think about their own internal states, so they most often are encouraged to seek help by those around them. Cluster B disorders can be the most destructive of all the personality disorders as they are most often described as being “toxic,” and their behaviors take a great emotional toll on those around them. Healthy Cluster B traits can make someone the life of the party; pathological Cluster B traits can cause someone to be the inevitable cluster-fuck drama bomb of the party.
Finally Cluster A traits can be shown in the quiet reclusive geeks and nerds, the ones who retreat into their hobbies because they are unable to relate to others. These are the types, such as the Schizoid PD, who you can only connect with through their hobbies. You may only see them at conventions where they can indulge in their particular area of interest in the company of like-minded individuals.
This is all just some information to get you thinking about if a personality disorder is negatively affecting your life in ways that you may not realize. If you have more questions about these disorders, information about them is available almost everywhere on the internet. It’s easier to become curious about a diagnosis than to come to a conclusion about whether you have something or not, so please see a therapist. Maintaining good mental health is a communal activity and the more we talk about it the better we can help each other.
If you have any questions or you need direction, you can tweet me or email me at email@example.com
John Minus is a writer, stand-up comedian, psychologist, geek, and all-around great guy who lives and breathes his home state of New Jersey. From Race to Role-Playing games, John can speak intelligently (but not necessarily sanely) about any topic. Coyote is his Totem and Ryu from Street Fighter is his Life Coach. You can read his blogs and fiction at Exit Elevenand you can follow his stand up shows on his Facebook page. For a more esoteric experience, follow him on Twitter @DonCoyote