The human brain is an amazing organ. It is primarily responsible for who we are and what we do. But a combination of personal, situational and biological factors sometimes cause malfunctioning of this organ, giving rise to a specific psychological phenomenon. Most of the conditions listed below are mental disorders, that is, they negatively impact the person’s life and healthy functioning. But some do not really hamper the individual – they just set them apart from us. So here we have some of the most unusual psychological conditions.
1. Dissociation Identity Disorder
Widespread coverage of this rare disorder has not made it any less mysterious. All of us dissociate, that is, lose ourselves in our daydreams or stop processing reality. Dissociative identity disorder is an extreme form of this dissociation. This gradually leads to the creation of an alternative identity within the person. There can be more than one alters within the person, and they take turns expressing themselves. There is no limit to who an alter personality can be – a young or old, male or female, dominating or submissive, they can come in all varieties.
DID is usually associated with intense childhood trauma. In the psychological sphere, the disorder remains very controversial as there are no set diagnostic criteria or treatment plan. Nevertheless, this makes it no less distressing for the individual. They have lapses in memory, may fail to recognize themselves and may have even done things they are completely unaware of. The rarity of the disorder and lack of biological causes make it difficult to study, but psychologists continue to explore possibilities to help treat patients.
2. Stockholm Syndrome
In 1973, a convict took four hostages after a failed bank robbery attempt. Held for over six days, when the hostages were finally rescued, they refused to testify against the convict. In fact, they have actively started raising money to help defend them in the court of law. This malfunctioning of survival instincts is what is known as Stockholm Syndrome. Cut off from the rest of society, individuals who are kidnapped or held hostages often develop an emotional bond with their captors, dependent as they are on them for survival. This need for survival overrides the urge to hate or work against the captors. This ego defense mechanism leads to a positive emotional bond with the captor, who may use it to their advantage.
Stockholm Syndrome is not just applicable to kidnapping or hostage victims. Any condition under which the individual faces abuse and trauma, but is also dependent on the abuser for survival, can lead to the development of the state. Victims of child abuse, ex-cult members and slaves can also show symptoms. Since it can be said that the victims do not work under free will, the treatment aims to make the person realize that their actions stemmed from the need for survival. As you can imagine, the treatment process can be tough to cope with, but combined efforts from the psychologist and the victim can help them resume a normal, healthy life.
A unique condition, this is one of the few psychological ‘abnormalities’ not classified as a disorder. Usually, our sensations and perceptions are singular. Vibrations from a bell enter our ear and are interpreted as sound. Reflected light rays from objects enter our eyes and are interpreted as vision. But in synaesthesia, stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. So, a particular sound may trigger the additional sensation of a particular taste, or a particular letter may be inherently associated with a particular color.
It can be hard to understand synaesthesia, as it goes against our fundamental experience of perception. But it is well documented and tested to be a real condition. Most psychologists suggest that an overlapping of sensory pathways may be responsible for the condition. There are many different types of synaesthesia- even one where individuals can link time and space! I recommend you watch videos on the condition if you wish you learn more, and visual representations of the condition can help you understand it better.
4. Alien Hand Syndrome
Ever did something without wanting to do it? Alien Hand Syndrome is an extreme form of this. Usually affecting the left hand, people suffering from this syndrome report that their hand moves on its own accord, grabbing or manipulating things without them wanting to. This can get so out of hand (sorry for the pun) that the person may try to use their other hand to restrain it.
Alien Hand Syndrome is not a reflex action, because reflex actions are inborn and purposeful. Alien hands usually emerge after brain damage, especially to the corpus callosum- the nerve bridge that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. While several possible explanations for the condition exist, there is no cure. The symptoms can be managed up to a certain degree, and voluntary control of the hand can be restored through learning tasks.
5. Cotard Delusion
Though all of us feel like walking corpses before our first cup of coffee, people suffering from this delusion (a firmly held false belief) take it to the extreme. Though not listed as a condition in official psychological manuals, it is well documented. People with this delusion engage in self-denial; they may state that they don’t exist, or that parts of their body don’t exist. They may feel that their body is rotting away, or that they are losing their blood. Paradoxically, many may also believe themselves to be immortal.
The loss of touch with reality means that they may stop caring for their own needs. The case of Mademoiselle X describes a lady who denied the existence of her body parts and of her need to eat. In the case of suffering “The Delirium of Negation,” Mademoiselle X died of starvation. Anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medications are used to treat the delusion, along with some counselling can help the person. But the fact that the person believes they are dead may stop them from seeking help.
Humanity is fascinating, and so are our minds. But sometimes, a combination of factors causes people to develop very unique behaviors, thoughts and feelings, some of which can be detrimental to them. Whatever may be the cause or consequence, these unusual psychological conditions are just another testament to how little we know about ourselves.