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Personality disorders beneficial to society

What is "normal", exactly?

The common meaning of "normal" is "of the standard type". But according to the dictionary, "normal" can also mean "natural". In biology specifically, "normal" can also mean "of natural occurrence".

After long and careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that most personality disorders are in fact not just "normal", they are better than "normal": They are nature's way of optimizing group survival. For an evolutionary standpoint, having a small percentage of personality-disordered individuals is long-term advantageous to a tribe, compared to a tribe that has significantly less (or more) of those individuals.

This article brings good news to many of those diagnosed with a personality disorder. You may have been born with specialized, rare characteristics that are so important for the long-term survival of your society and the welfare of the human race that evolution has provided society with "disordered" people such as yourself. Just like any modern society needs specialized professions, human civilization, from the Papua's in the rain forest to inner city Copenhagen needs you - that is the reason you exist in virtually all populations and have existed in a sizeable percentage since the beginning of written history and likely since time immemorial. The interesting aspect about all PD's I'll be covering below is that those diagnosed with it consider themselves normal and the others "strange". Some people with Aspergers for example don't understand how others can tolerate living in what they perceive to be a mess, a chaotic, disorganized state of life. A psychopath sees people with a conscience as flawed, weak, sheep. Schizoids think of emotions as irrational, annoying, counterproductive reflexes. "Aspies" call us "neurotypicals" and Schizoids call us "normies" and they don't envy us at all.

Unrestrained by an education in psychology or psychiatry, and with a strong skepticism of both almost-to-be-called pseudosciences, I divide personality disorders into hereditary PD's and acquired PD's.

In this piece, I will talk about the so-called "hereditary" or "genetic" personality disorders, leaving acquired PD's such as Borderline Personality Disorder (often caused by an absence of love in childhood in the presence of abuse) and ADHD (may be caused by food chemicals, medications, environmental toxins, infections) out of consideration. I also won't talk about late-onset brain diseases that aren't PD's at all, such as Schizophrenia - I suspect that this disease is caused by a brain infection or (semi) autoimmune reaction. Of course the cause of PD's is still controversial, but here's my view for anyone who's interested.

The word hereditary suggests that such disorders somehow are inherited from the parents, as in an unlucky genetic combination, resulting in a personality disorder. I think that perhaps such PD's are not truly hereditary at all, but that there could be a deeper mechanism at work that ensures that no matter who your parents are, the fundamentals of the DNA replication mechanism or perhaps the protein synthesis from that DNA ensure, in a "Russian Roulette" fashion, that you may later end up having being diagnosed with Aspergers, Psychopathy, Schizoid Personality Disorder or Homosexuality.

Mentioning Homosexuality here is deliberately provoking yet in my opinion correct. I reclassify homosexuality as a PD because it is a hereditary aberration from the norm, and I think that homosexuality has the same cause as the other hereditary PD's. There is overwhelming evidence that homosexuality is a result of gene expression. That should not be the controversial part. The remarkable aspect is that I claim that homosexuality is "normal" in the sense that evolution ensures a healthy 5% homosexual subpopulation in, likely, every population group, from Azeris to Zulus. With "healthy" I mean that at least in our recent evolutionary past, a roughly 5% incidence of homosexuality gave a tribe an evolutionary advantage over a tribe with a lower or higher percentage. The figure of 5% would yield a survival benefit of the tribe that would more than offset any lowered reproductive rates. Primitive tribes were largely polygamous and strongly culture-driven, so having a modest percentage of homosexual men abstaining from intercourse would not result in a lowered birth rate, and it is unlikely that lesbian women would be able to resist peer pressure, cultural expectations and being "given" to some brute and his brothers.

It is likely that homosexuality, in the past, had little to no evolutionary disadvantage in terms of raw baby-production. But what would its evolutionary advantage be? Think of the strong cultural limits and boundaries that have traditionally existed in primitive tribes that dwelled the savannah or rain forest. We know from plentiful anthropological research that the roles were strictly gender-divided. Strong, semi-religious taboos prevented women from participating in hunts, for example. The "female brain" of a homosexual man could have been of a small average benefit, in a hunting party. Call it the benefit of "female intuition", although that is an oversimplification. Homosexual men have partially female brains, in spite of the fact that those brains are bathed in Testosterone instead of Oestrogen. Sex hormones are powerful modifiers of behavior and even intellectual prowess. Homosexuality breaks cultural gender taboos and basically forces a modicum of male POV into female society and vice versa. This can't be a bad thing. Gay computer scientist Alan Turing played a role in an allied victory of WWII with his revolutionary intuition that "by finding contradictions we can deduce the truth". His algorithm cracked the Nazi code. I suspect that the unique combination of a partially "female brain" plus Testosterone plus talent can result in amazing scientific discoveries, due to the fact that female brains have more connections between the brain halves and Testosterone helps with certain mental tasks - or perhaps Oestrogen impairs them. I say this because I have talked to transgendered men receiving Oestrogen. One told me that she suddenly had become remarkably worse at map reading and much more emotional to boot. Remember: I'm only voicing some ideas here - no references to studies - even though they do exist.

What about the evolutionary advantage of having a few percent of psychopaths (euphemistically called "Antisocial personality disorder" nowadays) in the tribe? Surely, such antisocial, egotistical folk would hardly be missed? Certainly, psychopaths aren't the most loyal of friends, neighbors and citizens, but we should not ignore the possible tribal-evolutionary benefits of their particular character. Tribes were often engaged in warfare. Tribes were in constant competition with each other and fearlessness was highly prized. Tribes abducted each other's women and the most respected hunters were the most fearless ones. The most successful hunters and warriors were richly endowed with the favors of women. Psychopaths make excellent warriors and hunters because they are nearly fearless without necessarily being reckless. The most successful warriors are those without conscience or mercy. A conscience precludes one from efficient genocide - meaning one leaves competing genes in the gene pool - and mercy allows possible future enemies to remain alive. Hence the psychopath gene does not only perpetuate itself but it also contributes to tribal survival by supplying the tribe with the meat of larger animals, slaughtering its enemies and providing it with fresh women. Contemporary psychopaths are spreading their genes far and wide - they are greatly overrepresented in politics, business and finance. Most of the world today is ruled by them. Psychopaths make excellent surgeons because they are not affected by the death of their patients - allowing them to remain in the profession, approaching each operation without distracting nervousness. It is a widespread myth that all psychopaths are murderers and thieves. Many of them have leadership jobs and the majority never even get into significant trouble with the law. It is estimated that as much as 4% of all people are psychopaths. Psychopaths in positions of power are often revered by their tribe, electorate or subjects as heroes, defenders of the nation and enforcers of progress, unity and prosperity. Even though this is not always the case, there are examples where mass-murdering psychopaths such as Mao Zedong, at the great expense of human life and liberty, imposing harsh decrees, pulled a country out of poverty and into a leadership role. I'm not defending the psychopath's psychopathic actions - it merely shows that their genes can be favored by evolution by the sheer consequences of their often nefarious actions towards other gene pools. A good example on how psychopaths can work for the general benefit of their tribe or gene pool, whilst cynically sacrificing the lives of hundreds in another gene pool, is this article on the Japanese meltdowns. US top officials want "suicide cleanup teams" to go into the area to sacrifice themselves, otherwise the jet stream will bring pollution to the US. Psychopaths can do maths with human lives and coldly make life-and-death decisions pertaining other's lives. Ordinary people would get emotional and the loss of live would be far greater. And one wonders what kind of "disorder" turns some seemingly ordinary people into heroes - the kind of heroes battling now to contain the radiation in Fukushima.

Another common PD is Schizoidism. Schizoid PD has nothing at all to do with Schizophrenia. Schizoid people are benignly asocial in a rather interesting and often highly productive way. A schizoid person can't form strong bonds. They often won't marry or have kids. They have no empathy in the sense that they do care, but they don't understand other people's emotions. A Schizoid won't feel very affected when you praise or reproach them. They are extraordinary emotionally stable people. They do care about others and maintain stable but generally shallow long-term relationships. They can't "read" emotions because they don't understand emotions and they think emotions are often exaggerated and irrational. Schizoids are analytical, generally risk-averse and emotionally cold. They don't care about what others think of them. And they prefer to be alone. Not the type of person to produce much offspring. Why would nature ensure a modest yearly production of Schizoids, if it were bad for the population? After all, evolution has become pretty efficient after all those millions of years? It is highly unlikely that evolution is so flawed that it keeps producing societal misfits, useless miscreants millennium after millennium. Bad genes eventually leave the gene pool one way or the other. If Schizoids were a liability they would have disappeared a long time ago.

Schizoids often have jobs that other people would find mind numbingly boring. Someone has to do the boring jobs. Schizoids can spend a lifetime doing them conscientiously. They are overrepresented in scientific research as well as menial jobs such as cleaning. The special benefit that Schizoids bring to a primitive tribe could be that their personality is excellently suited for the responsible task of night sentry. They like solitude and have a very strong sense of responsibility. They often prefer boring jobs. Typical Schizoids are very responsible people and they crave job security. Intelligent Schizoids - and most Schizoids score above the average - can be found in the highest echelons of scientific research where they use their special talent for tenacious attention to meticulous detail. Where others would have given up already due to a waning interest, a Schizoid could spend her entire productive life looking for a way to cure cancer or to find a commercially viable method for chemically assisted nuclear fusion. Franz Kafka was Schizoid.

Asperger Syndrome: I am convinced that these people fulfill an important role in society. They always have and they always will, in spite of the fact that they are frustrating to deal with. People with Aspergers are also known as "highly functioning autists". The "highly functioning" often refers to functioning on a higher level than neurotypicals in certain fields. The very best computer programmers in the world are often those with Aspergers, because Asperger Syndrome makes it easy to hyperfocus on one topic for days on end. The most complex computer algorithms can be imagined, created and refined by a programmer with Aspergers. Errors are intolerable to their rigid mind. Things have to be perfect. If I ever had to fly to the moon in a space rocket, I would prefer to have an Aspie assemble and test the live support equipment, tighten the nuts and bolts and supervise the safety procedures during launch. Asperger people can become the world's biggest experts in complex fields because their mind has the unsurpassed ability to focus. Like Schizoids they are loners, but unlike Schizoids they can be very emotional. Many have a relentless drive to learn everything there is to know about a certain subject and then apply that knowledge with laser-like focus. Things have to be done to schedule. Things have to be arranged properly. In tribal days, these authorative, neurotic sticklers to protocol and detail would have made sure that the preservation of foods would be done properly, thereby preventing spoilage and the starvation of tribe members. It has been suspected that Albert Einstein had Aspergers. This twelve year old boy also has Aspergers, and is treading in Einstein's footsteps.

People with Paranoid personality disorder (again, we are not talking about paranoid schizophrenics!) would have been the proverbial guard dogs of tribal society. Due to their unusual attention, their raised awareness to whatever may be subtly wrong, they are often wrong but also sometimes right when the rest of the tribe is still unaware of the danger. Perhaps they sensed a hidden maliciousness during the last visit of a powerful rival tribe's chief. Not the slightest detail escapes them. They have a sensitive nose for danger. They're sometimes wrong and sometimes right. Even if they were often wrong - it wouldn't matter much in terms of tribal survival. But if one of them could ever sense serious danger (floods, food poisoning, surprise raids) and avert disaster then that would be to a great evolutionary advantage. Perhaps we're not listening enough to our ever-so-slightly "paranoid" fellow men, because some of what they suspect may actually be true.

Narcissism can be a powerful driver for good (as well as bad). After a lot of digging into their character and behavior, I am convinced that both Anders Behring Breivik and Julian Assange did what they did because of their convictions combined with their extreme narcissism. Without their exceptionally stong narcissism they would not have gone to such extremes. Narcissists with stong convictions have a personality type that predisposes some to become martyrs, prophets or (spiritual or militant) revolutionary leaders.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder also aids tribal survival. They likely were priests, enforcing religious morals upon the tribe, such as to avoid the tribe from perishing due to sexually transmitted diseases like Syphilis. Wikipedia says that this PD is characterized by rigid conformity to rules, moral codes and excessive orderliness. Exactly what a tribe needs: The enforcement of hygiene and other beneficial behavioral code amongst its members to the benefit of all. The enforcement of the social contract, in spite of the fact that it may not be apparent why it is enforced. The obsessive-compulsive does not care –#8211; things are enforced because "they are the way they are because they always have been so" - end of discussion. Religious fundamentalism has powerful genetic roots. They were the enforcers of moral/religious rules of chastity and monogamy, where deviation of those rules would have meant the eventual demise of the tribe.


We should stop trying to treat many of the "personality disorders". Most PD's are nature's way of creating a small quotum of non-ordinary people to do what isn't done by the average Joe or Jane. Many personality disorders are hereditary and can't be "treated" and it would be counterproductive for society to do so. People with PD's should be considered fully functional members of society and not thought of as having a flaw in need to be treated. No matter how hard people with PD's are to deal with in at work, privately or in school. They have unique strengths and the society that doesn't take advantage of them does it to its own detriment. Some personality disorders should not be regarded as disorders but as natural, helpful character properties created by God or evolution. Not normal as in conform the norm, but natural as in nature producing these "disorders" for a very good reason.

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1.  root    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's nice to be appreciated by NTs occasionally.

2.  Airis Damon    Saturday, September 29, 2012

You probably meant no disrespect, but I noticed you referred to a transgender woman as a transgender man.

3.  Sarah Vaughter    Saturday, September 29, 2012

I'm sorry, it should be corrected now, I found one instance.

Perhaps the reason I made that mistake was that this woman told me before her transition that she was only roughly half transgendered and half autogynephilic. I had never heard of the word before. We had been good aquaintances for a long time but we lost personal contact before her transition - so I've never seen her as a woman except on photos she emailed me.

4.  Ellin Park    Thursday, November 29, 2012

You're minimizing the suffering one may experience through his personality disorder, emphasizing the annoyance of those who are around people with PDs. People with PDs are in the extreme. I have PPD, OCPD, and BPD and they all cause a great deal of stress, however beneficial for society it may be. Constantly questioning whether another can be trusted, obsessing over organization and perfection, and being emotionally hypersensitive is extremely stressful. I wouldn't call it normal when they can cause so much distress to those who have them. However, I do agree that PDs can sometimes give you an advantage. For example, I can detect malicious motives in people and deception much earlier and quicker than the average person. Due to having very high standards with my OCPD, I achieved top grades in school. At least, that was before it got really bad. After a certain point, my obsession for organization and perfection started being COUNTER productive. My standards would be so high and unreachable that I began self-handicapping and started doing poorly in school...

5.  Sarah Vaughter    Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thank you for your insightful comment.

My intention with this article was to give a counterweight to the fear some part of society has for people with PD's. Some people think, for example, that people with BPD are some kind of psychopaths, and that people with Aspergers have no empathy and are therefore also a kind of sociopath.

What I wanted to do is show that people with certain PD's are so useful to society that it seems probable that evolution has something to do with it. I intended the article as support for people with PD's and as "education" for society at large.

Myself, I always thought that my many severe problems in the past were all due to my BPD, but it turns out I have severe Aspergers and only mild BPD. I understand too well the stress you describe, especially when we mean it well but we somehow offend others or they misunderstand our intentions. I have always had great difficulty to "fit in" and I basically still have.

6.  Lux    Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sex changes are cosmetic only.

7.  Lux    Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sex changes are cosmetic only. Anyone with a bit of common sense knows this. People are born either intersexed, female, or male with corresponding chromosomes. You cant ever change that. Stick to your guns and don't bow down to the PC police.

8.  Sarah Vaughter    Saturday, March 30, 2013

What about the removal of the testes in men, and the taking of Estrogen? That causes a difference in brain function. Brain function is affected by sex hormones and hormones have a major effects on affect, libido etc. and there are even people who claim that after a m2f sex change they were unable to read maps as good as before. I read that after a f2m change, the person was amazed that they started looking at women with "predator eyes".

9.  Catherine Fiocco    Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sarah, you "fit in" very nicely. Read into art and history books and you will get a good picture about how vital PD's were/are in shaping the world.

10.  Hans de Jonge    Saturday, January 11, 2014

Maybe in the evolution psychopathy is a useful threat but in personal relations it can be a disastrous cause of unhappiness. Psychopaths play the most important role in genocides and human suffering. I think it is important to determine psychopaths to keep them out of any leadership role.

11.  Major West    Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I don't think Sarah is "minimizing the suffering" of those with PD so much as she is magnifying the intolerances and prejudices of society today. Our culture has created a hugely distorted portrait of what a normal person should be. Turn on the television or open a magazine and one is bombarded with images of people who are of certain height, weight, beauty, intelligence, income and status in society that we are led to believe that that is what the average citizen should aspire to. Who is to say what is normal? Perhaps the one who is holding the most favorable cards at the time? I believe the stress that those with PD experience is in direct relationship with the boundaries and limitations that society has created.

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