In 1985, Oliver Sacks wrote a book called The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. This sounds like some quirky fiction, but the man mentioned in the title was a real man. Oliver Sacks was a neurologist, and the book shares wild and almost unbelievable stories about people who were affected by different disorders and aberrations. When you read about these people, you realize just how fascinating and strange the human body can be.
The 10 Strangest Psychological Disorders
Some of the strangest and most uncommon psychological disorders that I’ve come across in my research include:
- Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness)
- Capgras Syndrome
- Alice In wonderland Syndrome
- Clinical Lycanthrophy
- Cotard's Syndrome
- Stendhal Syndrome
We can’t always explain our food cravings, but have you ever had the desire to chomp down on some hair or paper? Pica is a psychological disorder that drives people to eat some inedible, and often bizarre, items. The stomach contents of a historic patient with Pica are preserved at the Glore Psychiatric Museum in Missouri. The patient’s stomach contained over 400 nails, 40 screws, and salt and pepper shakers. Other records show that patients with Pica may eat wood, soap, or even glass.
Psychologists do not have one universal cause to explain Pica. It is classified as a mental disorder, although it is also tied to eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other cases show that it may be a culture-bound syndrome as well. Pica is taken seriously, as the ingestion of items that contain lead or soil could lead to serious complications.
2) Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness)
How would you feel if you one day woke up and were not able to recognize your friend’s faces? This was the scary reality for a 24-year old man who was shot in the head and developed prosopagnosia, or “face blindness.” This disorder is characterized by an inability to recognize faces visually. People with prosopagnosia may be able to recognize their friends through sounds, smells, or touch.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat suffered from face blindness. Ironically, author Oliver Sacks also suffered from face blindness. It’s more common than you think - public figures like Jane Gooddall experience face blindness at some level.
3) Capgras syndrome
Many characterize face blindness as a visual impairment. A similar psychological disorder is Capgras Syndrome, or imposter syndrome. No, it’s not the imposter syndrome that tells you you’re not good enough. Capgras Syndrome is the delusion belief that a familiar person has been replaced by an imposter. This disorder is common amongst people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Does the color “red” have a taste? Do certain sounds have a color? Does each day of the week have a specific smell? If you have synaesthesia, the answer to one or all of these questions might be “yes.”
Synaesthesia is an umbrella term that covers a condition in which the senses can be mixed up in odd ways. This condition may show up in different ways for different people. One person with Synaesthesia may see a color every time they hear a specific note on the piano. Another will see a color when they hear specific words. This may not negatively affect a person’s ability to live a normal life, but may cause some confusion before it is first identified!
5) Alice in Wonderland Syndrome
Alice in Wonderland is a cute story, but not so cute when it is your everyday life. People who experience Alice in Wonderland Syndrome may find themselves perceiving their body parts of other objects incorrectly, with scary results. AIWS is tied to migraines and episodes are not permanent. In fact, Lewis Carroll, the author of the classic children’s book, had migraines himself. Just like AIWS was inspired by Alice in Wonderland, the book may have been inspired by Carroll’s own experience with AIWS.
6) Clinical Lycanthropy
Some of these disorders truly feel stranger than fiction. Clinical lycanthropy is a bizarre psychological disorder in which the patient believes that they have (or can) transform into an animal. The most common animal connected with clinical lycanthropy is a wolf. Werewolves might exist in spooky books, but if a person believes that they are a werewolf, they may be diagnosed with clinical lycanthropy.
7) Cotard’s Syndrome
Cotard’s Syndrome is characterized by the delusion that a person is dead or dying. These delusions may include the belief that a person has lost their body parts, their body is rotting away, or that they never existed in the first place. This disorder is closely linked to severe depression and other mental disorders. It is also known as “walking corpse syndrome.”
8) Stendhal syndrome
Have you ever seen a work of art that figuratively took your breath away? For someone with Stendhal Syndrome, that phrase may not be so metaphorical. When someone with Stendhal Syndrome is exposed to a beautiful work of art or scene in nature, they may experience rapid heartbeat, fainting, confusion or even hallucinations. An art museum or gallery is probably not the best place for a person with this disorder to visit.
Some unique psychological disorders only appear within certain cultures or regions of the world. Saora is one of these disorders. In the Orissa Tribe of India, a group of young men and women display strange patterns of behavior that physicians now identify as Saora. Among these behaviors is acting out in the belief that the patient was bitten over and over by ants, even when no ants are around. Inappropriate displays of emotion, memory loss, and fainting are also common in Saora patients.
Last but not least is Koro. Koro is a culture-bound syndrome, but it has made headlines and caused hysteria throughout the world. Patients with Koro suffer from the delusion that their genitals are shrinking or will disappear entirely. (Yes, this disorder is listed in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) Koro outbreaks in the 60s have been linked to swine flu, although other types of food poisoning and outbreaks in labor camps have been reported in modern history.
Well, there you have it! Ten of the strangest, real disorders affecting the mind and body. It makes the average person’s anxiety over the perils of 2020 feel pretty normal, right?