A new personality disorder : Be Like Me Syndrome
One of the ways in which I earn a living is writing pharmacological abstracts. These are bite-sized summaries of patents published by drug companies, describing new chemical compounds that can possibly be used to treat modern-day illnesses. Most of these compounds will never reach the pharmacist's shelf, but a few have the potential, after years of thorough testing, to become the new Viagra or Prozac.
Handling drug-related patent documents week after week, I've developed a strange familiarity with medical jargon, particularly the names of diseases, although I still have very little knowledge of anatomy and absolutely no clinical experience. (I did think of training to be a doctor when I was younger, but decided that I lacked a suitable bedside manner. Being squeamish about needles and blood didn't exactly help either.)
The psychiatric disorders have always held the greatest interest for me; it's through doing abstracts that I learned about the existence of things like Seasonal Affective Disorder, Asperger's syndrome and Tourette's syndrome long before they enjoyed even the moderate amount of public awareness that they have today. So it's been a worthwhile education. But I can think of at least one syndrome that the mental health profession has failed to describe.
The name for this syndrome was coined a few years ago by an Internet acquaintance of mine: Be Like Me Syndrome. I think it deserves to gain widespread recognition, because there are plenty of people out there who suffer from it!
Perhaps rather than give you a list of symptoms, I should provide an example which will I hope illustrate the nature of BLMS and the effects it has on the relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues of sufferers. (Actually, people who *have* BLMS don't appear to "suffer" at all - they live in a lovely pink bubble of blissful unawareness. It's everyone else who has the problem, not them.)
Very well-written, with the addition of well-known cartoon strips to illustrate the concepts (sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words).
Example: the Christmas lights
Derek and his wife Mavis loved Christmas. Every year Derek would festoon the front of his house with multicoloured lights, and place a giant inflatable Santa Claus in their front garden. Then one year they moved house. They hadn't been in situ long before celebrating their first Christmas. Up went the inflatable Santa Claus and the lights, including some flashing ones. The first night these were on, an angry neighbour knocked on the door to say that her daughter was having an epileptic fit, brought on by… you've guessed it, those flashing lights. Derek was not amused. "I can't understand why people are so annoyed with me. I love those lights. And I was doing everyone in the street a favour!"
Actually Christmas in general is a rich source of material if you’re thinking of doing a bit of BLMS-spotting. All those expectations of how one "should" spend the holiday season (and with whom), plus all the protocol to do with presents and cards. No wonder some of us like to lie low till it's all over.
You can probably think of other examples. One happens a lot to couples. It's when one half of a married couple (usually the woman) leans over and asks archly: "Now, when are you two going to get married/buy a flat/have a baby?" Subtext: "We're married/own our own place/have children, and so should you!"
The phenomenon of "political correctness" is also a manifestation of BLMS. Much of it revolves around finding alternatives to words and terms that have been in use for years if not decades or even centuries, but have now been deemed unacceptable. Thus "thought showers" is now considered by the politically correct to be a preferable term to "brain storming", because the latter just might be offensive to epileptics. Sensitivity towards the feelings of a minority group is all very well, but there's a fine line between being sensitive oneself and DEMANDING that everyone else show the same level of sensitivity, in a heavy-handed and dictatorial way. (BTW, I'd be interested in hearing from anyone out there who has epilepsy: do you find the expression "brain storming" to be offensive? Enquiring minds want to know.)
I hope this provides a flavour of what I'm talking about, but to sum things up, sufferers from BLMS have a tendency to wag a metaphorical finger in other people's faces if they dare to stray away from social norms (or in some cases like the Christmas lights or the political correctness examples above, what the BLMS sufferer thinks ought to be a social norm).
I did say earlier that the psychiatric profession has never highlighted this phenomenon but thinking about it again, I'm not so sure. In Carl Jung's description of psychological types (and in the Myers-Briggs typology index (MBTI), which is based on Jung's work), there are eight characteristics that people can display: Extraverted Thinking, Extraverted Feeling, Introverted Thinking, Introverted Feeling, Extraverted Sensation, Extraverted Intuition, Introverted Sensation and Introverted Intuition. The MBTI creates sixteen distinct personality types out of these eight characteristics; each type consists of four different characteristics linked together in a specific order of preference. So somebody who was an "INTJ" personality type would have Introverted Intuition as their main preference, followed by Extraverted Thinking, followed by Introverted Feeling, followed by Extraverted Sensation (the "J" is for "Judging", BTW. I won't explain why Judging comes into it here, but if you want to find out more, you can read a simple overview of the MBTI here).
You might be wondering where I'm going with this, but bear with me - we're nearly there. One of Jung's eight characteristics, Extraverted Feeling, is the one I consider to be responsible for BLMS. In its proper place, Extraverted Feeling is a force for good. It's the "glue" that holds families together if you like - for example, the grandmother who acts as a hub for all the members of her extended family, remembers everyone's birthdays and anniversaries and acts as a mediator when there are rows or arguments… she's probably got Extraverted Feeling high on her list of preferred characteristics. Extraverted Feeling has an innate sense of what is appropriate, polite and good mannered (read a good description of it here). But when it gets out of hand and goes wrong, it puts on a pair of fluffy jackboots and demands that everyone sings from the same songsheet of "appropriateness" - even over matters that should really be left up to the individual. And that's the tipping point into BLMS.
© Empress Felicity October 2009