Mar 5 • 5M

Chapter 12, Part 2: "High-Splash" Schizoid

Popular psychology thrives off of assigning definitive labels, especially to all the “bad” people in the world. Real life is not that simple.

 
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Christie Smythe
My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.
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Every “bad person” these days is a narcissist, or so the internet would have us believe. And every narcissist, pop psychologists tell us, is like a big, bad wolf lurking in the shadows, stalking us, manipulating us, and getting ready to pounce on us so they can “use” us for “narcissistic supply” and their nefarious agendas.

The only way to avoid being victimized, these “experts” claim, is to always be ready to make a knee-jerk diagnosis. Going on a date? Here are 10 signs he might be a narcissist. Having lots of arguments with your spouse? Here are 15 signs you married a narcissist. Unhappy at work? Maybe your boss is also a narcissist. Miserable childhood? One of your parents was probably a narcissist.

One might surmise, based solely on how often the word is used, that we are surrounded by narcissists. But we are not. Full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder isn’t all that common. The DSM-V, the Bible of psychology, estimates the prevalence at between 0 and 6.2 percent of the population. Yet for some reason, possibly related to the presidential nomination of Donald Trump, use of the term “narcissist” has been surging ever-higher since mid-to-late 2015, according to Google Trends. Contributing to its abundance, I imagine the word is great for SEO.

Evan Peters as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the 2022 Netflix miniseries. Among other conditions, Dahmer may have had schizoid disorder.

More likely, the “problem people” in our lives exhibit aspects of a wide range of mental health conditions – maybe some narcissism, maybe bipolar, maybe antisocial disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Maybe they’re floating somewhere on a Venn diagram between those things. And the rest of us, the supposed “victims,” are seldom without our own afflictions and maladaptive tendencies. We are all messy, fallible human beings. Few of us will ever exactly fit the contours of a textbook description. 

Unhelpfully for Martin Shkreli, the term “narcissist” was entering the zeitgeist just as he was raising the price of Daraprim by 5,000%, setting off an overnight tsunami of public outrage. The hive mind swiftly decided he was a narcissist – or maybe even worse, a “narcissistic sociopath.” It became a foregone conclusion that the key aspects of those conditions were qualities he possessed: He “lacked empathy,” was an “attention whore,” and was a “pathological liar.” No amount of evidence could make a dent in any of those assumptions.

To be fair, he is at least a little narcissistic. So are lots of entrepreneurs and CEOs, especially those who end up on the wrong side of the law for some reason or another. But Martin’s mental health profile is such a wild kaleidoscope of conditions, and aspects of various conditions, that he is especially hard to accurately pin down under any particular label. 

This is not for lack of anyone trying. Whether they’ve met Martin or not, people tend to become extremely attached to whatever armchair diagnosis they’ve made of him. In numerous letters he received while in prison, which he forwarded to me, people engaged in lengthy analysis of whatever “condition” they were “certain” he must have, whether was autism, or bipolar disorder, narcissism or some kind of attachment disorder. In a sense, his mind is such a chaotic mess of peculiarities that it functions as a Rorschach test for other people.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s very possible to start a fight by bringing up Martin’s IQ. Another way to do it is to make an assertion about whatever dominant mental disorder you think he must have. I’ll get things started by throwing out this suggestion: Martin Shkreli is not a “narcissistic sociopath”; He’s a “narcissistic schizoid.” 

I had never heard of schizoid disorder until 2018, when Martin explained to me all of the findings a psychologist made about him for his sentencing on fraud charges. Unsurprisingly, the psychologist found…

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