Top 10 Disorders Named After Literary Characters


There is a subtle line between reality and fantasy. So subtle that it’s easy to cross it. But if we do, are we sure we’re going to end up in a fairy tale? Here are some “fairy tale” syndromes that aren’t so charming if you take a closer look and will make you think twice about crossing that line.

10. Rapunzel Syndrome


The syndrome is named after the main character in the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale with the same name. We all know Rapunzel had a wonderful long hair, which she used to help the prince climb up her tower. The people affected by Rapunzel Syndrome, however, probably don’t have such a beautiful hair because… they eat it.

The medical name of this syndrome is trichobezoar, a rare disorder in which the swallowed hair remains in the stomach, sometimes even for years and it happens when someone eats or chews their own hair. When the hair ball becomes large enough, a part of it is eliminated from the stomach, but it remains attached to the hair ball. When the affected person finally gets to the doctor (with a gastric obstruction) and the hair is removed from the digestive system, it comes out as a “rope” of hair which looks like Rapunzel’s hair.

9. Pollyanna Syndrome


Pollyanna is the main character from Eleanor H. Porter’s book. Although she lost her parents and lives by her aunt’s Polly strict rules, Pollyanna always finds reasons to be happy. She finds good things in all bad things that happen to her, being very optimistic.

Like Pollyanna, people who have this syndrome have a very optimistic way of seeing things and life, thinking that no matter how bad things might get, there will always be a positive outcome. But psychologists consider it an unrealistic optimism, which can even be harmful in some circumstances. This type of optimism favors the use of a “magical thought” which reduces risk perception and makes people cheat on themselves by thinking that no matter what, everything is going to be just fine in the end.

8. Munchausen Syndrome


I believe we all read “The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” a book written by Rudolf Erich Raspe in which the main character, the Baron Munchausen always lies or distort the truth in his stories in order to get more attention from its audience.

In a similar way, those affected by Munchausen Syndrome invent illnesses and medical conditions they don’t suffer in order to get the attention of their loved ones or of the society. The affected ones have good knowledge of medicine and they can invent credible symptoms in order to determine the medical staff to begin various medical investigations, treatments and give them attention and comfort. The cause of this medical condition is still unknown but it is believed that people who suffers of this psychological condition might have some type of personality disorder. Other theory refers to parental neglect or abandonment which leads patients to invent illness in order to get attention and feelings of care.

7. Superman Syndrome


Although we might think that this syndrome must be associated with people who believe they have superpowers, things are slightly different.

In fact this syndrome is actually a genetic disorder that only affect males (from which the Superman – or Supermale Syndrome). A double Y chromosome is present in their karyotype and their genetic formula is 47XYY. This means that instead of 46 chromosomes like any regular person, they have 47. The condition is sometimes associated with learning disabilities and delayed development of speech and language and the boys have the tendency of being taller than average. But most males doesn’t even know they are affected. They have normal lives and even have children without ever noticing their syndrome. There is however a theory which sustains that affected men develop a criminal behavior due to a higher level of testosterone.


6. Rip van Winkle Syndrome


Also known as Sleeping Beauty Syndrome or Kleine-Levin Syndrome, it is a rare disorder characterized by long periods of sleep associated with hunger, physical instability, irritability and mental confusion. Sometimes the subjects are also affected by hyper-sexuality. The causes of this syndrome are not quite clear yet and it affects mainly teenagers. There were also cases when it affected children or adults.

The patients have sleeping periods of days or even weeks (in some cases it could be months) and they only wake up for eating or going to bathroom. They are unable of performing any other activity and, while awake, they experience confusion, lethargy and disorientation.

It’s just like Washington Irving’s character, the only difference is the people who are affected by this syndrome don’t sleep for 20 years.


5. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome


Another psychological disorder is named after Lewis Carroll’s famous book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” In the book the main character, Alice, falls through a rabbit hole to a fantasy world, full of strange creatures, where weird things happen to her. She gets smaller or bigger depending on circumstances and meets various unusual characters.

In the real life, people affected by Alice in Wonderland Syndrome suffer from a psychological disorder which influence the patient’s visual and mental perception. The characteristic of the syndrome is the complete distortion of space, time, distance and dimension, the patient feels disoriented and might even suffer of depression and fear. Another characteristic of the syndrome are the migraines.

The syndrome might be caused by brain tumors, as well as the effect of drugs or mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr viral infection). Some say that even Lewis Carroll suffered from this syndrome and that it might have been the inspiration for his wonderful book.


4. The Mad Hatter Syndrome


Even if the name of this syndrome is associated with the character of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the syndrome has its origins in the 19th century and is linked to the hat-making industry.

The disease is actually mercury intoxication and is related with the mentioned industry because in that time mercury was a substance used in the process of turning fur into felt. Because of the lack of environmental ventilation and personal protection, the hat-makers were inhaling high quantities of this toxic metal. The mercury accumulated in the workers’ bodies and caused various symptoms such as tremors, hallucinations, weakness, anxiety, lack of coordination and memory loss.

In the present time we are more informed about mercury intoxication, but it is still used in many products, including cosmetics, processed food and even in drinking water. Another common use of mercury is in dentistry. Mercury is one of the most common fillings used in dental health and is known under the name of “amalgam,” so we should be all careful of not becoming Mad Hatters ourselves.

3. Dorian Gray Syndrome


We all know the story of Dorian Gray, a man who sold his soul to the Devil and remains young while a portrait becomes old on his place. But not everybody knows there is also a syndrome with the same name.

This syndrome was mentioned for the first time about 15 years ago and represents a psychological and social disorder that affects individuals excessively preoccupied by their own image and who develop difficulty in facing the signs of age.

The main symptoms are: the fear of physical imperfections, narcissism, psychological immaturity, the denial of getting older and also the obsession for aesthetic products and plastic surgery. There are many possible causes for this syndrome, from genetic causes to the influence of mass media in the individuality.

2. Peter Pan Syndrome


It is easy to figure out this syndrome. It affects men who are afraid of growing up and even if they are adults they still refuse to act like one. Instead they act like children or teenagers and are incapable of assuming any responsibilities, the same as Peter Pan, the character who refuses to grow and prefers to stay in the world of childhood.

The syndrome is more frequent in men, while women are more affected by the Wendy Syndrome, acting like mothers for their partners.

One of the main cause for the syndrome is the lack of affection during childhood. Those people develop the need of being protected even as grown-ups. Even though these men are very unsure and unable to make decisions, they show themselves as very confident people, in most cases even arrogant, in order to disguise their real character.

While the IQ factor of these persons is generally above average, they don’t develop emotionally, living just like Peter Pan, in a world without worries and responsibilities. Fortunately, with the help of psychotherapy, patients can learn how to accept their fears and, finally, become adults.

1. Othello Syndrome

OTHELLO, Irene Jacob, Laurence Fishburne, 1995

In Shakespeare’s drama, Othello kills his wife as a result of his jealousy. This is why the character’s name was perfect to describe this dangerous syndrome.

Othello syndrome is defined as morbid jealousy and is a form of illusionary disorder. The main theme of the illusion is that one spouse is cheating the other, making the “cheated one” become aggressive and violent. The patients justify their acts with the excuse that they must confront their partner and make them confess their infidelity.

The syndrome can be triggered by other psychological diseases like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, but it can also be a side effect of alcoholism. The patients, just like Othello, represent a risk for their spouses especially if the partners claim to be innocent. Their violent actions can easily lead to homicide.

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1 Comment

  1. Ah, something nice and literary. brava! And someone did a nice job with the visuals, too.


    Another Lister-er (Hamlet Complex. Thinks there may be something wrong with him.)