The Numerous Mental Disorders You Probably Have As A Founder

“God, did I just actually think that?” 

Many have wondered what goes on in the minds of the people who go on to start successful companies.  Some may think pure ambition, hopes of everlasting riches or even recognition for doing something great are the driving forces behind a founder.  Others might believe people have a vision or some sort of predestined aura working beyond their comprehension to align the lucky ones with the future.

Whatever is going on behind the scenes of a founding entrepreneur , you can be sure it’s straight out of a psycho-thriller.  The thoughts, feelings, emotions and urges pushing a founder toward success are so dramatic there are no words to accurately describe the experience.  The question is are these normal?

I have no idea what the hell I am doing and where this company will actually end up?

Entrepreneurship is basically a physiological disease, with various mental disorders running rampant.  Being an entrepreneur is something far different than what most people think. It is not about behavior; it is not about business type; and it is not about title. Instead, it seems as if it’s a personality trait with it’s own quirks and characteristics.  There are plenty of small business owners and start-up founders who do exceptionally well — but are not what would be considered an entrepreneur. Just like in big business, you can be a successful general manager without being an entrepreneur or entrepreneurial.

Dammit!  That guy is worth hundreds of millions more than me!!  All he did was start a photosharing app…  What’s he got that I don’t?

So how do you determine if someone is an entrepreneur ?  And are entrepreneurs actually crazy by normal society standards?   That seems to be up for debate.  A thin line separates the temperament of a promising entrepreneur from a person who could use, as they say in psychiatry, a little help.  Academics and hiring consultants say that many successful entrepreneurs have qualities and quirks that, if poured into their psyches in greater ratios, would qualify as full-on mental illness.

If it’s a disease, entrepreneurship then is a combination of many mental disorders that when found in correct combinations, come together to form a very unique individual.  Entrepreneurs are all in all the time. Entrepreneurs love what they do and obsess over it. It is a predisposition; a path that has already been laid for you. It is a character trait, a labor of love, a zeal that cannot be trained, a condition that cannot be treated, an illness that cannot be caught. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Even the Quora community has determined mental disorders are associated with founders.

Wait… did or didn’t I know this was going to happen.  Was it a dream?  I could have swore we already figured this #@%^ out!   Geez, I have no idea when the last time I got a full night’s sleep.

What mental disorders are to be found more common among entrepreneurs than the general population?  After realizing my personal thoughts were “uniquely abnormal” and after numerous interactions with founders of other companies (and discovered the same weirdness), I determined to do some further research.  What follows is an attempt to describe the most common mental disorders associated with the general entrepreneur with descriptions found on Wikipedia.  I came to choosing these specific ones from familiarity and similarity, meaning I noticed a strong association with a founders psyche when reading the definitions.

Anything sound familiar?  As you read these you will start to realize we all are a bit “off our rockers.”  Yet also apparent from reading this list is the notion that maybe the entrepreneur is the lucky one who can actually channel their craziness in a way that actually moves society forward, not backward.

(*please note I am only suggesting it is just the combination of some or all of these in small doses that make up the general entrepreneurial psyche)

Asperger syndrome

Aspergers syndrome an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests…. The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger syndrome.  Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others (for example, showing others objects of interest), a lack of social or emotional reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.

People with AS may not be as withdrawn around others as those with other, more debilitating, forms of autism; they approach others, even if awkwardly. For example, a person with AS may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic, while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener’s feelings or reactions, such as a need for privacy or haste to leave. This social awkwardness has been called “active but odd”.

Get the hell out of my face right now!  Geez, can’t you figure anything out!   And why do you complain about everything all the time.  You should be grateful you work for a kick ass startup.  

Cognitive disorders

Most common mental disorders affect cognitive functions, mainly memory processing, perception and problem solving. The most direct cognitive disorders are amnesia, dementia and delirium. Others include anxiety disorders such as phobias, panic disorders, obsessive–compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder are also cognitive mental disorders. Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and delusional disorder are also classified as cognitive mental disorders.

This company is worth half what is what worth last year.  I’m a loser.  

As an entrepreneur, depression can set in as well.  It happens to the best of us, especially entrepreneurs who hold strong feelings about their performance and the inevitable outcome of their company.  Ben huh, CEO of Cheezbeuger Network recently opened up about his challenges with depression.

Mania

A manic episode is defined in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual as a period of seven or more days of unusually and continuously effusive and open elated or irritable mood, where the mood is not caused by drugs or a medical illness and (a) is causing obvious difficulties at work or in social relationships and activities, or (b) requires admission to hospital to protect the person or others, or (c) the person is suffering psychosis.

To be classed as a manic episode following must have been consistently prominent: grand or extravagant style, or expanded self-esteem; reduced need of sleep (e.g. three hours may be sufficient); talks more often and feels the urge to talk longer; ideas flit through the mind in quick succession, or thoughts race and preoccupy the person; over indulgence in enjoyable behaviors with high risk of a negative outcome (e.g., extravagant shopping, sexual adventures or improbable commercial schemes).

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, think logically, have normal emotional responses, and behave normally in social situations.  Schizophrenia symptoms usually develop slowly over months or years. Sometimes you may have many symptoms, and at other times you may only have a few.  People with any type of schizophrenia may have difficulty keeping friends and working and they may also have problems with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

At first, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Irritable or tense feeling
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating

As the illness continues, problems with thinking, emotions and behavior develop, including:

  • Lack of emotion (flat affect)
  • Strongly held beliefs that are not based in reality (delusions)
  • Hearing or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • Problems paying attention
  • Thoughts “jump” between unrelated topics ( “loose associations”)
  • Bizarre behaviors
  • Social isolation

Oneirophrenia

Oneirophrenia is a hallucinatory, dream-like state caused by several conditions such as prolonged sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, or drugs (such as ibogaine). From the Greekwords “ὄνειρο” (oneiro, “dream”) and “φρενός” (phrenos, “mind”). It has some of the characteristics of simple schizophrenia, such as a confusional state and clouding ofconsciousness, but without presenting the dissociative symptoms which are typical of this disorder.

Persons affected by oneirophrenia have a feeling of dream-like unreality which, in its extreme form, may progress to delusions and hallucinations. Therefore, it is considered a schizophrenia-like acute form of psychosis which remits in about 60% of cases within a period of two years. It is estimated that 50% or more of schizophrenic patients present oneirophrenia at least once.

Narcissistic personality disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder  in which the individual is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.  Narcissistic personality disorder is closely linked to egocentrism.  Narcissists also tend to be physically attractive on first impression, giving them advantages when first meeting people.  Some individuals believe that Narcissistic personality disorder seems like the the person suffering has high confidence and a strong self-esteem, however this is not always the case.

Megalomania

Megalomania is a psycho-pathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of power, relevance, or omnipotence. ‘Megalomania is characterized by an inflated sense of self-esteem and overestimation by persons of their powers and beliefs’. Historically it was used as an old name for narcissistic personality disorder prior to the latter’s first use by Heinz Kohut in 1968, and is used these days as a non-clinical equivalent.

Arguably, however, ‘in addition to its pathological forms, megalomania is a mental behavior that can be used by any individual as a way of coping with distress linked to frustration, abandonment, loss, or disappearance of the object’ in everyday life. In this sense, we may see ‘megalomania as an extreme form of manic defense…against the anxiety resulting from separation from the object’.

In the social world, ‘megalomania…can be a characteristic of power-drunk or control-freak dictators, some executives, some politicians and some army generals’. All such figures may be said to have ‘a “Big Ego”. A baby’s ego, in fact, insufficiently shrunk….So they’re much more likely to miscalculate To offend people’.

Psychotic disorder

Psychosis (from the Greek ψυχή “psyche”, for mind/soul, and -ωσις “-osis”, for abnormal condition) means abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a “loss of contact with reality”. People suffering from psychosis are described as psychotic. Psychosis is given to the more severe forms of psychiatric disorder, during which hallucinations and delusions and impaired insight may occur.

People experiencing psychosis may report hallucinations or delusional beliefs, and may exhibit personality changes and thought disorder. Depending on its severity, this may be accompanied by unusual or bizarre behavior, as well as difficulty with social interaction and impairment in carrying out daily life activities.

Brief hallucinations are not uncommon in those without any psychiatric disease. Causes or triggers include

  • falling asleep and waking: hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, which are entirely normal
  • bereavement, in which hallucinations of a deceased loved one are common
  • severe sleep deprivation
  • sensory deprivation and sensory impairment
  • Caffeine Intoxication

Studies with sensory deprivation have shown that the brain is dependent on signals from the outer world to function properly. If the spontaneous activity in the brain is not counterbalanced with information from the senses, loss from reality and psychosis may occur after some hours.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable. At such levels, this is considered an unhealthy belief, and psychologists typically refer to such individuals as maladaptive perfectionists.

Hamachek describes two types of perfectionism. Normal perfectionists “derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labours of a painstaking effort” while neurotic perfectionists are “unable to feel satisfaction because in their own eyes they never seem to do things [well] enough to warrant that feeling of satisfaction”.  Burns defines perfectionists as “people who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment”. Perfectionism itself is thus never seen as healthy or adaptive.

This button looks like shit!  And it should be over there, not here.   This shade of red sucks and makes my eyes hurt.  And why the hell do I have to tap this to do that?  This just has to be perfect before we release it!

In its pathological form, perfectionism can be very damaging. It can take the form of procrastination when it is used to postpone tasks (“I can’t start my project until I know the ‘right’ way to do it.”), and self-deprecation when it is used to excuse poor performance or to seek sympathy and affirmation from other people (“I can’t believe I don’t know how to reach my own goals. I must be stupid; how else could I not be able to do this?”).

In the workplace, perfectionism is often marked by low productivity as individuals lose time and energy on attention to detail and small irrelevant details of larger projects or mundane daily activities. This can lead to depression, alienated colleagues, and a greater risk of workplace “accidents. Adderholt-Elliot  describes five characteristics of perfectionist students and teachers which contribute to underachievement: procrastination, fear of failure, the all-or-nothing mindset, paralysed perfectionism, and workaholism. In intimate relationships, unrealistic expectations can cause significant dissatisfaction for both partners.

As you can see, being an entrepreneur is a unique combination of actual mental disorders. Pretty interesting, huh.   It is in how the individual decides to channel their “unique characteristics” where we find true greatness.  I hope this doesn’t scare you.  I hope it gives you a better understanding of who you are (or who you are dealing with) on a daily basis.

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4 thoughts on “The Numerous Mental Disorders You Probably Have As A Founder

  1. Pingback: Want Hyper Hockey Stick Growth? You Must First Endure The Blade « So Entrepreneurial

  2. Pingback: How To Deal With The Agony and Ecstasy Of A Startup « So Entrepreneurial

  3. I found this post while googling numerous heart diseases, somewhat for fun since I know I’m fine, because my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest more so than normal. It’s a sunday afternoon, Mother’s Day, and I’m on my computer researching technologies and apps to satisfy the part of my brain that doesn’t shut off so that I can give my mother the love she deserves. This is not a strange or unique situation for me to be in. I constantly attempt to narrow down my creative side of the brain to what I ‘should’ be focusing on. My girlfriend and I shared another all too familiar talk about why I can’t shut my brain off and why, though I seem to be much farther along in life than most 23 year olds, I can’t shake the feeling of restlessness. The only way to stay sane is to keep moving forward. As quickly as possible. Constantly walking a balance beam of calculated risk. After reading this post I was instantly calmed and motivated.

    Thanks for that.

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