What We Can Learn From Sheldon


There’s a popular TV sitcom on CBS called The Big Bang Theory. It’s about a group of super-nerdy friends, one of whom is Sheldon. The writers of the show appear to write Sheldon as someone with Asperger Syndrome, but whether or not this is the case, Sheldon is a tremendous example of detachment from the emotions of others. He’s socially inept, but does sometimes take his friends’ advice on how to interact with others. So, he wants to function in society, but has a hard time doing so considering he’s OCD, anxious, thinks he’s globally superior in intellect, has next to zero empathic instincts, and is so wonderfully and incurably awkward and nerdy.

Anyway, this isn’t a paid pitch for a TV show. I wish. No, we’re talking about this because Sheldon, while certainly fragile, wounded and even unstable, also has a certain, precise trait that we can all benefit from studying. It’s the ability to just say no to getting emotionally involved first and thinking later.

Sheldon is the only one to portray this for us, because true, real people with no empathic ability just plain don’t care about other people, how they feel, or what happens to them. But the Sheldon character is different. Purely for the plot of the show, and for the “pacing” comfort of the audience, Sheldon’s been given a unique mannerism: When confronted with a setting where it would be appropriate to respond to someone emotionally on some level, Sheldon seems to stop, and, for a split second, to ponder whether or not he wants to get involved in the emotional complexity of the situation. He invariably decides against it, and goes on his merry, nerdy way.

That split second of apparent analysis of the circumstances is where I’d like to start seeing us spend some more time. If you’re reading this, and you’ve been emotionally mauled by a narcissist, then chances are you’re an emotionally generous person. You’re someone who feels easily, empathizes very easily, and reaches out to connect with others easily. You do it all the time. You’re very giving, very loving, and very trusting. Why do I feel I can say this with all confidence? Because these are the very people, and indeed the only people, that narcissists seek out like a weasel seeks out prey. Emotionally generous people are the only ones who can give them the huge volume of unearned adoration and attention they so desperately need, and emotionally generous people are the ones who are most devastated by the devaluation, the empty aftermath, and the realization that life with a narcissist is one big lie.

So, back to Sheldon. Sheldon is not even remotely emotionally generous. But watch (or, alternatively, just take my word for it) how he, albeit fictionally, stops for that split second to decide whether to get emotionally involved. Truly emotionally defective people don’t do this; they just don’t have the equipment to even consider connecting as an option, and so they don’t get truly involved, ever. But emotionally generous people don’t often stop to decide either (though they CAN, and have the ABILITY to do so — BIG difference there). Emotionally generous people give themselves and get involved and connect very easily, because it’s their nature. Would an ounce of detachment be a great thing when getting to know new people, especially those that seem a teensy bit “off”? Or when confronted with a “bad feeling” situation with someone you know? Yes. Yes it would. And would this ounce of detachment feel very uncomfortable, and wrong, and even unfair to an untrained person who is emotionally generous? Oh, yes. It would. Big time.

We’re going to talk a lot more about this; my social worker pal is writing a book about it, and I said I’d help. She’s also helping to gussy up the blog a little. But she has GOT to stop hitting me with a rolled-up newspaper whenever I boost the idea of people keeping their narcissists and sparing the rest of us their narcissistic assclowning. Stay tuned for who wins the Skirmish of the Ideologiesā€¦.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to What We Can Learn From Sheldon

  1. I love my Labrador

    Please do follow up on this idea in a future post!

    I am foolishly loyal, trusting and empathic person currently extricating myself from an abusive marriage to someone who displays buttloads of Narcissist and BPD traits. I need to learn how to protect myself from other emotional vampires — there have been plenty of them in my life — without ceasing to be the nice and warm person that I am. Cause it would suck to cease being a generous and feeling person; I just don’t want to be taken advantage of anymore!

    Please help, Aunt Alex!

  2. Shortly after I figured out my “friend” had NPD, it occurred to me that just maybe I’d been wrong – maybe he had Aspergers. That would explain his insensitive comments and inability to really connect. But all of the students I’ve had with Aspergers (5) shared a positive trait as well – they didn’t have a mean bone in their bodies. The N would talk about what a Nice Guy he was, but he relished the hurt look on people’s faces when he said something that stung. Big difference.

  3. ILML, there isn’t anything foolish about being loyal, trusting and empathic. Vulnerable to creeps, yes, but the idea isn’t to curb those gorgeous traits you have — it’s to protect them.

    Like you said, what we want is to let you keep right on being your nice and warm self without getting hurt.

  4. Molly

    Oh my! I’m freaked out by reading this post. When I first met my exN, he would just continue on and on about how much he related with Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. I never bothered to ask why- but now, thanks to your post, I can see it.

    He knew what he was, he knew he was different. Not like normal people, not able to feel. He always thought he was smarter than everyone else around him and when confronted with emotions of others he would just bail out.

    Wow…

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