Wellness & Fitness

Tread carefully when dealing with recluses


QUESTION: How do I deal with a reclusive neighbour without making him feel I'm encroaching into his space? The man is very intelligent and I value his nuggets of wisdom.


You have asked a most interesting question and your dilemma is almost palpable. On the one hand, you want to respect the person’s choice to privacy and on the other, you are attracted by the nuggets of wisdom that he can emit from time to time.

A reclusive neighbour is a person who lives a solitary life. Put differently he lives the life of a hermit. In the original meaning of the word, a hermit was seen as one who chose to shut himself from the world for religious reasons.

To enable us better help you, we may have to answer a few questions, much in the way that a doctor would take a history before examining a patient. For example, how old is this person and for how long has he lived near you. When you call him a reclusive man, how long have you known him as such? Is this new or old way of life for him.

All these questions are important because if you have known him for only a few weeks, then what you call reclusive may be due to a variety of reasons, some medical, others not. If he has recently moved in from another country, he might be a fugitive from law enforcement.

He might also be a terrorist who is planning an attack. You simply do not know. On the other hand, he might be a person who has developed a depressive illness say following the death of his wife, and he has decided to work through the guilt of having neglected her to the point of suicide, by becoming the guilt-ridden recluse that lives next door to you.

It would also be important to know how long this person has been a recluse. If for example this is his personality and his family can confirm that he has been like that all his adult life, you are perhaps dealing with a personality disorder.

If on the other hand, this is not the person he has always been you may have to help him get medical help, as changes of behaviour of this type could be a manifestation of a mental illness.

In the practice of mental health, there are systems of classification that enable doctors to speak the same language. If a doctor in the USA makes a diagnosis of say Schizophrenia, a doctor in Australia or Kenya will know exactly what the doctor is talking about.

The diagnostic and Statistical Manual is used to define many psychiatric terms that exist and has found formal definitions by experts.

Using this approach, your neighbour seems to have a condition known as Schizoid Personality Disorder (PST). Individuals with this condition are by nature fearful of the world. For them, the world is a strange place and one that, to the extent possible is to be avoided.

Such people create a secluded environment devoid of human contact and they feel most comfortable there. Some have been known to accept jobs that are way below their qualifications, as long as they are able to stay away from human contact.

Such persons do not have friends and avoid any form of sexual relationships and do not get married. They do not seem to derive any form of pleasure from the usual things that other people do.

They do not go to any social gatherings such as weddings and will avoid family gatherings giving excuses that are clearly farfetched. Most do not have any friends and seem most content to let life go on without them. They are best described as spectators of events of the world in which they are not willing participants.

They are devoid of emotional expression showing instead a coldness that is beyond the understanding of most people. Whether it is a matter of death or sickness, they remain detached and are unable to express any emotion. They remain flat in effect and are emotionally colder than a deep freezer.

Does this sound like your neighbour? If it does, then you now know what the problem is. What is more difficult to decipher is what you can do to help. There is no known “cure” for this type of personality disorder, and you may have to let things be as they are.

In a sense, you are lucky that he is not only a very intelligent, person but more importantly for you that he is willing to share nuggets of wisdom with you. For this, you must be grateful and thank him. Do not try to get too close to him as that might upset him and you might lose his wisdom forever.