The Big Bang Theory: Raj
The astrophysicist Dr. Rajesh “Raj” Koothrappali can only talk to women when he is drunk, or thinks he is. Exceptions are his relatives, like his mother and sister.
Selective speech inhibition in certain situations is called elective mutism(F94.0) in ICD-10 and is defined by the following criteria:
* Proven persistent inability to speak in certain social situations where this is expected. Speaking is possible in other situations
* Duration of elective mutism longer than four weeks
* There is no profound developmental disorder
* Speech expression and comprehension are within the normal range for the age group.
* The disorder is not due to lack of knowledge of the spoken language expected in social situations
The inability to speak in certain situations, namely towards women, as a core characteristic of the disorder, is readily identified. The symptoms have lasted for much longer than four weeks, probably always. A profound developmental disorder, which can also severely impair communication in this language, is not present. Such is the Asperger Syndrome(F84.5) which Sheldon Cooperle suffers from. Raj’s sensory and motor language skills are fully developed in accordance with his age and although he has an Indian accent, he speaks English well enough to communicate adequately in fearless situations. In Raj’s case, the underlying disorder of mutism is social phobia (F40.1):
* Distinct fear of being the center of attention or being embarrassed or humiliated
* Clearly avoid being the centre of attention or situations where there is a fear of embarrassment or degradation
* At least two anxiety symptoms in the dreaded situations, e.g. blushing or trembling etc.
* Significant emotional stress from the anxiety symptoms or avoidance behavior.
* Insight that the symptoms or avoidance behaviour are exaggerated and unreasonable
* The symptoms are limited exclusively or primarily to the dreaded situations or to thoughts about them
The dreaded situation for Raj is talking to women, especially when they are, at least theoretically, potential sexual and relationship partners.
The shaping of social relationships is fundamentally shaped by the first important persons in the relationship. These are usually the parents. Raj’s parents are successful and highly respected in India, and they obviously place great value on etiquette and tradition. The parents are unhappy with Raj’s profession as an astrophysicist and especially with his salary. They probably would have wished that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a gynaecologist. The mother is extremely controlling, urging Raj to marry as soon as possible, with clear ideas about a suitable wife and a general rejection of American women.
We see: Raj can hardly please his parents. While the dynamics of relationships within the family are often very stable, it is obvious that Raj has already grown up with high expectations and blatant disappointment from his parents.
It seems that he has always fled from the excessive demands: First into the fantasy world of comics and science fiction, later, during his studies, into the infinite vastness of space and finally, when the opportunity arose, to the USA.
But even on the other side of the world (and even if his parents would not regularly criticise him via video chat and try to influence him with his financial dependence) Raj cannot escape the self-image his parents have given him over the years: He constantly doubts that he is lovable and is haunted by the fear that he will be lonely forever.
Since such fear is hard to bear, it must always be repressed so that Raj is able to focus on coping with his daily life and not sink into despair. The psychological mechanism by which difficult emotional or cognitive content is repressed into the unconscious is called defence. The specific defence mechanism that comes into play in Raj’s case is called displacement. The global fears, inferiority and shame are shifted to a specific situation or object in order to be able to act more freely and confidently in other situations. However, this is accompanied by a heightened phobic fear of the situation or the object into which all the fears and apprehensions have been shifted.
For this purpose the psyche often finds objects which are already filled with a certain fear, e.g. spiders or