Eccentricity is the nature of being odd; exhibiting peculiarity; or any instance of deviation from an established pattern or norm.
Throughout history, societies have attempted to define characteristics, behavioral boundaries, and ideological perceptions of normality. Attempts to define “normal,” in the context of socially or culturally accepted human interactions, including but not limited to personality and behavior, are often listed as characteristics which deviate from seemingly common perceptions of “normal,” otherwise stated as being “abnormal” or against the norm. Eccentricity, in the context of human behavior, can thus be defined as any behavior that is abnormal. The phrases used to describe eccentric behavior and eccentricity such as “deviate” further emphasize that behavioral norms are pre-established. Denotations of eccentricity are set and do not falter between social and cultural norms. Connotations of eccentricity are twofold and come with pre-established positive or negative social and cultural meanings.
Eccentricity and Personality
The expression of personality is accepted as “normal” for a variety of reasons. What is understood to be “normal” varies greatly throughout the country, leaving the same behavior to be eccentric in one region while quite “normal” in another. Within reason, the variant expressions of personality rarely move into significance, but what is odd in a specific region might be odd enough to gain attention. Individuals exhibiting behaviors outside of social norms often are not classified as having treatable symptoms of psychological disorders. Problematic behaviors such as greed, ruthlessness, aggression, mendacity, and even criminal misconduct are rhetorically highlighted as parallel to mental disorders; however, only a trivial amount of these behaviors is defined in the current DSM (Nasrallah 2012). There is a problem differentiating between “madness” and eccentricity. Andrei identified the origin of the problem as lying in not understanding where the quirks of the eccentric become the social damage of the madman (2015). Typically, the use of eccentricity is not used to go as far as psychological disorders, but the term does include odd behaviors that reach into what could be diagnosed as a disorder, being problematic to the individual and/or others.
Shared with nourishment and sleep, sex is categorized as a basic human need. Disregarding sexual orientation or choice of sexual partner(s), “normal” sexual behavior is accepted as being between two and more legally consenting partners conducting sexual activity or intercourse. Socially and legally accepted sexual activities include intimate touching, oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and anal intercourse. Engaging in sexual stimulation is a normal, appropriate human activity. However, deviant sexual behaviors fall outside of established boundaries of “normal” and often are categorized as paraphilic in nature. The American Psychiatric Association defines paraphilia as consistent or recurring strong sexual arousal or urges associated with inanimate objects, sadism/masochism, transvestic expression, children, or nonconsensual individuals (2013). Legality would play a rather significant role in interests of sexual interactions with children or nonconsensual individuals; however, the other three areas of concern would be legal if conducted within the confines of the law. These three areas sit outside of the realm of “normal” and are pathologized eccentricities. It is important to note that such a classification or understanding can change with understanding. For instance, in the last 50 years, homosexuality has moved from a pathological problem to an understood orientation, where instead of attempting to treat mere existence, practitioners can focus on the real biological and mental health of people (Drescher 2015). Homosexuality used to be understood as a pathological eccentric behavior and now finds itself closer and closer to normal.
Eccentricity is a “weighted” word that exists outside the safety of “normal,” stretching all the way up to and including pathological or illegal behavior. Considering the term and its use, one should understand that “normal” is a fluid term, even if it flows slowly through generations.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington: Author.Google Scholar
- Andrei, E. M. (2015). Eccentricity between scientific discourse and literary discourse. Cultural and Linguistic Communication, 5(1), 40–46.Google Scholar
- Nasrallah, H. (2012). Beyond psychiatry’s reach: Fringe behaviors that defy treatment. Current Psychiatry, 11(2), 20–21.Google Scholar