June 18, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 18, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Have you ever had the experience of pass­ing by someone you know, or who walks by without acknowledging you? Or do you some­times feel that someone you know seems to be friendly, but at times snubs you? It is possi­ble that they are ignoring you, are angry at you, or are too busy to be bothered with you.

But it is also possible that they have a dis­order called Prosopagnosia, a problem involv­ing an inability or great difficulty in recogniz­ing faces. The person may seem perfectly fine and may be very bright, but they simply can­not recognize faces, despite the fact that they meet the same people very often. They don’t have problems with people they know or see and interact with frequently—such as fami­ly and good friends. And, in fact, they usually don’t have problems with people they have in­teracted with for some time.

Do you know anyone with prosopagno­sia? Well, those of you who know me, do. I have had the disorder my whole life. I was certain­ly aware of not recognizing people, but just thought I have a terrible memory (which I do), and did the best I could to get around it. But it has always created problems for me. I often was plagued with the feeling that people may think that I was ignoring them or didn’t care about them or felt above them. But there was nothing I could do about it. This becomes es­pecially complicated when moving into a new community, going to shul each day, seeing the same faces and not remembering who they are.

Most people have this disorder their whole lives, though there are situations where it can show up later in life. Of­ten one is not aware that there is some­thing wrong and so he relies on extrane­ous cues to make up for it. We look for the way hair is styled, or a facial blemish or perhaps a style of clothing. And we go through our lives simply doing the best we can with people. Few people are aware of it, because the person with the disor­der may be friendly or possibly just seem standoffish.

I came across this disorder some time ago, while reading about Oliver Sacks, a bril­liant psycho-neurologist and author of many books including “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” (a great book) who disclosed that he had Prosopagnosia. It was amazing to me that a man so brilliant had such a major dis­order. I began to realize that I suffer from pre­cisely the same thing. I didn’t focus on it a lot, because somehow I was managing reasona­bly well. But since moving to Teaneck and hav­ing, of course, the same problems I have always had with a whole new cohort of people, I be­gan to think about how often I must have giv­en people the feeling that I was ignoring them or snubbing them. And the idea of this column began to crystalize.

A short time ago, one of our daughters mentioned that everyone has problems of one type or another. It didn’t register then, but it is so true. Everyone does have problems. When the problems are obvi­ous, such as autism, developmental disor­ders, manic depression or countless other problems, we can’t deny them. Some peo­ple accept the problems and do their best, while others deny the existence or severi­ty of the problem, and usually suffer from some or a host of additional problems be­cause of the denial. But everyone is suffer­ing.

The people that you know that seem strange, have some type of problem. But the people that look fine, and act fine, and seem fine, probably also have problems, but keep them hidden. Keeping things hidden keeps the problems inside, but they are still there! What a better world it would be if we could un­cover them.

It is in that vein that I am sharing this with you. It is amazing that my whole life, I knew that something was wrong, but had no idea what it was. This disclosure may come as a shock to many of you, I don’t think that even my children know. But it is there, and now you know. It doesn’t mean that anything changes, but in some way, it does. When I do therapy with people, they sometimes tell me things that no one else knows or about things they never faced. Sometimes, that alone can give them some relief. I feel relief already, before you even read this! I thank you all for being there for me so that I could share it with you.

Please feel free to contact me regarding this (or any) topic. You can do so anonymous­ly by writing [email protected]

Dr. Glick was a clinical psychologist in private prac­tice for 35 years as well as the rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Yisrael in Montreal. If you would like to submit a question, or contact him for an appointment, he can be reached [email protected] or by calling him at 201-983-1532.

By Rabbi Mordechai Glick

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles