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Psychology of ‘Durarara!!’: Intermittent Explosive Disorder

May 6, 2018

One of my absolute favorite anime characters of all time is Shizuo Heiwajima, the badass dude from Durarara!! (exclamation marks are part of the title). The anime is based on a novel series by Ryohgo Narita, and it follows various unique characters in the district of Ikebukuro as they go about their lives. Shizuo is one of these unique characters and is known as "the strongest man in Ikebukuro."

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As a bodyguard to a debt collector, Shizuo does his job pretty effectively, which for the most part means just being present, as his reputation precedes him. He is that strong that he can lift vending machines and throw them. In one episode of the anime dedicated to Shizuo, we see him as a child lifting a refrigerator after exploding in anger over what even he describes was something small. His strength is for sure impressive. But is his strength tied to a mental health problem?

Shizuo is very clear about not liking violence, but he has had episodes when he has done incredible things in moments of rage, during which he describes feeling unable to control his anger. He describes being unable to help himself, and says his body "moves on its own" as he picks up large objects, including appliances, damaging property and oftentimes himself. Since childhood he has broken many bones during these episodes of rage, and has had to go to the hospital frequently. Shizuo feels bad about his actions much of the time. He feels he is destructive. He has never hurt anyone for fun, and he's never planned any of his aggressive actions. He simply explodes in anger. The way Shizuo describes his episodes of rage sound very similar to Intermittent Explosive Disorder.

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Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is an impulse control disorder that typically begins in late childhood/early adolescence. Individuals with IED have aggressive, violent, impulsive episodes during which they engage in physical or verbal assault or destruction of property. The explosive episode typically occurs without a warning, is not premeditated, and is typically very much out of proportion to the event that triggered it. For example, one of the earliest episodes of rage he had was triggered by his brother eating his pudding even though he had written his own name on the cup. Shizuo lifted the refrigerator, injuring his back. Throughout the series, Shizuo's triggers include seeing others get bullied and being made fun of, but he can be triggered by almost anything.

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Episodes can follow or be accompanied by irritability, racing thoughts, chest tightness, or palpitations. Shizuo oftentimes repeats the same word over and over as though he is experiencing racing thoughts as his rage rises and culminates in an explosive episode. Individuals may at times also harm themselves during an episode, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Immediately following an episode, people can feel a sense of relief, followed by remorse or embarrassment about their behaviorTypically, after his explosive episodes are over, Shizuo feels ashamed, especially if he ended up hurting someone on accident. Because of the way he is and the fact that he can't control when it happens, he feels he should stay away from others, but at the same time doesn't want to be alone, so he tries to connect with a few people who are unique just like him. Shizuo is overall a very lonely person. He has a desire to be strong enough to control his anger.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder can affect an individual’s quality of life. It can affect their interpersonal relationships, their ability to finish school, or their ability to hold a job. During and shortly after high school, Shizuo was frequently triggered by an antagonist, a character who can best be described as a psychopath (and possibly a topic for a different post). Due to the trouble brought about by this antagonist, Shizuo found himself frequently having episodes of rage, which led to losing many jobs before he was recruited as a bodyguard by the debt collector, which finally meant job security for him.

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Although Shizuo doesn't exhibit symptoms of these, it is important to note just for informative purposes that IED can also co-occur with a mood disorder or a substance use disorder, as many people resort to alcohol or other drugs to cope. Some medical issues are also more common among people diagnosed with IED, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, or chronic pain. This may be relevant for someone like Shizuo, whose reactions are most of the time physical and involve pushing his body much further than most others.

Studies have suggested that IED is typically associated with low activity of serotonin in the areas of the brain associated with regulating aggression, as well as damage to the prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain associated with self-control. It may also be related to abuse or childhood trauma. This last point is something Shizuo notes, as he describes having had a normal childhood with no abuse or trauma, which makes him wonder why he has such aggressive outbursts so easily.

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In terms of treatment, Shizuo has never sought it for himself, and in real life this is not too abnormal either. People who have this type of difficulty don't often seek treatment for themselves, although during childhood a caregiver might do so for their child. Treatments that can be helpful include certain mood stabilizers, and cognitive-behavioral therapies to help the person learn to identify their triggers and manage their anger. I want to highlight the importance of obtaining consultation with a professional and avoid self-diagnosing, as impulsivity may be an aspect of other disorders as well. Whatever the diagnosis may be, there is help out there for those who seek it. ♥

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