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Some time ago I noticed some strange things in Sherlock's behaviour and started a research. I found out, that Sherlock might be suffering from an Anxious (avoidant) Personality Disorder (AvPD) published in the ICD 10 under the Code F 60.6

Then I started looking for more clues and realised there were quite a lot of them, which I hadn't noticed before. I think it's quite interesting and so I decided to write this post. Maybe you can add some more facts that I overlooked.

During summer I came across a psychological Internetblog, which, after some more research, brought me to the conclusion that the Personality Disorder of Sherlock might be the result of a Complex (Developmental) Trauma, caused by the emotional abuse by his father and the physical abuse by his classmates. One symptom is the inability to modulate arousal and to self-soothe. There are different examples throughout the series that this is the case with Sherlock.

S.2 Ep. 1:
Sherlock is upset that Microft inhabits the Baker Street flat. He tries to calm down by pacing the room, but isn't able to do so. He even gets more and more agitated by Mycroft's remarks. Only when Joan Watson interferes and moves very close to him, whispering into his ear, he relaxes visibly.

Now to the causes and symptoms for AvPD according to the ICD 10 list.


1. Rejection and emotional neglect by parents and siblings
2. Bullying
3. Parents are experienced as oppressive, restrictive, lacking emotions and sensitivity


  • Hypersensitivity to rejection/criticism
  • Self-imposed social isolation
  • Extreme shyness or anxiety in social situations, though the person feels a strong desire for close relationships
  • Avoids physical contact because it has been associated with an unpleasant or painful stimulus
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Severe low self-esteem
  • Self-loathing
  • Mistrust of others
  • Emotional distancing related to intimacy
  • Highly self-conscious
  • Self-critical about their problems relating to others
  • Problems in occupational functioning
  • Lonely self-perception, although others may find the relationship with them meaningful
  • Feeling inferior to others
  • In some extreme cases, agoraphobia
  • easy to order around, have difficulties defending themselves
  • sadness and anxiety are the prevailing states of mind
  • restrictions in lifestyle because of need to have physical security
1. Wikipedia /
2. "Dual Diagnosis and the Avoidant Personality Disorder"

And now for the clues in the series.


Authoritarian parenting style based on fear
Emotional abuse and neglect by his father
Bullying and physical abuse by his classmates

1. As a child he sets a compound fracture himself and wears longsleeved shirts so that he doesn't have to tell his dad. (S.1,Ep.6)

2. Sherlock and his brother call their father "mercurial" and "capricious" (S.2,Ep.8)

3. Sherlock says, that his father doesn't care about him and that he is a "serial

4. At boarding school he is bullied and gets savagely beaten by his classmates
frequently over a period of several years. (S.1 Ep.3, S.2,Ep.4)

5. Sherlock calls his father a "Lovecraftian horror".
Main themes of this genre are the hopelessness and helplessness of the
characters towards a malignant force and intangible fear. ( S.2, Ep.22)

6. Sherlock calls his father an "old tosspot" and a combination of "Adolf Hitler and Bernard Madoff" in front of Joan Watson
Victims of emotional abuse often fight back by insulting their abusers.

- has got difficulties holding eye-contact

- calls his home his "sanctum sanctorum" and keeps half a dozen surveillance
cameras inside the house

- keeps a knife hidden at the entrance so that he can grab it without looking (S.2,Ep.9)

- says that he can't make connections. Watson answers that they just frighten him.
(S.1, EP.1)

- always appears to be tense and nervous outside his house - usually keeps his hands in his pockets ( because they're trembling S.2/Ep.24)

- only leaves the house when absolutely necessary, tries to take files home or lets
them send to his home

- positions himself in a room always in a way that he can see everybody and the door. He never stands free but leans against something to 'cover' his back.
When he can't do that he gets dizzy. ( S.2/Ep.18)

- extreme low self-esteem - Always questions his value as a person

- stutters when he talks about very personal matters (S.1, Ep.4 / S.2 Ep.7)

- always keeps at least an armlength distance to other people, avoids body contact

- tries to avoid shaking hands with people. When he has to take one he moves
backwards with the upper part of his body

- trusts nobody - even follows Watson at the beginning of her stay with him. (S.2,Ep.5)

- uses "Amygdala" as suggestive word to hypnotise himself.
The Amygdala is responsible for the modulation of fear and negative emotions.
In people suffering from depression and anxiety the Amygdala is overstimulated

- suffers from an anxiety attack when his sponsee Randall enters his home for the first time
(S.2, Ep.11)

- when Watson asks him if he wants to go back to London after his brother told him
that his father wanted him back, he answers "What I want is irrelevant." (S.2,Ep.8)

- isolates himself socially

- shows symptoms of severe anxiety as he unexpectedly meets Gay in his living-room and turns his back on her to talk to Joan (S.2,Ep.14)

- when Joan Watson comes home she always announces that she is back as early as
she opens the frontdoor.

- when Sherlock works in a room, Joan addresses him as soon as she enters the room and only approaches when she is sure that Sherlock noticed her. Captain Gregson does the same.

- on the pavement he mostly walks on the side of the houses when he his out with

- Lestrade did a talk on deduction. Sherlock is angry but when Joan suggests
to tell him in person he only answers "To what end?" whereas he has no difficulty to
bring Lestrade to task for his mistakes in the case. (S.2, Ep.16)

- Sherlock is talking to an injured woman. Lestrade butts in and Sherlock leaves the
room with a sarcastic comment but without defending himself. (S.2, Ep.16)

- Sherlock does "balancing exercise" in a pitch-black room with a cock perched on his
I interpreted this as trying to control his breathing to fight his anxiety attacks.
Chickens have got a so called "vibration organ" with which they can sense vibrations
in complete darkness in order to recognise approaching dangers.
Afterwards he his lying on his stomach on the living-room floor. Anxiety attacks are often accompanied by an impaired balance.
Lying on the floor reduces the symptoms. (S.2,Ep.17)

- Lestrade criticises Sherlock in front of Joan for serving him clues on a silver-platter.
Sherlock is so hurt that he calls Lestrade "Sir". Joan has to lift his spirits afterwards.

- When the doorbell rings, it's always Watson to open. On one occasion when Watson isn't home and he has to open the door himself, he hesitates for quite some time and only lets the woman in after she asks him to and states her intentions. Then Sherlock sits at the opposite side of the room and isn't able to take the USB stick out of her hand. She has to leave it on a stool. (S.2, Ep.18)

- Bell invites Sherlock to his party. Sherlock doesn't want to go, because he thinks that he is not really wanted ("I will always be an outsider") and fears that the other guests will hold him accountable for Bell's injury. (S.2,Ep.18)

- After "stabbing" the robber, who is hiding under the sheet in the morgue, with a needle, the guy comes up in a sudden move. Sherlock flinches and moves back to the wall of the tiny room. When the detective woman talks to him he isn't able to answer anymore, he just makes a gesture with his shoulders.
Later he is balancing on a ladder with one foot, although he could have moved it to reach the shelf comfortably. He might be doing it in order to restore his equilibrium after the panic attack. (S.2, Ep.19)

- "We are everyone" , in exchange for information, makes Sherlock stand on a square with a poster in his hand saying "Punch me in the arm to help me catch a murderer". He has to endure this procedure for quite some time. It costs him so much energy, that he, after Watson tells him to relax, sits down in an armchair without protesting and falls asleep, although the information hasn't been checked yet. (S.2,Ep.19)

- Holmes and Watson want to look at the medical files of the inmates at a prison. The assistant who opened the door for them, steps behind Sherlock to talk to him. Sherlock immediately takes two steps sideways to put some distance between himself and the man, then looks at him with suspicion. (S.2, Ep.19)

- Sherlock observes a house on the opposite side of the street. He leans with his back against a car, although he would have a much better view if he turned around and faced the street. But because this would mean having his back uncovered, he doesn't do it. (S.2, Ep.20)

- At the precinct, Captain Gregson goes into his office. The door behind him closes with a loud noise. Sherlock flinches, while Bell doesn't react at all. (S.2, Ep.21)

- Sherlock comes home after Joan's rescue. He enters the house, sees the armed guards and the doctor and immediately starts breathing fast and heavily (hyperventilation). Joan notices that, gets up and says to Sherlock that everything is alright, but only after Sherlock moves very close to her and she reassures him that she is O.K., he is able to get his breathing under control. (S.2, Ep.23)

- Sherlock walks alone on the street after he visited the ex-wife of the victim. He phones Joan who is in the flat of the victim. During the entire call he turns his head in every direction seeming extremely nervous. He even bites his lip. After he ends the call, he immediately stops a cab and gets in. (S.2, Ep.23)

- The doorbell rings. Joan looks at Sherlock who doesn't react, so she opens the door. It's the ex-wife of the victim. Sherlock appears and indicates to her to come in. He doesn't walk ahead though, but let's her pass and follows. Before the doorbell rang, Sherlock was relaxed in his body language. Now he is very tense and breathless. He doesn't get any further than the next wall, where he waits for Joan to join them. Only when Joan is standing next to him, he is able to calm down a little bit, but in the following conversation he still keeps his hands in his pockets. (S.2, Ep.23)
This intensification of Sherlock's anxiety could be a result of the taser attack of his brother.

- Sherlock observes a shop from a car. When Watson arrives, she asks him why he rented a car. He answers that he didn't rent it but needed a place to sit and that this was the best observation post. Watson looks around. You can see stairs right behind the car from where you would have had an even better view.She doesn't comment on that fact though. (S.2, Ep.24)

- Sherlock is confused about Mycroft "sacrificing" himself and returning to work for MI6, so that Sherlock wouldn't be send to prison.
He can't understand he could mean so much to his brother that Mycroft would do this for him without getting something in return. (S.2, Ep.24)

Sherlock: "I'm just confused. You owed me...nothing."
Mycroft: "You are my brother."

I don't know if the writers of the show intended it that way, but it's so consistent, that I think they might have.
I am looking forward to your opinion on the matter.
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