Written by Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D., CGP.
When intimacy feels like a trap, partial relationships become the solution.
Most people are unfamiliar with the term schizoid personality disorder. If they have heard of it at all, they are likely to have many misconceptions about what it is.
The name itself is confusing. Some people think it has something to do with schizophrenia because both disorders start with the prefix “schizo” (it does not) or that all schizoids are like the quiet loner in the corner who is not interested in socializing (also not true).
Before I discuss how people with schizoid personality disorder deal with relationships, I would like to give some background information that will make their fear of intimacy more understandable.
What is schizoid personality disorder?
Schizoid personality disorder is one of the three major personality disorders that are treatable by appropriate psychotherapy. The other two are borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder (Greenberg, 2016).
All personality disorders start quite early in life. It is believed that personality disorders are the result of an attempt by a particular child with a particular inborn temperament to adapt to a family situation that is less than optimal for that child. In the case of schizoid personality disorder, the child’s upbringing leaves the child feeling unsafe with other human beings and unprepared to be in intimate relationships later in life.
The child learns to turn inward, instead of outward, in an attempt to meet his or her own needs. This can lead the person as an adult to appear more introverted than he or she would have been if raised in a more normal family.
Note: In this blog post, I am using the term schizoid or SPD as a shorthand way of describing people who meet the criteria for a diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder.
The home life of the schizoid child
If you are reading this post because you have problems with intimacy and believe you may have schizoid personality disorder, it is likely that you experienced some combination of the following things as a young child:
- There was an almost complete lack of attunement to you by your caregivers.
- There was nobody who you could trust to care of you.
- You experienced physical or emotional abuse coupled with neglect.
- You were treated like a thing, not a person with preferences and feelings.
- Your primary caregiver was inappropriately intrusive.
- You felt trapped in a hostile situation where you had no rights and no control.
- You were forced to comply with unreasonable demands.
- You believed that no one cared what happened to you, what you thought, or how you felt.
Here are a few examples of what being a child was like for my clients with schizoid personality disorder.
My client Jane reported that her mother treated her as if she were invisible and had no feelings. She told me the following story which she described as typical:
My mother sometimes decided to vacuum my room and rearrange the furniture at night while I was sleeping. When I asked her to stop, she told me to shut my mouth if I knew what was good for me. She said it was her house and she could do as she wished. When I complained, she smacked me.
My client Burt was not allowed any privacy growing up. His mother was incredibly intrusive. He remembers her giving him enemas every week against his will when he was a small child. She held him down while he cried and struggled. He was so traumatized by this experience that he developed a lifelong fear of any medical procedures that involved body openings, including dentistry. Here is what happened after he reached puberty.