Schizoid personality disorder is one of those heartbreaking disorders which not a lot of people know about, sometimes even those who suffer from this. They experience this silently, and constantly wonder why they feel what they feel, and what is it that’s wrong with them.
Written by Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D., CGP.
I think of schizoid personality disorder as a hidden disorder because most people with it are suffering very quietly.
Unless they confide in you that they have this particular set of issues, you are unlikely to notice that anything is amiss. If you notice them at all, you are likely to assume that they are hardworking introverts who are not very interested in getting to know other people. However, their problems are much more serious.
In fact, so few people know about schizoid personality disorder that when I mention it, most people think I am referring to a much more serious disorder, such as schizotypal disorder, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder. Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are both serious psychoses, and people with schizotypal disorder are typically more visibly odd and disturbed than people with schizoid personality disorder.
The confusion comes from the prefix schizo, which is a Latinized version of a Greek word meaning “split.” So, to be clear, a schizoid personality disorder is an entirely separate diagnosis from the others.
[Note: In this post, I will sometimes use SPD or schizoid as a shorthand way of saying that a particular person qualifies for a diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder. I may also use the term adaptation instead of disorder in order to emphasize that this pattern, like other personality disorders, may have begun as a small child’s creative adaptation to his or her family situation.]
What type of problems do people with schizoid personality have?
1. Lack of basic trust.
Early traumatic childhood experiences with uncaring, neglectful, intrusive, or abusive parents left my schizoid clients with the belief that relying on other people is inherently unsafe. Most report that by age 7, they had realized that the adults around them could not be trusted to take care of them (Klein, 1995). Often, they had an abusive narcissistic or borderline parent who made their childhood a living hell.
2. Excessively self-sufficient.
The schizoid solution to their lack of trust in other people is to try to become as independent and self-reliant as possible. Instead of looking to other people for help or validation, as my borderline and narcissistic clients do, they try to be entirely self-sufficient. They also tend to be very private and rarely share the details of their personal life with many people.
They exemplify the saying, “She keeps herself to herself.” Most of my schizoid clients are good with money and are careful savers. They say that being financially independent gives them a greater sense of security.
When they were abused as children, my schizoid clients were unable to fight back or physically leave. However, they discovered how to dissociate from their body when they were frightened and go somewhere safe in their mind. Unfortunately, by the time they reach adulthood, the habit of dissociating when they feel stressed is so ingrained that they do it automatically—even when they would rather not.
And they cannot easily get out of that dissociated state. They describe the state as a sense of detachment from their body and their life as if they were walking through a black-and-white movie about someone else. Nothing feels emotionally meaningful or real, but they can continue to function in a robotic way as long as necessary.
4. Social fears.
Most forms of interpersonal intimacy are experienced as potentially dangerous. This is especially true when the other person has a loud voice or domineering manner or seems unpredictable.