by Andrea M. Darcy
Are you seen as a loner? Been called ‘strange’ or ‘cold’ by others? Often prefer to just avoid socialising and be alone with your imagination? You might have schizoid personality disorder.
What is schizoid personality disorder?
Schizoid personality disorder (also shortened to ‘SPD’ or SzPD’) means you just aren’t cut out to be social and emotional in the ways other people are.
You feel like an outsider most (if not all) of the time. Like everyone else is ‘over there’, and you are never going to be like them.
A bit about personality disorders
The word ‘disorder’ can feel off putting. A better word could arguably be ‘difference’.
If you have a personality disorder, you have been different than others since adolescence or early adulthood, in ways that unfortunately make your life difficult. (Children aren’t diagnosed with personality disorders as their personalities are still forming).
All personality disorders share the same base symptoms that are looked for first. In the newest version of America’s famed Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) the criteria for a PD diagnosis are:
- The ways you see yourself, and the ways you see and relate to others, are seen as problematic by others, and cause you significant difficulties.
- You have a personality trait that is not normal or usual.
- These different ways of being and expressing yourself have been stable across time and different situations.
- They don’t exist because of the social and cultural environment you are in, or the ways you have developed due to experience and circumstance.
- They aren’t caused by a substance, like drug abuse or medication.
Clinical requirements for a SPD diagnosis
If you meet the requirements for a personality disorder, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and their manual the ICD-10 then suggests you the have to have at least four of the following issues:
- Few if any activities give you pleasure.
- You are seen as emotionally cold, detached, or flat.
- Warm and tender feelings towards others are hard, as is anger.
- Criticism and praise don’t tend to affect you.
- Sex and sexual experiences with someone else don’t interest you much.
- Given a choice, you tend to choose solitary activities over social ones.
- You spend most of your time in your head, fantasising and thinking.
- You have at most one person you confide in, otherwise you don’t want friends or close relationships.
- Social rules and conventions are hard for you to understand, and you are confused when people constantly accuse you of breaking them.
Myths about schizoid personality disorder
Again, personality disorders are not illnesses. They are groups of symptoms. And people are individuals, not mathematical equations. So some of the things once believed about schizoid personality disorder are questioned.
1. Those with SPD can never be in a relationship.
Even in the ICD-1o diagnostic requirement list it points out you might have one strong relationship. It just might not be like other people’s idea of a relationship. You talk about emotions less, and can be less interested in sex. But you might meet someone who shares a common interest with you and understands you need a lot of personal space. You might form a relationship you enjoy together, where it’s you and them against the world.
2. People with schizoid personality disorder don’t realise there is something wrong with them.
Maybe there isn’t. “Wrong” is a perspective and judgement. As for not realising they are different, psychotherapist, researcher and author Jeffrey Magnavita, who has worked extensively with those with personality disorders, explains how clients with schizoid personality disorder feel they live in a shell and are aware they upset others.
3. SPD means you are uncaring and can’t feel.
You might feel less, or find emotions confusing. If someone has demands of you, you can shut down. But it’s not like you have no emotions at all. Depression is an issue in those with SPD. And you might find it easy, for example, to care for a pet, who makes less demands on you. Finally, you might feel lonely.
A study published in the European Journal of Psychiatry analysed over thirty years of research on schizoid personality disorder and concluded that it is linked to unbearable and inescapable loneliness.
Schizoid or schizotypal? And what about schizophrenia?
photo by Humberto Chavez
The difference between schizoid personality disorder and and schizotypal personality disorder can be seen in what drives you to be socially withdrawn, and in how you think and present yourself.
If you aren’t opposed to relating with others but your efforts simply don’t work and instead leave you feeling paranoid? So you withdraw? And constant worry about what other people think about you? You would be more likely to receive the diagnosis of schizotypal personality disorder.
If you actually don’t really like socialising, and see most other people as uninteresting or even annoying? And rarely care what they think? You’d be more likely to receive the rarer diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder.
There can also be a difference in thinking, fantasy vs magic. With schizoid personality disorder, you have a rich fantasy world. Schizotypal personality disorder, on the other hand, involves ‘magical thinking’, believing in things that are seen by others as unreal. You might have superstitions, for example, have paranormal experiences, or see special meanings hidden in things.
Because those with schizotypal personality disorder are prone to delusional thinking in a way that those with schizoid personality disorder aren’t, they are more likely to develop schizophrenia, although the risk remains low.
Schizoid personality disorder means you are a loner. If you also present yourself differently, such as dressing oddly or speaking in a weird way, and are seen as ‘weird’, it’s more likely you have schizotypal personality disorder.
What other mental health issues is SPD connected to?
You might also be diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD), particularly a milder form that is still sometimes referred to as ‘Asperger’s disorder‘.
And, despite people with SPD being seen as ‘unemotional’, you can still suffer depression. It’s hard to be really different, and you might have been bullied as a child, for example. Or feel like you are somehow ‘missing out‘ because everyone else experiences things you don’t. Perhaps when you leave relationships, even if you felt trapped, when you are alone you feel like you are almost disappearing from reality. These kinds of things can affect your sense of self and make you feel bad.
Why do I have schizoid personality disorder?
There’s thought to be a genetic link. You were born more likely to have SPD, and would have a relative who had it, or who had the related schizotypal personality disorder or schizophrenia.
Is there treatment for schizoid personality disorder?
Personality disorders are intrinsic to who you are. Your brain sees things a certain way that is different than the norm. So you can’t ‘get rid of’ a personality disorder.
But you can learn to navigate the world around you more easily, so that they way you are is less of a problem and you have less daily stress.
Medication isn’t a treatment for a personality disorder, but can be offered for the other issues you might experience because of your different ways of being, such as depression and anxiety.
In general the treatment for a personality disorder is talk therapy. It might be hard at first to do therapy. Relating and intimacy is not your interest, and therapy is a relationship. But it’s important to keep showing up at sessions and to commit to the process.
A counselling psychologist or psychotherapist will help you recognise how the ways you think and act are different, how to understand others more, and how to communicate and relate to others in ways that are helpful over upsetting.
Worried you have schizoid personality disorder? We connect you with highly regarded expert psychiatrists in central London.
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