From Normality to Abnormality

Although the schizoid construct is somewhat nebulous, many readers may nevertheless recognize some aspect of themselves in the schizoid pattern. Everyone knows someone who is an extreme introvert, for example. We all want to be left alone from time to time, if only to quiet our own thoughts or think things through, to unwind from a long day of boring business meetings, or simply let down that façade of friendliness that is required by burdensome visits from friends and relatives. We love them, but sooner or later, enough is enough. In contrast, individuals with schizoid traits feel this way about their social interactions most of the time. What is interpersonal is intrinsically unrewarding to them; thus, they often turn toward objects and abstractions or toward isolative hobbies such as stamp or rock collecting, mechanical gadgetry, or even mathematics or computer science. More normal schizoids and those with avoidant characteristics, who have some intact capacity for emotional experience, may even develop intricate fantasy worlds in which to stage their dreams and ambitions.

Several normal-range variants of the schizoid personality have been proposed. Each capitalizes on some characteristic feature of the total construct. An example of a normal-ranged schizoid variant is Oldham and Morris's (1995) solitary style. These individuals have only a limited need for companionship and social support. They feel most comfortable, most free, and most themselves when alone. For this reason, they prefer to live and work in the relative calm and reassurance of social isolation without concern of boredom or loneliness. Self-contained and self-sufficient, their self is their inner sanctum, where they are independent of the emotional and social worlds. As dispassionate observers of life, these solitary individuals rarely get excited about anything. Their even-tempered calm frees them from noisy social attachments but also makes them intellectually aware of details others would easily miss. In relationships, they need their alone time and seldom become as intimately involved as their partners would prefer. In work, they function efficiently but not as team players.

Similarly, the retiring style of Millon et al. (1994) has only a minimal need to give and receive affection or to become involved with others emotionally. For this reason, they have few relationships and do not develop strong ties to others. Instead, they are seen as calm, placid, untroubled, and easygoing but also as possibly being socially awkward or indifferent to the feelings of others. They are private people who enjoy being alone, only rarely expressing their inner thoughts and feelings. Ever unobtrusive, they work quietly and methodically behind the scenes, content to remain in the background. Some are introverts caught up in the joy of mentation. Others often see them as lacking in spontaneity and vitality.

A normal variant or style of the schizoid personality can be uncovered by deductively reviewing diagnostic criteria of DSM-IV (see Sperry, 1995). Those who are disordered neither desire nor enjoy any close relationships, including that of family. This can be contrasted with individuals manifesting a schizoid style; though they are comforted by the quiet and solitude of an asocial lifestyle, they possess the capability to relate to others when necessary. A schizoid personality usually selects solitary activities resulting in social isolation. Similar to an extent, a schizoid style prefers minimal to no contact when engaged in an activity, yet, unlike the disordered, is willing and able to productively interact when necessary to accomplish a goal. Sexuality is an undesirable and unexplored realm for a schizoid personality. The schizoid style is also not very sexual, though to a lesser extent; they do occasionally experience sexual feelings.

For each of the preceding contrasts, an underlying theme differential emerges; the feature distinguishing the schizoid style from the schizoid personality is capability. Both the schizoid style and personality prefer to be asocial, isolated, and asexual, yet only the schizoid style is capable of executing the alternative when necessary. Leonard falls more toward the pathological extreme. For example, he lacks the motivation to stay in touch with his family. Despite the convenience and simplicity of living in the same area, he does not seek them out. Leonard's indifference toward family forces them to be the ones to sustain relations. In fact, his level of pathology is so extreme that he probably fails to understand the concept of family itself—its meaning and all its connotations. Whereas the schizoid style is capable of understanding warmth, closeness, and the notion of a shared history with others, to Leonard such concepts seem confusing or foreign. The schizoid style can relate to others when necessary; Leonard cannot. He is unable to understand the nuances of interpersonal situations and is unable to respond appropriately, hence, his fitting reassignment to the stacks.

The remaining diagnostic criteria of the schizoid personality disorder can also be normalized to reveal further attributes of the schizoid style. The disordered find little pleasure in most activities, whereas the style can become engaged in certain hobbies or interests. In addition, the disordered have no close friends or confidants other than those in the immediate family. The styled, on the other hand, have more acquaintances and can sometimes find enjoyment from being part of a small social group. Much of this is attributed to the fact that those with the disorder are so uninterested in the reactions of others that they remain indifferent to criticism or praise. Conversely, the styled are capable of productively receiving feedback and changing their behavior accordingly if needed. Emotionally, the disordered may seem cold and detached, with only feeble emotional experiences. This is contrasted with the styled, who are even-tempered with some range of emotion and are capable of experiencing a degree of pleasure and sadness.

Again, when compared to the preceding contrasts, Leonard falls more toward the pathological extreme. Watching television is pretty generic, but he does seem somewhat invested in his model airplane hobby, possibly a good prognostic sign. Whereas the styled are sometimes able to become involved in small groups, including those you might find while working in a library, Leonard reports having no friends at all. The reinforcement value of social contact seems alien to him. Whereas someone with a schizoid style would realize the need to be more engaging and lively when working at the checkout, Leonard does not. Even criticism from his supervisor was not enough to motivate him. For Leonard, anhedonic life drones on, irrespective of whether he has a job.

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