From Normality to Abnormality

Although the schizotypal personality is considered a severe personality disorder, some readers will find isolated schizotypal traits reflected in their own personalities. The more such characteristics possessed, the more the whole picture becomes "different." Oldham and Morris (1995) refer to the idiosyncratic style, a different drummer nourished by a unique belief system that contributes to an unconventional or even eccentric lifestyle. Such persons require few intimate relationships and are instead independent seekers of what is interesting and unusual, often being drawn to the extrasensory, supernatural, occult, or mystical. They are highly open to new experiences and novel interpretations of conventional ideas and are curious about alternative abstract formulations of the old and common. Often, they are highly aware of the reactions of others but nevertheless draw inspiration from internal sources. As such, consensual social reality is not the basis of their self-esteem. Instead, the subjective world of their own unique experiences is what they believe and value. If experience supports the existence of the supernatural or ESP, then objective, scientific proof is not required. Many are experimentalists who seek the limits of knowledge and of emotional and spiritual experience.

A less abnormal variant of the schizotypal personality can also be constructed by normalizing the diagnostic criteria of DSM-IV (see Sperry, 1995), paraphrased for that purpose here. Whereas the disordered individual has ideas of reference, interpreting events as if they held some special meaning specifically intended for the person (see criterion 1), those with a schizotypal style simply draw inspiration from their own internal world, leading them toward unusual interpretations and conclusions in which the individual plays a special role. Whereas the disordered may engage in magical thinking or hold odd beliefs, perhaps believing they are clairvoyant or telepathic (see criterion 2), those with the style may also hold certain unusual ideas or superstitions but are able to temporarily set these aside and adapt to what consensual social reality requires. Whereas the disordered may have strange perceptual experiences (see criterion 3), those with the style are interested in experiencing realities beyond our own, including the supernatural, mystical, or occult, but do not turn exclusively to these as a source of truth or inspiration. Whereas the disordered may be vague, get lost in tangential thoughts, or overelaborate ideas (see criterion 4), those with the style are simply drawn toward what is novel and abstract.

For each of the preceding applicable contrasts, Neal falls more toward the pathological side. He believes, for example, that the individuals outside his cell are talking about him. Moreover, he believes that he is clairvoyant and that this unusual ability extends into the future. Far from being able to set these strange beliefs aside, they instead become a foundation for future action. Neal "knows" what is going on in other places, and he believes that he can see what might happen if he were to go there. Rather than being inclined toward the novel and abstract, Neal's words seem vague and tangled. He rambles on as if the current contents of thought, whatever they might be, were somehow interfering with the overall plan of his discourse.

The remaining diagnostic criteria can also be put on a continuum (see Sperry, 1995). Whereas the disordered tend to lack close friends (see criterion 8) to the point of being suspicious and paranoid (see criterion 5), those with the style are nourished by an internal belief system and do not require that this system be validated by others. Whereas the disordered exhibit a constricted or inappropriate affect (see criterion 6), those with the style have some awareness of the responses that society is most likely to require or reward. Whereas the disordered may look or act in ways that are peculiar, odd, or exceedingly strange (see criterion 7), those with the style are simply unconventional because of their disregard of social standards. Finally, whereas the disordered exhibit excessive social anxiety that is not extinguished as familiarity increases (see criterion 9), those with the style are simply very observant and aware of the actions and feelings of others.

Again, when compared to the preceding contrasts, Neal comes out on the pathological side of the continuum. Far from being nourished by his own belief system, he suspects that the police have set him up. Far from observing what response social situations are most likely to require, Neal's emotions are inappropriate to the content of his speech, apparently disengaged from both his own control and the immediate expectations of others. Beyond being merely circumspect around others, Neal is a loner with no close friends. Exceeding what is merely unconventional, his odd, unkempt appearance impacts his vocational life, now nonexistent, and he has exhibited episodes of bizarre behavior, such as twisting his body up in knots. Collectively, these characteristics point to a diagnosis of schizotypal personality disorder.

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