The Cognitive Perspective

The cognitive style of schizoid personalities closely supports their interpersonal behavior and defensive functioning. Of the deficits that schizoids possess, perhaps the most tragic is a failure to develop an intimate relationship with the self. More normal individuals with schizoid traits may become constructively self-absorbed, distancing themselves from the noise of the external world to better understand the internal harmonies wrought by their own semi-autistic originality. Isolative mathematicians, for example, may be comfortable functioning in a swirl of symbols found unfathomable to others. Rather than attach to persons, they attach to mathematical squiggles that are meaningful only to a small minority of human beings. Other schizoids may become philosophers or pursue some form of pure scientific research, thus allowing the free expression of their cognitive abilities while remaining detached from the omnipresent social world. Still others might become artists or sculptors, though it is more likely that such sensitivities are seen in conjunction with avoidant traits.

Although the preceding examples present schizoids at their most adaptive, any could include hints of the cognitive eccentricity normally associated with the schizotypal as well. For example, a schizoid mathematician might believe that math possesses some transcendent, almost magical quality by virtue of being the language through which the physical universe is organized. For some, high native intelligence seems to create an insatiable autistic curiosity about the formal relationships of things, which then becomes an organizing force for the entire personality. Without it, many would eventually collapse into psychosis. Though not apparently intellectually gifted, a shade of the schizotypal is perhaps seen in Leonard in his difficulty understanding the emotional dimension of language, his lack of coordination of emotions and facial expressions, and his slow, almost automatic movements. All these make Leonard seem odd, a usual depiction of a schizotypal person.

Normal-range individuals with strong schizoid traits often indulge themselves in isolative hobbies or develop a substantial fantasy life. Imagination compensates for perceived inadequacies or simply expresses a natural tendency to direct attention inward and develop a hypertrophied mental life. Only the latter tends toward the purely schizoid. Where withdrawal has an arrogant or oppositional quality, fantasy in a schizoid-like person sometimes betrays the presence of a secret grandiose self that longs for respect and recognition while offsetting fears that the person is really an outcast. These individuals combine aspects of the compensating narcissist with the autistic isolation of the schizoid, while lacking the asocial and anhedonic qualities of the pure prototype. Alternatively, where the individual also possesses avoidant traits, fantasy may compensate for exaggerated social fears. Whatever secondary personality characteristics are present, any fantasy at all is a good prognostic sign: Fantasies have themes, and themes signal an attachment to some emotion or idealized self-image that the therapist can draw out for discussion. For example, good rapport could be stimulated by focusing on Leonard's interest in model airplanes, Doris's interest in sewing, and Hillary's interest in geology.

The more isolated schizoids become, the more underdeveloped their inner self becomes. Such introversion gives way to an incapacitation of emotional depth that stifles spontaneity of expression, a sense of anticipation or surprise, and deep feelings of attachment, intimacy, or community. Consequently, the potential for a fully nurtured and developed self is squelched, and an impoverished and barren self remains. Some higher functioning schizoids are able to associate certain behaviors with emotions. However, their attempts at empathy may be perceived as tinny and unnatural. Other schizoids do possess vague remnants of feelings and are perplexed when they occasionally perceive these shadows of emotion. These individuals confuse the intellectual awareness of an appropriate emotion with the emotion itself, as if to say, "Here others would feel what they call 'sad'; therefore, I must be feeling 'sad' as well." Such a statement elucidates the early object-relations theory describing the emotional mimicry of the schizoid in terms of the as-if personality. Like a stranger in a strange land, schizoids possess logic, reason, and intelligence but cannot genuinely feel and, therefore, cannot understand the deep connectedness of normal human life, as with Hillary and her boyfriend.

The plight of the schizoid self is easily understood. The self is not a substance or a soul but a mental construct, and like any other construct, its contents can be either highly defined or poorly articulated. Identity develops over time as a result of interpersonal experience. Or, as social interactionism would say, the self consists of the reflected appraisals of others. Relatedness is fundamental, and individual identity develops out of social interactions. In time, our cognitive capacities mature to the point that we can reflect on our own experiences and preferences and draw conclusions about our own unique nature. Even extreme introverts, who shy away from social interaction, may nevertheless develop a highly articulated sense of identity. Despite their introversion, their capacity for emotion and interpersonal relatedness is preserved, and their fantasies contain interpersonal themes, even though their lives may not.

In contrast, detached from self as well as others, schizoids often show little awareness of their internal world. They are impoverished socially and lack any curiosity about their own nature, so they have only vague notions about who they are, where they are going, or what their goals might be. Doris and Leonard, for example, have a vaguely infantile quality. When asked what they are like as a person, their descriptions are brief and superficial. Their lack of clarity is neither elusive nor protective, but simply indicates the facts as they know them. Severe schizoids do not normally interact with others and do not understand the few interpersonal interactions they do have. Accordingly, they have few reflected appraisals to internalize, no motivation to elaborate on them, and, therefore, no sharply boundaried self that might be immediately accessible to conscious awareness about which to report.

Individuals with strong schizoid traits may enjoy introspection as intrinsic to the joy of mentation, but severe schizoids lose this capacity. They are not insightful, perceptive, discerning, intuitive, or perspicacious. Detached from self and others, the structure of the inner world suffers a scarcity of connections, as if the light of their being were forever on the edge of winking out completely, leaving only, as Kretschmer and other analysts have noted, a soulless void. To the observer, the severely schizoid mind is unchallenged and, therefore, unproductive. Withdrawn from life, the categories through which life experiences might be articulated tend to be gross and undifferentiated. They blur differences together or miss them entirely, homogenizing experience until the ability to articulate separate elements simply disappears, leaving them with nothing to talk about. With no involvement in life at large, they are usually deficient in broad areas of practical and cultural knowledge. As such, they should do poorly on tests that assume cultural immersion.

Writing from the perspective of cognitive therapy in Beck et al. (1990), Ottaviani argues that schizoids view themselves as observers of the world around them, not as participants. Detached from self or others and lacking in emotion, schizoids have only "a paucity of automatic thoughts" (p. 127) that might be identified as a basis for intervention. Moreover, schizoids do not obsess over negative feedback from others, the way an avoidant or compulsive might, for example. Instead, Ottaviani suggests that many schizoids see themselves as social misfits, but such appraisals lack any real negative impact. Because schizoids value detachment and isolation, the notion that they might be interpersonally awkward assumes the status of an incidental or offhand mental note, not a pressing concern. As such, schizoids may lack curiosity about why they are different or assume that nothing should be done about it. Consequently, they are not motivated to pursue therapeutic change. Finally, Ottaviani identifies various attitudes and assumptions associated with the schizoid personality, including, "Life is less complicated without other people," "I am empty inside," "Life is bland and unfulfilling," and "People are replaceable objects."

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