The Interpersonal Perspective

Although schizoids are detached from social life, they nevertheless exist in a social world and impress others with their behavior. Schizoid traits can be mapped to particular segments (Kiesler, 1996) of the interpersonal circle, some of which also map to the avoidant and schizotypal. Focusing on major traits, Kiesler refers to the interpersonal behavior of the schizoid as escapistic-unresponsive. His description for male subjects states that such a person is likely to:

. . . ignore others' presence and refuse to speak or respond. He remains totally unresponsive, is constantly lost in his own thoughts, and appears compulsively uncommunicative. He doggedly ignores all social overtures, and resists intrusions into his privacy. Whenever possible, he avoids others and becomes totally reclusive. When around others, he is totally disinterested and relentlessly stays in his own private world. He strikes others as being disengaged, hermetic, and mute. (p. 20)

Leonard and Hillary are practically incarnations of this description.

As the preceding paragraph illustrates, schizoids are impressive not for what they do, but for what they fail to do. Again, the schizoid is probably best described as the reverse of the histrionic. Whereas histrionics are turned radically outward toward the social world, schizoids are radically detached. Whereas histrionics are hyperemotional, schizoids lack the capacity for deep emotional experience. Whereas histrionics are demonstrative, dramatic, spontaneous, and theatrical, schizoids are unanimated, robotic, and lacking in energy and vitality. Whereas histrionics demand the center of attention, schizoids are socially disinterested. Whereas histrionics are hypersexual-ized, schizoids have little or no interest in such matters. Whereas histrionics are cog-nitively scattered and unable to focus, schizoids either focus intensely and creatively or, in their more severe form, become so withdrawn that they lack any motivation for sustained concentration. Whereas histrionics employ massive repression as their principal defense mechanism, schizoids either intellectualize or have so few conflicts and drives that there is little to repress.

Because schizoids are socially detached, they are often perceived as insensitive, cold, and humorless. Schizoids are indeed insensitive but in the same way that a scale might not display your weight correctly. They are not harsh or callous by nature. Normal persons manage their interpersonal presentation automatically at a level below conscious awareness. Social perception and reaction are so routine that social encounters run smoothly. Such abilities normally begin to develop at birth, with the attachment between mother and infant, and continue to grow in sophistication over most of the life span.

In contrast, schizoids lack internal models by which to represent interpersonal behavior. They may fail to reciprocate even smiles or nods, for example. Their appraisals about the intent, goals, and feelings of others are likely to be wrong much of the time or informed by factors that most of us would consider tangential or irrelevant, especially where communications have some subtle aspect or convey information related to feelings of conflict or irony. Leonard, for example, is confused by questions with emotional nuance. Whereas every normal person understands what it is like to be pulled in two different directions at once, the famous approach-approach conflict, such communications are far too complex for most schizoids. In more severe cases, the scope of understanding may not extend to even the coarsest categories of emotional experience—those basic emotions that primate theorists view as being hardwired into human nature, such as joy, surprise, disgust, anger, and fear. For this reason, Benjamin (1996, p. 349) refers to the schizoid as "an interpersonal 'black hole'—signals disappear forever without leaving a trace."

Because schizoids fail to attach to others, they cannot enjoy the warmth and support of an intimate relationship or develop a friendship that rests on a history of shared experiences—the "thick and thin"—or enjoy being part of a family. Hillary, as we have seen, found that she and her boyfriend simply had no foundation for relatedness. For the most part, schizoids meander along unobtrusively on the edge of social life as a benign and curious presence involved with their internal preoccupations, oblivious to others, and indifferent to either praise or criticism. When they do engage others, their speech tends to be slow and monotonous, emotionally vacant, and peppered with obscurities that signify either lack of attention or a failure to grasp the intent or internal emotional state of others. Movement is lethargic and lacking in gestural expressiveness. The meaning of events that might provoke anger, bring joy, or evoke sadness in normal persons is simply lost on them. Like Leonard, they are indifferent to criticism because they do not understand what it is like for others to feel frustrated.

Instead, schizoids seem complacent and satisfied with their lives and choose to remain aloof from the aspirations and competitiveness they see in others. Because their internal working models of the interpersonal world are so impoverished, their communications often seem peculiar or irrational, but not intentionally so. More often, communications are dry, impersonal, and unelaborated, perhaps with a touch of the formal and pedantically precise, like the compulsive. Life is described in an impersonal, abstract, mechanical manner.

Many schizoids are instrumentally competent and are capable of understanding the basic chores of life or formal demands of a basic job. Some are capable of functioning in more complex roles but do so without color or character. If pressured into social circumstances, schizoids simply become unresponsive and withdraw further into themselves. Leonard provided the first example, preferring the stacks to book checkout; Hillary provided a second example, preferring solitary study to socializing with classmates. Now consider the case of Doris (see Case 11.3).

For most people, including Doris, a job is a job. She doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Technically, she has done everything asked of her and done it flawlessly, be it food preparation or other chores. However, Doris's responsibilities also include childcare, and that presents a problem. Her employer wants a caretaker for two 3-year-olds and wants Doris to interact with them and show sensitivity to the children's emotional needs. To Doris, this is confusing because the logic, purpose, and incentive of familial bonding escape her. Even more, the fine details of interpersonal relationships are beyond her. Instead, Doris has a lifetime pattern of solitary activities such as sewing her own clothes and spending her evenings alone. Her own life experiences include giving up a 2-month-old child for adoption because of the consequential infringement on her personal time. Doris has no interest in sexual activities and denies any emotional relationship with the baby's father. In fact, she shows no need to have close relationships at all and not "much use" for others.

How does the schizoid personality develop from an interpersonal perspective? No one is really sure, but clinical intuition suggests that schizoids probably possess interpersonal deficits from the very beginning of life. Whereas most infants develop one of several styles of attachment to caretakers, future schizoids are only weakly attached, if at all. Infant behaviors that normally reinforce caretaking, such as coos, smiles, and giggles, are infrequent or absent, leading to a sense of disappointment in the new parents. Inevitably, caretakers themselves withdraw from the child, caught in their own sense of loss and grief about a child who cannot respond to them and further narrowing the range of social inputs and human models. Benjamin (1996, p. 339) notes, "Life in the home would probably be colorless." Relationships between parent and child would probably be distant, cold, or perhaps formal and intellectualized. Strong displays of emotion would

After two weeks of work, Doris's employer suggested she seek counseling. Her duties include various household chores, such as light cooking and the care of two 3-year-old children. The concern was that she could not identity adequately with the children's emotional needs, and therefore could not function adequately in the role of caretaker. "My children might feel uncomfortable around her because she's, well . . . weird, and does not understand them," her employer asserted.

Although Doris appeared for the appointment neatly dressed, she nevertheless seems shy and withdrawn. Her soft voice is difficult to hear at times. When asked if she understands the reason for the referral, she replies that she does not, for her job responsibilities have been performed flawlessly.1 She is not indignant, but does state that the food she cooks "tastes good," that she never leaves the kitchen a mess, and that after her chores are performed, she spends most of her time alone in her room, and never disturbs anyone. When asked if she feels bonded to the family, she answers, "I guess so," but only after a long, puzzled pause. She becomes more confused when asked which of the children is her favorite and why. Finally, she states, "I love them all equally." Though her words have a hollow quality, she is not deliberately insincere.

Other areas of Doris's life show similar difficulties. At age 17, Doris had her first child, a baby girl, as a result of sexual activities with a teenage male who lived next door. She denies that he was ever her boyfriend, says that that was the first and only time she ever had sex, that she "felt nothing," and has no interest in such matters. When asked about the experience, she recalls only the facts of her pregnancy and her child's birthweight. She reports that she did not enjoy nursing the child and felt overstimulated by its constant demands on her time. After two months, she decided to give the child up for adoption.

Doris spends most of her evenings sewing and makes her own clothes. She notes, "I don't have much use for other people. When I'm working, I got to be with them because it's my job." Due to her less than adequate reading skills, a picture vocabulary test is used to assess her intellectual level. She scores within the normal range. Based on both the observations made and the information gathered in the clinical interview, it is recommended that Doris be placed in a position that does not require childcare. Her lack of emotion, preference for solitary activity, and inability to empathize with the emotional states and interpersonal needs of others, prerequisites to nurturance, make her a poor candidate for a caretaking role.

1 Numbers mark aspects of the case most consistent with DSM criteria, and do not necessarily indicate that the case "meets" diagnostic criteria in this respect.

Schizoid Personality Disorder DSM-IV Criteria

A. A pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

(1) neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family

(2) almost always chooses solitary activities

(3) has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person

(4) takes pleasure in few, if any, activities

(5) lacks close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives

(6) appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others

(7) shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity

B. Does not occur exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia, a Mood Disorder with Psychotic Features, or another Psychotic Disorder, and is not due to the direct physiological effects of a general medical condition.

Note: If criteria are met prior to the onset of Schizophrenia, add "Premorbid," e.g. "Paranoid Personality Disorder (Premorbid)."

Reproduced with permission from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Copyright 1994 American Psychiatric Association.

be greatly discouraged. Through childhood, future schizoids would fail to make friends and seldom join in peer group activities, preferring instead to remain alone. At school, they would probably be regarded as shy but intellectually normal. For schizoid children, restricted interpersonal experiences might produce a kind of self-imposed mental retardation, a lack of interest in the social world leading to broadly generalized skill and communication deficits. Other children might perceive them as odd or strange and subject them to merciless teasing, evoking the residuals of anxiety or anger, further contributing to their social alienation.

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