The psychosexual model of character development, seen strongly in formulations of the dependent and compulsive personalities, historically has not been emphasized in the development of the schizoid character. Not surprisingly, the schizoid came to be understood only through the development of the object-relations school and its emphasis on the quality of early interpersonal attachments. Lacking almost completely in these attachments, the schizoid was easily formulated in terms of withdrawal from the object world.
The apparent absence of emotion in schizoid persons has always been of interest to psychoanalysts. Because the unconscious is the center of mental life, the meaning of surface behavior is almost never apparently on the surface; some deeper explanation is always lurking underneath, waiting to be uncovered. Behavior is the product of unseen forces, and what you see is almost never what you get. Thus, psychoanalysts have historically put the avoidant and schizoid together as simply schizoid. Arieti (1955), for example, proposed that the insensitivity of the schizoid actually defends against profound fears of rejection to the point that no social longing remains, a statement definitely more characteristic of the contemporary avoidant. We do not find hidden social longing in Leonard, but instead a comfortable interpersonal detachment.
The essential distinction between the passive detachment of the schizoid and the active detachment of the avoidant was not formally made until 1969 by Millon. As noted previously, schizoids were described as being basically incapable of deep emotional experience, and avoidants were described as exceedingly sensitive, vulnerable, and emotionally needy. Schizoids do not desire interpersonal contact, but avoidants long for the acceptance of intimate relationships. Old habits die hard, however, and even today the psychodynamic perspective still regards the avoidant as basically a less withdrawn and more emotionally intact variant of the schizoid. Accordingly, although the following review uses historical accounts to highlight characteristics of the adult schizoid as distinguished from the avoidant, thus clarifying the disorder, it nevertheless distorts the contemporary psychodynamic position somewhat by doing so.
Even before the development of object relations as a formal school, individuals with a contemporary schizoid flavor were well known to psychoanalytic theorists by the 1930s and 1940s. Because psychoanalysis always seeks to go beyond surface behavior, theorists could only distinguish between a false exterior and a more genuine inner core. Some saw deep conflictual drives; others, such as Kretschmer (1925), discussed previously in the biological perspective, saw a frightening soulless void. Menninger (1930, p. 79), for example, states that schizoids present one front for the world, while retreating into an "inner unseen life" that allows no enduring emotional contact. Some are "seclusive, quiet, reserved, serious-minded, unsociable, eccentric," and others are "dull . . . indifferent, often quite pliable, but more often very stubborn." Likewise, Wilhelm Reich (1933) saw schizoids as being isolated, estranged, and apathetic, with a core of "inner deadness."
Perhaps no other psychoanalytic thinker has been as deeply involved with the working of the schizoid mind as Fairbairn (1940), who regarded what he called the schizoid position as the fundamental situation of life: The infant nurses at the breast, but the breast is not a constant presence; it appears and disappears. Formulated symbolically, such universal early experiences suggest that every human being must come to terms with the possibility that our deepest need may inadvertently destroy the very thing we love the most. According to Fairbairn, the infant concludes that love, the presence of the breast, implies death, the absence that follows, causing the schizoid to withdraw to protect the loved object. Fairbairn further stressed depersonalization, derealization, and a disturbance in the sense of reality. His subjects sensed themselves as "artificial," with a "plate-glass" between themselves and others, exhibiting "an attitude of isolation and detachment, and a preoccupation with inner reality" (p. 15). For Fairbairn, schizoids were regarded as incapable of giving or receiving love—a characteristic traced to the role of caretakers, particularly the mother, who "fails to convince her child by spontaneous and genuine expressions of affection that she herself loves him as a person" (p. 13).
We do see a potential for depersonalization and derealization in Leonard, who takes a long time to answer questions, especially those loaded with emotional nuance. Even then, his answers are brief and his facial expressions inappropriate to his words. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether these characteristics have some deep psychodynamic explanation or are the simple product of social detachment. Because the self is the product of interpersonal transactions, we would expect an impoverished sense of self and consequent inability to make emotional contact with others based on simple detachment alone. Certainly, we do not see in Leonard a "preoccupation with inner reality." Instead, we see a deficiency in the capacity to experience pleasure of all sorts, leading to a deficiency of interest in all things internal and external.
The false self is a related idea first crystallized by Deutsch (1942), with her famous as-if personality. Intellectually, these individuals learn the mechanics of relating, while being unable to experience emotions themselves. Others are aware of their lack of normal emotional response, but the as-if personality is not. Deutsch traced this outcome to the impersonal and formal quality of children's early relationships. As a result, their expressions of emotion have a formal, learned, mechanical quality that may seem technically correct within an interpersonal context but betray the ingrained emptiness of their own internal experience. Whereas others eventually notice that something is amiss, schizoids experience others as being like themselves, fellow robots in a robot world. Based on this description, it is possible that there is substantial overlap between the as-if personality and the affectless schizoid, described previously.
Along the same lines, Winnicott (1956, 1945/1958) described the false-self personality. The function of the false self is to protect the true self and react to its failures and experiences, but the false self cannot feel real or genuine. As elaborated by Guntrip (1952, p. 86), such patients are but "neutral observers," watching from a distance, who report feeling "shutoff, out of touch . .. being out of focus or unreal, of not feeling one with people." Following a more severe thread, Laing (1960, p. 87) regarded their experience with others as always being once removed and lacking in immediacy; instead, "everything is dead, including the self."
McWilliams (1994) offers a description of the psychodynamic schizoid personality at less severe levels of functioning. According to McWilliams, schizoid refers to a type of defensive form of withdrawal, not necessarily to primitive level of functioning. In hospitalized catatonic schizophrenics, for example, the defense operates at a psychotic
Hillary, a 22-year-old junior in college, sought counseling at the urging of her dormitory roommate, who felt she might have latent homosexual tendencies. Although this concern proved unjustified, other pathological characteristics were clearly evident.
When asked about her dating experiences, Hillary replied that she never enjoyed herself on dates.1 Not that she found herself disgusted or repelled by the inevitable sexual overtones of dating, but that "those kinds of things simply aren't fun for me." Relationships with same-sex peers were almost nonexistent. When asked if she would miss her roommate after the semester was over, Hillary seemed confused, as if she could not understand what it would be like to miss someone. She avoids invitations to parties, preferring to stay in her room reading or working at her studies. She is an excellent student, majoring in geology. On several occasions, she had been chosen to assist her professors in fieldwork, but could appreciate only the intellectual aspects of the work, not the joy of a mentoring relationship.
Classmates viewed Hillary as distant and aloof. She turned down an opportunity to join a sorority and could name no close friends, with the exception of one cousin back home. Though she was asked out frequently, she had never had more than two dates with a single boy, with one exception. "I think they find me confusing," she said. "They seem interested in me, but I don't understand why, and I'm not really interested in them." In the dormitory, the other girls sometimes referred to her as "Strange Brain," but Hillary did not seem to care. "At least with that reputation they don't try to involve me in things," she said.
Her one significant relationship, with a quiet young man who shared her interest in rocks, lasted only a couple of months. Together, they took nature hikes and commented on the "childish" behavior of their classmates. After a while, however, she found they had nothing to say to each other. Hillary "believes" she would have liked to continue this friendship, but she experienced no dismay over its termination. Indeed, Hillary seems content to sit on the sidelines, while others become perturbed, ecstatic, or hostile about "silly little things." In describing her few relationships, past and present, she seems to be vague, superficial, and naïve, and unable to organize her thoughts. Sometimes, she wanders into irrelevan-cies, such as what shoes certain people preferred, or the physical characteristics of their parents.
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.
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.
level, as seen in their rigid and oppositional effort to minimize stimulation and shut out the world. In the creative genius, she states, the defense constitutes a constructive autistic withdrawal that distances the individual from humanity at large, allowing a new perspective on conventional practices that permits radical reconceptualizations and innovations. The fundamental strategy of schizoids is simply to stand apart, solidifying boundaries and squelching emotions. Their withdrawal from life and experience causes them to appear emotionally blunted. Intellectualization thus serves as a primary defense mechanism.
Like Cloninger, McWilliams (1994, p. 195) writes that the psychodynamic tradition has often noted a "faintly contemptuous" attitude, an "isolated superiority" of many schizoid individuals, perhaps developed as a reaction against the intrusiveness and over-control of others who would socialize them through forced participation. The deepest fear of schizoid persons is engulfment, the notion that others will enmesh them in relationships, thereby obliterating their individuality and identity. Autism thus becomes a form of opposition or defiance against a "devouring external world" (p. 199) that would digest and assimilate them.
When viewed in this way, the schizoid described by McWilliams (1994) may be seen as opposite to the dependent and histrionic personalities. Whereas the dependent seeks fusion with competent others, the schizoid is frightened, repelled, and perhaps even disgusted. Likewise, the schizoid would see the histrionic as being without boundaries, as encouraging encroachment whenever possible, and worse, as manipulating others through subtle seduction. As the reverse of the dependent and histrionic, the schizoid tolerates abandonment and fears engulfment, seeking strength and identity in isolation. Although Leonard is not contemptuous, he is nevertheless relieved at being removed from book checkout and reassigned to the stacks, where he can work alone.
Consider the case of Hillary (see Case 11.2 on page 385), who demonstrates a pattern of behaviors that point to schizoid personality. Across a variety of social arenas, she remains uninvolved and removed from close relationships. Whether dating, mixing with classmates in the dormitory, or interacting with family, Hillary acts more as an observer than a participant. A main concern for her is that she not be involved with others in her world. She avoids parties, not out of fear, like the avoidant, but rather out of a preference for being alone. She promotes her image of being a "strange brain," thus keeping fellow students at bay while remaining completely unconcerned with peer criticism. Moreover, she appears to have little need for interpersonal stimulation and instead enjoys studying and reading. Rarely angry or excited, she prefers to remain on the sidelines, allowing those around her to interact without her. Unlike most college students, dating is not on her list of enjoyable activities. Her one long-term relationship, lasting only two months, ended because she and her boyfriend had "nothing to say" to each other. Hillary finds social involvement and potential sexual experiences neither painful nor rewarding, further underscoring the impression that schizoids are "lacking" personality. But Hillary does have an aloof and "faintly contemptuous" quality, regarding the behavior of other, more social and involved classmates as "childish."
Was this article helpful?
Stop Letting Anxiety Rule Your Life And Take Back The Control You Desire Right Now! You don't have to keep letting your anxiety disorder run your life. You can take back your inner power and change your life for the better starting today! In order to have control of a thing, you first must understand it. And that is what this handy little guide will help you do. Understand this illness for what it is. And, what it isn't.