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Aetiology of Schizoid Personality Disorder

Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) is a chronic and pervasive condition characterized by disruptive patterns of thought, behavior, and functioning. This type of personality disorder is believed to be relatively rare and tends to affect more men than women. Individuals with schizoid personality disorder are also at risk of depression. Schizoid Personality Disorder is classified under the DSM-IV odd and eccentric behavior group of personality disorders, referred to as Cluster B. The term schizoid is used to describe people who have a tendency to turn their focus of attention inward and away from the outside world (Barlow & Durand, 2009). In this article, we review the aetiology of Schizoid Personality Disorder – including social, biological and psychological factors.

The schizoid personality is excessively introverted with a very strong preference for introspection and solitary pursuits (McWilliams, 2006). Individuals with this disorder tend to be detached, distant and indifferent to social or close relationships. They are loners who prefer solidarity activities and rarely express emotion. Although the name of this disorder sounds alike to schizophrenia whereby they might have some similar symptoms, it is important to note that schizoid personality disorder is not the same as schizophrenia. Many individuals with this disorder can function well and are in touch with reality where as those who suffer from schizophrenia are detached from reality (McWilliams, 2006; Barlow & Durand, 2009; Fulton & Winokur, 1993). Schizoid Personality Disorder has also been likened to Avoidant Personality Disorder. However, the main difference is that the avoidant person has the desire for social involvement whereas the schizoid person has a preference for aloneness and is indifferent to acceptance or rejection by others (Akhtar, 2006).

The term schizoid was coined by Eugen Bleuler in 1908 to define a natural human tendency to direct attention towards one’s inner life and away from the external world (Akhatar, 1987). The central pathology of SPD appears to be deficits in or an excessively low ability to, experience positive affectivity. The features of schizoid adaptation are characterized by withdrawn passivity, daydreaming, avoidance and detachment. It is said that people who exhibit these characteristics are shy, overly sensitive and eccentric (Little, 2007). Fairbairn described three prominent characteristics of schizoid personalities: These include: 1. an attitude of omnipotence, 2. an attitude of detachment and, 3. preoccupation with fantasy and inner reality. Guntrip (1969) cited in Akhtar (1987) outlined nine characteristics of the schizoid personality disorder. These include: introversion, withdrawal, narcissism, self-sufficiency, a sense of superiority, loss of affect, loneliness, depersonalization and tendency towards regression.

Social Factors

While psychosocial models for the aetiology of SPD are lacking, it is likely that a sustained history of isolation during infancy and childhood with encouragement and modeling of interpersonal withdrawal, indifference, and detachment by parental figures contributes to the development of schizoid personality traits. In this context, the schizoid personality disorder is seen to have its roots in the family of the affected person.

These families are typically emotionally reserved, have a high degree of formality, and have a communication style that is aloof and impersonal. Parents usually express inadequate amounts of affection to the child and provide insufficient amounts of emotional stimulus. This lack of stimulus during the first year of life is thought to be largely responsible for the person’s disinterest in forming close, meaningful relationships later in life. People with schizoid personality disorder have learned to imitate the style of interpersonal relationships modeled in their families. In this environment, the schizoid personality fails to learn basic communication skills that would enable them to develop relationships and interact effectively with others. Their communication is often vague and fragmented, which others may find confusing.

Persons with Schizoid Personality Disorder tend to freeze and respond inappropriately when interacting with others, coming across as mechanical, socially incompetent, arrogant, and/or totally self-absorbed (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2006). There is little joy in sensuous bodily experiences like having sex, walking on the beach, or watching a sunset that most people enjoy. These individuals often do not value the companionship or approval of others, nor are they particularly bothered by rejection or criticism. Rarely do they express emotion or display facial expressions, and frequently shrug off both positive and unpleasant situations with the same seemingly passive and indifferent manner (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2006).

Biological Factors

Research has pointed to biological causes of autism being linked to the cause of Schizoid Personality Disorder. It has been suggested that a biological dysfunction found in both autism and schizoid personality disorder combine with early learning or early problems around interpersonal relationships to produce the social deficits that define schizoid personality disorder (Barlow & Durand, 2009). This disorder is also generally linked to difficult temperament, innate behavioral tendencies that are present at birth.

This indicates that personality behaviors may result from interactions between genetically determined temperament and specific environmental influences. For example, the general consensus is that babies that are born with highly sensitive and easy to over stimulate temperaments, may be emotionally distant to caregivers who are over attentive or intrusive. This “difficult” temperament has been linked to the development of Schizoid Personality Disorder (Hansell & Damour, 2005).

Psychological Factors

The psychoanalytic perspective suggests that the schizoid personality develops or forms at the oral stage of development (Infancy, 0-18months) as a type of survival response to deal with “broken trust”. If the caregiver is sufficiently harsh or even negligent, the infant’s reaction may force them to return or regress to a stage of detachment (Slavik, Sperry & Carlson, 1992). If the infant perceives the caregiver to be overwhelmed or preoccupied, they may learn to be supportive of their parents by not making demands. In order to either protect the caregiver from overwhelming rage or to seek its own security, the child may learn to suppress feelings, reject their true self and internalize their environment. This may result in a very withdrawn and distant persona synonymous with Schizoid Personality Disorder.

From this perspective of aetiology, the schizoid infant has internalized cold and hostile representations of the caregiver along with the few possible representations of a “good” caregiver. Due to the infants inability to discriminate the two and in having no other way to defend their self as an infant except through denial of the representations as a whole, the child is left with little alternative but to block out the reality of this difficult to bear existence and turn inward to seek protection and security.

Consequently, the child shapes itself into isolation, withdrawal and emptiness (Slavik, Sperry & Carlson, 1992). As a consequence, the schizoid character is actually a defensive position that results in a detached interpersonal style. People with this disorder tend to be critical of themselves and tend to withdraw to get away from bad feelings whereby the more they withdraw, the more they criticize themselves and then, the more they criticize themselves the more they continue to withdraw thus they get stuck in a cycle of bad feelings and withdrawing.

Schizoid Personality Disorder can become apparent in childhood and adolescence. Although this disorder is uncommon in clinical settings, it is slightly more common in males than females. Schizoid Personality Disorder has also been shown to have increased prevalence in individuals with schizophrenia or Schizotypal Personality Disorder (APA, 2000). It’s important to note that individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds may at times exhibit defensive behaviors and interpersonal styles that could be mistaken for Schizoid Personality Disorder.

For example, immigrants may present with constricted affect and solitary activities while they are striving to assimilate into their new culture and environment. As a result, such individuals may be perceived as cold, hostile or indifferent, consistent with the characteristic behaviors of this disorder (APA, 2000).

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. Brad Arnold #

    I would like to point out the common relationship between RAD (reactive attachment disorder) – avoidant, and SPD (schizoid personality disorder), which is further along on the avoidant scale. This can be commonly misdiagnosed as psychopathy.

    “For example, the general consensus is that babies that are born with highly sensitive and easy to over stimulate temperaments, may be emotionally distant to caregivers who are over attentive or intrusive. This “difficult” temperament has been linked to the development of Schizoid Personality Disorder (Hansell & Damour, 2005).”

    My mom had BPD (borderline personality disorder), and engaged in “adversely tickling” plus was highly reactive to baby crying. Later emotional and verbal abuse too place.

    October 28, 2013

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