If you are familiar with psychology, then you may have heard the term ‘schizoid personality disorder’. It is a type of personality disorder in which the individual has a consistent pattern of emotional flatness and detachment from social relationships.
In fact, it is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders (ICD-10), both of which are widely used by mental health professionals for diagnosing psychiatric disorders.
For example, the DSM-5 criteria for being diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder include the following:
- Lack of interest in close relationships, often including being part of a family;
- Strong preference for solitary activities;
- Lack of interest and enjoyment when it comes to activities that involve other people, including sexual experiences;
- Emotional coldness and detachment;
- Having (and desiring to have) none or very few close people other than first-degree relatives;
- Being indifferent to praise and criticism.
The ICD-10 also features the following criteria:
- Difficulty to express warm and tender feelings for other people;
- Being overly focused on introspection and fantasy;
- Strong insensitivity to social norms.
However, some psychiatrists think that schizoid personality disorder should be removed from these lists. And it is generally believed to be extremely rare and poorly understood.
But is schizoid personality type really a disorder?
When I first read about this personality disorder, I was surprised by how much I fit the criteria – almost all of them. It was quite a shocking revelation – for my whole life, I believed that I was just very introverted, not that I was suffering from some kind of personality disorder.
This is when I decided to dig a little deeper and check the resources in other languages. The findings were eye-opening.
This is what I discovered:
Karl Leonhard’s theory of accentuated personality
German psychiatrist Karl Leonhard came up with a theory of personality accentuation. An accentuated personality is basically an intermediate state between normality and psychopathology.
If a person’s private and professional life doesn’t suffer and they can still adapt to the environment, then their personality traits are more about exceeding the average rather than indicating mental illness. Thus, we can say that people with accentuated personalities are on the border of normality.
In simple words, some people have distinctive personality traits that make them differ a little too much from the rest. Moreover, their behaviors and traits may look eccentric, socially unacceptable, or weird to others. But if this individual can still function as a part of society, then receiving a mental disorder diagnosis is out of the question.
According to Leonhard, there are a few different types of accentuated personalities, such as:
- Demonstrative personality
- Hyper-exact personality
- Hyper-perseverant personality
- Unruly personality
- Hyperthymic personality
- Dysthymic personality
- Cyclothymic personality
- Exalted personality
- Anxious personality
- Emotive personality
Lichko’s classification of accentuated personalities
Russian psychiatrist Andrey Lichko developed Leonhard’s theory into a classification of accentuated personalities. The types included:
So let’s focus on the description of a schizoid personality, according to Lichko’s classification. One of the most noticeable traits of this type of accentuated personality is the tendency to theorize things and immerse oneself in the inner world.
This is a person who constantly thinks and analyzes themselves and life. They are extremely introverted and gain energy from solitary activities. While an individual with schizoid personality traits is engaged in intense thinking most of the time, they have little desire or energy for social and practical activities. They literally live in their inner world and enjoy it.
Someone with a schizoid personality is often an erudite and tends to have a high IQ. They are avid readers who boast vast knowledge of different things. They prefer careers in fields like science, philosophy and arts where they can fully unleash the potential of their highly abstract minds.
When it comes to romantic, social and professional relationships, things get tough for a schizoid personality. These people are emotionally detached, lack empathy and find it difficult to express their thoughts and feelings to others. They have a hard time relating to and establishing an emotional connection with another human being.
For this reason, they don’t do well in managerial jobs or career paths that involve social interaction. They are also extremely selective when it comes to their social circle. It basically includes only those people with whom they can discuss the topics of their interest and have meaningful conversations.
So what do you think? Should people with a schizoid personality be considered mentally ill?
Did you notice how many points in Lichko’s description of the schizoid type of accentuated personality fit the DSM-5 and ICD-10 criteria? So what does it mean?
It means that the US mental healthcare system clearly considers this type of personality a deviation from the norm. At the same time, the above-described theories by foreign psychiatrists seem to regard people with such characteristics as having distinct personality traits rather than being mentally ill.
It does make you think because it is not the only instance when certain behaviors and traits make their way into mental disorder manuals specifically in the USA.
For example, ADHD was discovered and classified by American psychiatrists. However, it is not recognized in some countries, such as Russia, and is diagnosed and treated differently in some others, such as France. There is still debate about whether it’s a valid diagnosis. In fact, some US psychiatrists, such as Thomas Szasz and Dr. Richard Saul, claim that it’s a fictitious disorder.
Just consider the following. When you receive a personality disorder diagnosis, you will most probably take medications and have regular appointments with mental health professionals. It means that you will rely on the healthcare system heavily for the rest of your life.
So what if all this is a part of our capitalist society’s never-ending game of greed? Could certain mental illness diagnoses have been invented in order to medicate as many people as possible? I will leave this idea to your judgment.
Let’s go back to the schizoid personality now.
So we have an emotionally detached, highly withdrawn person who is immersed in thoughts most of the time and has little or no interest in social activities. A person who doesn’t fit in and doesn’t want to. Someone who doesn’t understand or follow the unwritten rules of social behavior and etiquette.
Is it a portrait of a mentally ill individual or just someone who has fewer social needs than an average person?
Maybe some people are born with a lower need for belonging and relating to other human beings. Maybe they enjoy the elusive world of fantasies and introspection more than the mundane reality of everyday life. If they are happy and their behavior doesn’t harm other people, it’s their right to be and live this way.
After all, where is the border of normality and who decides on this? Maybe we should stop stigmatizing people for being different and appreciate them for what they are.
I believe that everyone can contribute to the world, no matter how social they are. Doing something good or significant doesn’t necessarily mean connecting with other people. In fact, some of the greatest thinkers in history are believed to have had schizoid personality traits. A few examples include Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Hawking, and Isaac Asimov.
So, if you fit the descriptions above, don’t rush to consider yourself mentally ill just yet. First of all, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do your personality traits, thought patterns, or behaviors cause you or other people significant problems?
- If yes, do these problems affect your daily routine and different aspects of your life?
If the answer to both questions is no, then it is unlikely that you suffer from mental illness. You probably just have schizoid personality traits, like I do.
In other words, if your behaviors don’t harm you or other people, even if they are not socially acceptable; if you enjoy your lifestyle, however solitary and unconventional it may be, then you are just being yourself. And in our conformist world, it is not a bad thing at all.
Let’s just be ourselves and contribute to this world in our own unique way. And we don’t have to fit in to do that.
- Karl Leonhard. Akzentuierte Persönlichkeiten. 2. Auflage (Accentuated Personality, 2d edition). Berlin, 1976, ISBN 3-437-10447-0
- Andrey Lichko. Psychopathy and Personality Accentuations in Teenagers. Saint-Petersburg: Rech, 2010.
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