Schizoid personality disorder

We recognise that the system of personality disorder diagnosis can be considered controversial. It is completely your choice which term, if any, you want to use, knowing that your doctor or care team may use another.

We appreciate that the feelings and behaviours associated with personality disorders are very difficult to live with, and everyone deserves understanding and support. We recognise the diversity in understanding of experiences and preferences around terms individuals may wish to use. We are also aware that some professionals disagree with the system of personality disorder diagnosis, and that some people given the diagnosis find it unhelpful and stigmatising.

The terms used on Counselling Directory are those that are generally used in the UK, currently. We refer to these terms throughout, with the hope of reaching and supporting as many people as possible.

Our personality is constructed by deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour and thoughts, and is essentially the way in which we relate to, perceive and think about the world and ourselves. Personality traits are how we exhibit our personality in a wide range of social and personal contexts.

Many people will exhibit a personality that is considered 'normal' and is harmonious with expectations of society. However there are some who may show signs of a personality disorder - a condition where their pattern of behaviour and inner experience deviates from the norm and affects their ability to lead a happy and healthy life.

Schizoid personality disorder in particular can cause sufferers and those around them a great deal of distress. This page will explore the condition in more depth, looking into causes and symptoms as well as the recommended forms of schizoid personality disorder treatment.

What is schizoid personality disorder? 

Schizoid personality disorder is a relatively uncommon condition where sufferers have a significantly limited range of emotional experience and expression. As a result they will attempt to avoid social situations and close interaction with others - preferring to spend time alone, absorbed in their own thoughts and feelings. Those with the condition can find it difficult to lead normal lives, as any kind of communication - in the workplace, at home or in any interpersonal setting - is hindered.

Thought to affect more men than women, schizoid personality disorder tends to surface during early adulthood and gradually develops into a long-standing pattern of emotional and social detachment. Due to their difficulty in expressing emotions, sufferers tend to be introverted and come across cold, dull and distant. They will typically fear any kind of intimacy and thus relationships and sexual experiences are severely limited, and may even cease altogether.

Although sufferers may be more open to family members, they rarely maintain close bonds. They are largely uninterested in social interaction and popularity, and consider it safer and far more comfortable to be solitary and follow rigid, familiar routines. They are creatures of predictable habit and like to daydream, even though they are very much in touch with reality.

Schizoid personality disorder on the schizophrenic spectrum

Schizoid personality disorder is considered to be part of the schizophrenic spectrum of disorders. This refers to a group of Class A personality disorders that have similar symptoms of behaviour - particularly the lack of emotional expression and the inability to form social connections. These include schizophrenia and schizotypal personality disorder.

Evidence suggests that schizoid personality disorder could be the start of schizophrenia, or potentially even a very mild form of it. Sufferers are in touch with reality, however if they go on to develop schizophrenia this could slip, as the condition is characterised by hallucinations and paranoia.

Schizoid personality disorder symptoms 

People with schizoid personality disorder are often considered to be 'loners' who start developing signs of emotional and social detachment during early adulthood. In some cases however, schizoid personality disorder symptoms can first become noticeable during childhood, and generally occur across a range of social and personal situations. If someone has schizoid personality disorder, they will typically have the following symptoms: 

  • avoidance of social activities
  • do not express any strong feelings
  • little interest in or desire for sexual relationships
  • emotional coldness and detachment
  • experience confusion about how to respond to normal social cues
  • almost always choose solitary activities and jobs
  • feel unmotivated and tend to underperform at school or work
  • value independence and have very few close friendships
  • enjoy few activities, if any
  • indifferent to praise or criticism
  • exhibit little observable change in mood
  • feel unable to experience pleasure. 

Covert and overt schizoid personalities

It is important to note that in addition to the typical symptoms, individuals with schizoid personality disorder may show signs of a 'covert' schizoid personality or an 'overt' one. Those with covert symptoms may not appear to have the personality disorder on the surface. They will come across sociable, will have stable jobs and many acquaintances. However they do not have any deep emotional bonds and will keep their feelings very private. 

Overt schizoids in comparison will show obvious signs of a personality disorder. In conversations they may come across boring, emotionless and they tend to prefer having very little social contact. People with overt schizoid personality disorder are more likely to spend time alone and so not many people will come into contact with them. 

Causes of schizoid personality disorder 

The cause of schizoid personality disorder is unknown. However, several theories have been suggested to try to explain the development of the disorder. Social theorists consider learned behaviour responses to cause the disorder, biological theorists suggest chromosomal or nervous system disorders as the cause and psychodynamic theorists believe deficiencies in ego development are related. These are just theories though and there is currently insufficient evidence to back any of them up. 

Research has also suggested that the disorder may be associated with schizophrenia as many of the same risk factors are shared. However people with schizoid personality disorder do not have schizophrenia, and the disorder is less disabling.

The various risk factors that are thought to increase a person's chances of developing schizoid personality disorder include:

  • Having a parent or close relative who has schizoid personality disorder, or one of the other conditions listed on the schizophrenic spectrum.
  • Growing up with a parent who was cold or unresponsive to emotional needs.
  • Hypersensitivity or being 'thin-skinned' in early teenage years and having these needs treated with scorn or annoyance.
  • Suffering a form of abuse or neglect as a child.

As schizoid personality disorder appears to originate within the family and childhood environment, a key preventative measure is considered to be the provision of a nurturing and emotionally stimulating upbringing for children where they can express themselves freely.

When is it time to seek help?

Although in many cases schizoid personality disorder symptoms will decrease in severity over time, the condition is long-term and can significantly impact health, well-being and a sufferer's overall way of life. In some cases living with the condition can be so stressful that sufferers go on to develop complications such as major depression, anxiety disorders as well as alcohol and drug addictions. The condition can also cause a great deal of distress to loved ones and family members who may misunderstand their behaviour and may therefore unknowingly make life more stressful for the sufferer. 

Seeking help as soon as possible is essential for successful treatment of schizoid personality disorder, however social isolation tends to prevent sufferers from making this important step to recovery. Their lack of motivation for change may be a further obstacle, and if they do seek help they may struggle to interact with the professionals providing their treatment. Often those with the condition don't even feel as if there is anything wrong. Despite these complications, many people respond well to schizoid personality disorder treatment and most programmes are designed to focus on the maintenance of relationships.

Diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder

A trained mental health professional will typically diagnose schizoid personality disorder. This will begin with a physical examination to determine whether any other problems may be causing your symptoms, followed by a psychiatric assessment. This may involve questionnaires to assess your symptoms and thoughts, as well as an interview which looks into your childhood, relationships and job history to help the mental health professional identify potential risk factors of schizoid personality disorder. 

Your responses from all the tests will help your doctor or psychologist to reach a diagnosis, but they will also compare your symptoms to the criteria stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). If you show four or more of the characteristics listed for schizoid personality disorder, you are likely to be referred for appropriate treatment.

Schizoid personality disorder treatment

The recommended form of schizoid personality disorder treatment tends to be psychotherapy with a counsellor or psychotherapist specialising in treating this condition. Medications can also be prescribed to help with troubling symptoms and additional problems that may be related to schizoid personality disorder, including depression, anxiety and addiction.

Counselling

Goals of counselling for schizoid personality disorder tend to be solution-focused to help individuals solve immediate problems and crises. Often those who do seek treatment are under a great deal of stress or pressure and are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with their symptoms. They rarely want to commit to long-term treatment, therefore therapists may choose to use simple treatment goals to alleviate current stressors in the individual's life.

Another key incentive of therapists working with people with schizoid personality disorder is to provide the right balance of support and stability to ensure a trusting relationship can develop between the client and therapist. This will be gradual and may not ever fully develop, but therapists will respect their client's boundaries and will not look to confront them on these types of issues.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) 

Many therapists will employ cognitive-restructuring exercises in schizoid personality disorder treatment as these can help to address certain types of irrational thoughts that may be influencing the person's behaviour. CBT enables sufferers to become more self-aware of their behaviour and thought patterns and will teach them coping skills to promote progression - essentially helping to ease their anxiety and reluctance in pursuing social relationships.

Group therapy 

Due to the reduced capacity or desire for sufferers of schizoid personality disorder to form relationships and interact with others, health professionals providing treatment need to ensure they use an approach that is non-intrusive and allows for the gradual alleviation of fears of social interaction. Group therapy is particularly effective for this, but tends to be better as an advanced form of treatment rather than something introduced early on. Here sufferers have the chance to conquer fears of intimacy by engaging with others in a supportive environment. The therapist will be careful to protect them from criticism in the group during these sessions.

Medication

The most common types of medication prescribed to individuals with schizoid personality disorder tend to be antidepressants, but stimulants may be given to provide a mental boost. These can be useful in cases where a person with schizoid personality disorder is feeling particularly low and unmotivated and need something to give them an extra boost in social situations.

Self-help techniques

It is generally thought that sufferers can significantly help themselves if they make an attempt to socialise. This may go against their core nature, but it can help with any feelings of loneliness and will make a difference to their health and well-being in the long-term. Neglecting all social aspects of life is never a good thing to do and can have negative consequences. Getting a job or joining a club that requires being around people for long periods of time is considered particularly important for helping sufferers to overcome symptoms and gain some control over schizoid personality disorder. 


What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?

Currently there are no official rules or regulations in place to stipulate what level of training and experience a counsellor needs in order to treat schizoid personality disorder, however we do recommend that you check your therapist is experienced in the area for which you are seeking help.

The NHS recommends psychotherapy as a form of treatment for personality disorders.

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