This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders.
Introversion vs. Schizoid Personality Disorder by Danielle Kilhoffer Soltani
We’ve all known people who were loners, people who either preferred to be alone or who were the victims of society’s tendency to cast out individuals who don’t conform. Oftentimes, introversion and personality-driven isolation are confused and misunderstood. The influence of movies and other media doesn’t exactly build an accurate picture of what these two entities are in real life. Popular culture has definitely latched on to Carl Jung’s idea of introverts and extraverts (Jung published the now-famous text Psychological Types in 1921), but somehow introversion seems to get a bad rap most of the time. Being an introvert has its pros and cons, just like being an extravert. However, introverts’ tendencies to withdraw and look inward attract suspicious glances, raised eyebrows, and even gossip. Let’s take a look at how being introverted is different from a disorder that exists for those who nearly reject all human interaction, Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD).
Personality disorders are stable and long-standing. That is, they are noticeable since childhood or teenage years. If someone you know has just recently started acting like similar to the behaviors in the list below, another problem or life circumstance is to blame. In order to be diagnosed with SPD, you must have 4 or more of the following:
- Doesn’t enjoy or desire close relationships (including family!)
- Almost always chooses solitary activities
- Little interest in sexual experiences with another person
- Takes pleasure in few activities (if any!)
- No close friends (maybe first-degree relatives)
- Indifferent to praise & criticism
- Emotional coldness or detachment
You probably noticed that one of these things specifically describes some people you know, who are noticeably without a personality disorder. That’s because introverts also prefer solitary activities (item #2 on the list!). You probably also know someone who is emotionally cold or detached (item #7). But that person probably enjoys sexual activities with another person (#3) and even has some close friends (#5). So far, SPD is sounding quite different from being an introvert! Let’s take a look at a couple of examples to see these two concepts side by side.
No one in the community really knows what Mr. Parker’s occupation is or if he even has one. His neighbors assume he’s retired. His days with Doctors without Borders halted when his wife passed away of a sudden heart attack while he was volunteering overseas. With no children, Mr. Parker rarely has visitors and knows he needs to get out of the house more. All those years of serving those around him prompted Mr. Parker to consider what he’s done for himself. He misses his wife and sometimes sheds tears when he comes across something of hers he forgot to put away in that special carved chest. Mr. Parker is not interested in the dating scene or even one-night stands. He would enjoy a companion, but the emotional effort coupled with his high expectations makes dating again unattractive. His spiritual beliefs convince him there are no benefits to one-night stands, and he finds them shallow. The gardens around Mr. Parker’s house suggest that the rest of his property is also well-maintained. Oftentimes in the spring and summer, his neighbors will spot him outside watering his tulips and rose bushes while sipping on the morning’s coffee. Besides the occasional run-in at the grocery store, that’s about the only time his neighbor’s catch sight of him. “Always keeps to himself. It’s not healthy. He needs a wife,” your grandmother has commented on occasion.
Now let’s take a look at Phil, who takes things to a whole new level.
The gardens around Phil’s spacious abode are also a glorious sight to see, if you happen to catch a glimpse of them through the bars of the wrought-iron gate that guards his driveway. No one has ever seen Phil’s white Mercedes leave the grounds, but one vehicle is privileged to cross over to the other side once every two weeks: the Toyota Camry of Phil’s younger brother, Connor. Phil’s prowess as an arranger nailed him a position in one of North America’s leading sheet music publishing houses. He works from home and actually invested a modest fortune into state-of-the-art equipment for his home studio. Phil’s music is always “given a test drive” by professionals, and their feedback is mainly delivered to Phil via e-mail by a middle man employed by Phil’s publisher. Supposedly, the existence of a middle man has prevented many a scuffle between passionate musicians, but Phil simply sees it as another layer between him and the outside world. Connor’s indirect encouragement of his brother’s solitude adds another layer to the onion. After all, Connor still goes to the grocery store for Phil after all these years because taking care of family and staying connected to his brother has always been something that Connor feels should be important… something Phil wouldn’t know anything about.
Phil was always too busy with his own solitary ventures to be involved in Connor’s life. In fact, he wouldn’t be bothered to be involved in anyone’s life. Phil and Connor’s mother is always quick to correct Connor when he mentions this. “Honey, he’s just different,” she says. “He loves you, but in his own way. You know that.” Connor’s grade school basketball games were such a chore for Phil. His parents had to drag him there, using a combination of bribery and persuasion. His disinterest would set in once the family loaded up into the car and would carry on throughout the ball-hogging and injuries to the ego that highlight grade-school sports. Phil himself never really was a team player and loathed activities and school projects that required him to have a partner.
Companions and/or sexual partners never appealed to Phil. While Mr. Parker would like a relationship, Phil doesn’t even care. Phil doesn’t desire sex with another human being, let alone a relationship! Despite being a robust male in his late twenties, Phil’s sexual activity level is at a solid zero. Nothing gets his motor running. Or rather, he’s not interested in his motor running, especially with other people. He masturbates occasionally, but he never considers a relationship or even a “friends with benefits” type of thing. The “friends” part is constantly missing because Phil puts zero effort into meeting new people or even reconnecting with old acquaintances. Phil even shuns the stereotypically detached one-night stand. Connor keeps mentioning women he could hook Phil up with, but Phil’s honestly not interested.
Phil and Mr. Parker are quite different. While people could be quick to criticize the retired doc’s preference to be alone, his way of life is actually a reality for many people and is not seen as deviant or criminal-level creepy. However, Phil’s total isolation and lack of connection to even his family makes most people suspect that “something’s not right in the head”. Perhaps the most telling sign of all is related to a desire for sexual contact with another human being (or lack thereof!). Mr. Parker acknowledges the things holding him back from getting a partner. He thinks about the idea of a companion and likes it. However, he knows he’s not willing to start over. Phil is completely different in this regard especially! The thought of sexual intercourse with another human being disgusts him. When it comes down to it, being an introvert is nothing like living with SPD. Popular culture (not actual research and diagnostic criteria) is mostly to blame for the negative press that being an introvert gets.