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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Schizoid Personality Disorder

Q. I've been looking over a year for a good book explaining schizoid personality disorders in laymen's terms. I'd really like to find true-life accounts in magazines or books. Especially about how someone who loves a person with personality disorder can live with, get along with, and maybe even help in some way. What are the ways to cope; what is helpful and normal in them? There seems to be lots of information about many other types of disorders but I have had trouble finding anything on this. Can you help?

A. Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) is usually defined as "a pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings" (DSM-IV). In common parlance, individuals with SPD are loners and prefer to live that way.

SPD is not common in clinical settings, since these are not folks who seek out treatment. Individuals with SPD are difficult to help, since they do not really appear to want or seek help--though perhaps on some level they may yearn for some kind of connection with others. It is rare that somebody of normal personality structure actually falls in love with an SPD individual, since, by definition, the SPD person will push away attempts at intimacy.

SPD differs from Avoidant Personality Disorder, in that the latter involves social anxiety but a genuine and conscious desire for social relationships. SPD also overlaps with features of schizotypal and borderline personality disorders.

If you want precise descriptions of these various personality disorders, you can find them in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV), available in most libraries and large book stores. You might also take a look at the book, "Personality Disorders in Modern Life", by Theodore Millon and RD Davis. This is written at a level suitable for the intelligent lay person, and contains rich descriptions of SPD and other personality disorders. It also describes treatment for these conditions.

Other books that don't precisely address SPD but that might be helpful to you are: "The Stop Walking on Eggshells Workbook: Practical Strategies for Living with Someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder", by Randi Kreger and JP Shirley; and "How to Live with a Neurotic", by Dr. Albert Ellis. (SPD is not the same as Borderline Personality Disorder, or neurosis, but some of the same methods of dealing with these individuals can be adapted for SPD).

It's harder to find the true life accounts you are seeking, but you may want to check out the website http://groups.yahoo.com/group/avoidant, which contains some more personal accounts of individuals suffering with, or dealing with, avoidant personality traits. Finally, a rule of thumb when dealing with SPD individuals: give them their space and don't push too hard to help--it will only increase their anxiety. At the same time, always realize that below the stand-offish surface, there is often a hurting human being.

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September 2002

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