Solitary “disorders” – 2

Of the mental disorders identified with solitaries (see last entry), the broad brush of schizoid is often applied. The DSM-IV describes Schizoid Personality Disorder (301.20) as

a pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings.

The individuals with this disorder

appear to lack a desire for intimacy, seem indifferent to opportunities to develop close relationships, and do not seem to derive much satisfaction from being part of a family or other social group. They prefer spending time by themselves, rather than being with other people. They often appear to be socially isolated or “loners” and almost always choose solitary activities or hobbies that do not include interaction with others. They prefer mechanical or abstract tasks .. and take pleasure in few, if any activities.

A broad brush indeed! A brushstroke that paints introverts as a class, with no particular concession to the legitimacy of an inner life, just a certain dull insensitivity viewed from without.

Disorder must be linked to dysfunction. Only more specific criteria can begin to demonstrate this. But what to make of the advanced criteria?

  • “indifferent to approval or criticism of others and do not appear to be bothered by what others may think of them”
  • “oblivious to the normal subtleties of social interaction and … social cues … without visible emotional reactivity”
  • “rarely experience strong emotions such as anger and joy … appear cold and aloof.”

The DSM-IV goes to lengths to distinguish these behaviors from similar ones during depression and related mood disorders, personality disorders, and disorders prompted by substance use. “Individuals who are ‘loners’ may display personality traits that might be considered schizoid. Only when these traits are inflexible and maladaptive and cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress do they constitute Schizoid Personality Disorder.”

With Schizotypal Personality Disorder (301.22), the criteria tightens, and here we see the traditional solitary and the schizoid part ways from the schizotypal. In fact the behaviors become focused on the external world far more than the Schzoid. Characteristics include pursuit of an assumed paranormal power, secret idiosyncratic language, paranoia, eccentricity in circumstances that are outside the social or public context (such as dress or manners). The DSM-IV tacks on the usual indifference to social relations, but distinguishes between the awkward introvert and the agitated schizotypal.

This is not a large population. In fact, over half of schizotypals have a concurrent depression, complicating diagnosis. Only 3% of the population is schizotypal, and of that even fewer cases actually develop into psychotic symptoms of paranoia, delusion or true schizophrenia. Most of the cases have a clear genetic or hereditary correlation. Though not mentioned, every introvert can probably cite environmental factors in upbringing. Perhaps the schizotypal does not have such factors in their upbringing because they are genetic, not environmental.

Psychohistory identifies historical personalities by observing psychological characteristics. Major figures like Hitler and Luther have been traditional objects of scrutiny, and various mystics, gurus, and creative personalities likewise lend themselves to typing. We can easily try to type mystics and high-profile solitaries like Simon Stylites, let’s say, but the game is futile when we look at the self-effacing profile of the historical hermit, especially in terms of culture.

Of course, how a person came to be a hermit is grist for the psychological mill, and the conjectures have their place. But the solitary has a more compelling motive for solitude than the psychiatric or the dysfunctional. Or certainly should. Understanding the self is part of weaving together the mesh of a philosophy of solitude that encompasses all aspects of reality, including discussions of personality.