Schizoid people follow a pattern of seeking intense emotional connection followed by creating distance in order to protect themselves from feeling overtaken or consumed by the other. This may be particularly visible in the sexual realm, but it may occur in other kinds of intimate emotional contact as well.
Larry is a 50-year-old man who did not have any of the obvious characteristics of a schizoid personality. He was married with children, popular with friends, and for the first several months he seemed eager to come to his sessions. But he cut back his sessions when I sent him a postcard while on vacation—he felt I was too involved with him. He accused me of trying to control him when I suggested he join my group and he felt I was trying to take over his life when I had sessions on Columbus Day. Many people fear being over-dependent because of fear of being abandoned or disappointed, but Larry is afraid of being consumed by me. He defended against being taken over by his wife by having an intense relationship with a woman colleague for many years.
Unlike Larry, Phil exhibited several schizoid characteristics immediately. He is a skinny and boyish young man with rigid posture and stilted speech. His affect is flat. He says he feels like Jacques Cousteau looking at all the underwater life. He observes without feeling, “I want to love my girlfriend, but I can’t.” Phil is about to lose a graduate fellowship because he refuses to attend many classes; will not take notes in class; and never hands in papers on time. To follow the rules, Phil explains, feels like being taken over by the school.
Paul becomes obsessed with a woman, texting and speaking several times a day. But when the woman falls in love with him and wants to spend more time with him or have a committed relationship, he withdraws. He starts feeling that he has no time to do his laundry or go running. He may not answer emails or phone calls; he may take a business trip without mentioning it. At some later point, he may contact the woman when he is depressed and have a deep emotional conversation with her; or meet her at a party and enjoy talking to her. But then he won't call or email for weeks or months.
Paul does not want to hurt these women. He longs for love and connection, but he recoils from it out of fear of being consumed by the other person or losing his sense of self.
As we can see with Larry, Phil, and Paul, there is a continuum of schizoid personalities. In Larry’s case, the dynamic emerged over time in the transference relationship between us, while with both Paul and Phil it was palpable almost immediately. In either case, schizoid personalities are difficult to treat because of the patient’s emotional distance and fear of attachment, which often manifests itself in the treatment as a lack of commitment to the work. In order to help the patient, the therapist has to remember that the lack of commitment is a defense. The challenge to the therapist is to remain connected to the patient although he may act as if the therapist and the treatment mean nothing to him. (For more on the schizoid personality, click here.)