Introvert or schizoid?

I always thought I was just an ‘extreme’ introvert. And then I came across schizoid personality (disorder).

Back in 2012, I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain – and it changed everything for me. I finally had a word, a term, a frame of reference which enabled me to understand why I was indeed such a ‘quiet’ person; why I preferred curling up with a book over boozin’ it up; why I’d hardly ever speak unless spoken to. 

Previously the preserve of personality psychologists, Quiet brought the concept of introversion into the mainstream. It gave birth to a whole new ‘introvert discourse’, with an array of books blogs podcasts and ‘be your BEST self’-esque life coaching programmes all espousing how super powerful and down right bad-ass being an introvert could be. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed reading those books and engaging with that discourse over the years. However, there came a point when certain aspects of it started to niggle at me.

For instance, that whole thing about how introverts aren’t ‘anti-social, just differently social’. How being an introvert isn’t the same as being a loner (heaven forbid!). How introverts still seek, and enjoy, the company of other people. 

I didn’t relate to any of this. 

I am asocial. I don’t seek out and enjoy the company of other people. I lean loner all the way.

Nevertheless, I still put all this down to the fact that I was an introvert – just a more ‘extreme’ one. 

Until one day, in the spring of 2021, I came across the term ‘schizoid’. And, again, everything changed. Just like it did ten years ago when I read Cain’s Quiet and learnt that I was an introvert. 

Turns out the reason I don’t identify with some of the rhetoric around introversion is because I’m more than a ‘mere’ introvert – I also have a schizoid personality. 

I’ve learnt that my socially distant ways can’t be explained by my introverted temperament alone.  I also have a particular set of personality traits/adaptations – ‘schizoid’ traits/adaptations – which also have a lot to do with it. As such, it would be more accurate to describe certain aspects of my ‘quiet’ as ‘schizoid’, not ‘introverted’.  

Let me explain further by way of exploring two key differences between introverts and schizoids. 

(If you want a heads up on what ‘schizoid’ is, click here to read my introductory guide).

Introverts like to be alone because people drain them. Schizoids like to be alone because people destroy them. 

Introverts aren’t adverse to socialising. Whilst they may not be the biggest party animals, nor have the largest social networks, an introvert will, generally speaking, still enjoy hanging out with family and close friends; they don’t mind a cosy gathering every now and again. 

However, introverts like their alone time as well – especially after spending time with others. 

This is because introverts tend to have highly-reactive nervous systems which make them “more sensitive to social… stimulation” (Cain, Quiet). This means hanging out with people a lot – or maybe even just a little – literally drains them of energy. So this is why the introvert seeks out solitude – in order to recover from the very real social exhaustion that sets in after being around people for too long.

Socialising sure as hell wears me out. However, my introverted temperament isn’t the only thing that drives my preference for solitude. 

Spending time with people also leaves me feeling disconnected from myself, suffocated, dissipated; splayed open. I need time alone afterwards to not only replenish my energy in the way that Cain and so many other introvert writers describe, but to also stitch myself back together again, to reestablish a sense of my “core, inviolable self” (McWilliams, 2006).  

This is a feature of the schizoid personality. 

The schizoid likes to be alone because they fear others will impinge upon, invade, and ‘take them over’, leading to a loss of self. 

The “whole effort” of the schizoid individual is to “preserve his self.” The schizoid feels “safe only in hiding, and isolated” because “relationship of any kind with others is experienced as a threat to [their] identity.”  

R. D. Laing, The Divided Self

Ultimately, the introvert’s preference for solitude and the schizoid’s preference for solitude are down to very different things. When we’re talking about introversion, we’re talking about nervous systems, innate dispositions; when we’re talking about schizoid personality, we’re talking about just that – a personality type; the product of a particular set of psychodynamics, internal processes/patterns. 

Introverts are okay with intimacy. Schizoids avoid it. 

The Introvert Discourse likes to highlight how much introverts cherish close relationships. Furthermore, it seeks to emphasise their particular talent for establishing deep and intimate connections with others. Introverts are in their element when there’s no need for any bullshit small talk and they get to have a genuine heart-to-heart conversation instead.

Now, I’m no fan of small talk either.  But the thought of engaging in an honest, open conversation, in which I divulge tidbits of information about myself, disclose my innermost thoughts, and display my innermost feelings, fucking terrifies me, quite frankly. As a result, I’ve never related to the ‘introverts-seek-deep-connections’ memes. 

I’m really uncomfortable with letting people in, with allowing people to get to know me. I don’t want to feel vulnerable, intruded upon. I feel that by giving something of myself away, I’d be giving my self away; I would lose my sense of self. 

And this is not so much an introvert thing, as it is a schizoid thing.  

In contrast to the (average) introvert, for the schizoid, “social contacts that are mere acquaintances, or are evasive and unsupportive are usually preferred, while genuine contact is avoided” (Wheeler, 2013). It feels safer for the schizoid to keep their connections with others superficial, transient, transactional.  This is because, as has already been noted, the schizoid fears that becoming too attached to another person will result in a loss of self; they will be engulfed, smothered, destroyed. 

To be comprehended in the emotional sense by another person is analogous to the concept of being physically grasped and squeezed.”

R. D. Laing, The Divided Self

Conversely, some schizoids may adopt an extroverted persona when they are around others as a way to protect their inner (‘true’) self from entering into relation with others.  

And furthermore –  some schizoids do manage to establish intimate relationships with others. They might have romantic partners. However, it is not uncommon for these to be “In and Out Relationships”. Elinor Greenberg, an expert on schizoid people, describes these relationships as follows: 

“Initially, [the schizoid] feel[s] very much in love and [they] try to get the other person to reciprocate their feelings. However, as soon as the other person returns their feelings and there are no longer any real barriers to intimacy, they become scared… and find an excuse to back out of the relationship. However, as the time and distance between them and their ex increases, their fear diminishes. They start to feel love and attraction again. This leads them to approach their ex again and try to restart the relationship.”

Elinor Greenberg

This is what’s known as the ‘schizoid dilemma’ – because for all their “deep fear and avoidance of relationships” the schizoid may also, deep down, harbour an “immense longing for relationship” (Wheeler, 2013). 

So maybe the schizoid is not so different from your average introvert after all?! Indeed Nancy Williams, a psychoanalyst who has written about the schizoid personality, has noted that, “Schizoid people often enjoy and feel comfortable with deep conversations with people who appreciate honest communication and are generally non-judgmental” (McWilliams, 2006). 

“Non-judgmental” – that’s what’s key here. The introvert may be slow to warm up, but it takes a hell of a lot more for a schizoid to start talking. Really talking. That’s because people pose a much more significant threat to the schizoid than they do to the introvert. And that’s why the schizoid would rather keep people at arm’s length than allow them to get too close.

“… he had been reminded that that process – getting to know someone – was always so much more challenging than he remembered. He wished, as he often did, that the entire sequence – the divulging of intimacies, the exploring of pasts – could be sped past, and that he could simply be teleported to the next stage, where the relationship was something soft and pliable and comfortable, where both parties’ limits were understood and respected.”

From the novel A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Once I had come across the term schizoid, I had a whole new frame of reference through which to think about what I had previously just thought of as my ‘extreme’ introversion. 

‘Schizoid’ helps me to describe – and perhaps more crucially understand – my solitary lifestyle and my avoidance of relationships, in a more accurate and meaningful way than ‘introvert’ alone. 

Schizoid personality/schizoid personality disorder is barely mentioned in discussions around introversion. And yet, I think a greater awareness of this personality type, of what constitutes schizoid ‘dynamics’ or ‘adaptations’, could help some introverts to understand themselves better, as it has for me. 

Want to know more?

I’ve included links below to the sources referenced in this article if you’re interested in finding out more about schizoid personality (disorder). 

There’ll be plenty more articles on schizoid personality here at Socially Distant – so do subscribe to be notified when new content is published (scroll to the bottom for link). 

Did any of this resonate with you? Are you an introvert? A schizoid? Or both? Feel free to leave a comment below. 

References:

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