Schizoid Personality Disorder

Quick Reference

Overview: Characterised by a lack of interest in forming relationships with others and a flattened emotional state.

Link to Offending: Most never come into contact with Criminal Justice. Offences are often unpredictable, may be related to their unusual fantasy life, their lack of empathy for others or the emergence of psychotic symptoms when under stress.

Tips: Be respectful of their need for space within interpersonal relationships and their perception of others as intrusive.

View of Self View of Others Main Beliefs Main Strategy
Self sufficient/Loner Intrusive “Others are unrewarding” “Relationships with others are messy, undesirable” Stay away

Profile of Schizoid Personality

The central features of schizoid personality are an apparent lack of interest in relating to others and a marked emotional detachment. Such individuals often see themselves as loners or misfits, have a strong need for autonomy and perceive other people as intrusive. They may have difficulty experiencing strong emotions and struggle either to reflect on or express their emotional needs. They may have a monotonous quality to their speech and appear reserved, inexpressive, humourless and emotionally flat. They often lead isolated lives, prefer solitary pursuits and frequently withdraw into an engrossing, private fantasy life. For some individuals, despite an outward appearance of self sufficiency there may be an inner longing for closeness, somewhat hampered by their acute sensitivity. For others the need for attachments may be absent. Schizoid individuals may have relatives who suffer from mental illness; they themselves may suffer from depression or anxiety at times of stress, and they cope poorly with change. They may drink heavily in an attempt to ‘fit in’. There is also considerable overlap with Avoidant and Schizotypal PD and Asperger’s Syndrome (Autistic Spectrum Disorder).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) identifies common features:

  • Neither wants nor likes close relationships, including those within a family
  • Nearly always prefers solitary activities
  • Has little interest in sexual activity with another person
  • Enjoys few activities if any
  • Other than close relatives, has no close friends or confidants
  • Does not appear affected by criticism or praise
  • Is emotionally cold, detached or bland.

Relationship to offending

  • Schizoid PD has been shown to hold a modest, but significant relationship with risk of violence. It has been found to be present in 7% of prisoners, with higher rates found among violent and sexual offenders; including a subgroup of sexual murderers.
  • Schizoid personality features may be linked to offending in a number of ways:
    • Schizoid individuals often feel little empathy for others, which might otherwise inhibit aggressive acts.
    • Violence committed by schizoid individuals may be related to an unusual fantasy life.
    • There may be a tendency to over-control and suppress emotions leading to a build up of frustrations and the possibility of an emotional breakdown. At such times, uncharacteristic and sometimes extreme acts of aggression may occur and psychotic symptoms may also emerge.
    • Sexual offences perpetrated by schizoid individuals may be associated with difficulties establishing intimate attachments with adults.
    • Certain emotional elements of the schizoid personality overlap with features of psychopathy (e.g. shallow affect, lack of empathy etc.). This can lead to higher scores on the PCL-R which may be misleading.

Working with Schizoid PD

Tips for one-to-one working:

Respect their need for space
Schizoid individuals may experience others as intrusive, and are generally wary of others. Tolerate silences, limit intrusive questioning, keep a regular structure to sessions, don’t meet too often, and avoid emotionally complex questions.

Adopt a patient approach
For schizoid individuals, the pace of supervision may need to be slow to allow for the gradual establishment of a collaborative relationship. Remember, stubbornness is part of the disorder, and they will always be more rigid and obstinent than you could ever be!

Attempt to facilitate engagement
Negotiate collaborative goals for supervision and weigh up the pro’s and con’s of addressing these. Focus supervision on the goals or life difficulties which directly relate to offending behaviour. Encourage structure, but avoid pushing the offender into social activities.

Stay mindful of becoming detached:
The compliant, passive and at times boring presentation of schizoid individuals may provoke others into becoming detached and withdrawn, thus mirroring the schizoid pathology. It should be recalled that despite an apparent indifference, for certain individuals there may be an underlying hypersensitivity to the comments or behaviour of others. Try and remain consistent, reliable and responsive, during supervision.

Tips for general offender management:

Offending Behaviour Programmes
For some, groupwork is entirely inappropriate, and schizoid individuals will respond with outright refusal, or become increasingly bizarre in their interactions in the group. Such individuals will do better in supervision alone, or some additional individual psychological therapy. Others might be able to participate, but expect – and tolerate – a rather detached, intellectualised and superficial manner. Such individuals are unlikely to change attitudes, but might benefit from the social modelling of interactions in the group.

Sentence planning
This should be guided by an understanding that social interaction for such individuals is likely to be difficult and hold the potential to cause destabilisation. It may be that the risk posed by such individuals will be more appropriately managed by allowing them a degree of freedom and responsibility. Hostel placements and therapeutic communities are contraindicated. Try and keep the number of agencies and professionals involved to a minimum. Avoid change where possible.

Monitor new relationships
Most schizoid individuals will avoid intimate relationships, although they may be interested in sexual relationships. Any new relationship should be monitored carefully as it is likely to be a rather bewildering and stressful experience for the offender. Consider how relevant it might be to the index offence.

Note: Schizotypal personalities are also characterised by anxiety and discomfort within close personal relationships. However, where Schizoid personalities are emotionally flat and unremarkable, Schizotypal individuals may experience psychotic like experiences and behave in an eccentric or odd manner. Their psychotic like experiences will be less severe and cause less distress than those found in schizophrenia, but may include magical or paranoid beliefs and unusual sensory experiences.