- People with schizoid personality disorder have difficulty trusting other people because they believe people are unsafe.
- The secret to being friends with someone with schizoid personality disorder is to go slow, be patient, and avoid asking intrusive questions.
- Most people with schizoid personality disorder yearn for close relationships but are scared of being trapped and abused.
- Their defenses include dissociation, keeping their distance, being self-reliant, and substituting a rich fantasy life for real relationships.
My clients with schizoid personality disorder have experienced some combination of abuse, lack of attunement, neglect, and extreme intrusiveness in their early childhood. Many of them were also born with a sensitive temperament that made them more vulnerable than the average child to this type of abuse and misattunement.
As a result of their childhood experiences, my schizoid clients lack basic trust in other people’s motives, feel unsafe around most people, are very cautious about sharing their feelings and thoughts with other people, and are hypersensitive to domineering and intrusive behavior.
However, unlike what many people believe, most people with schizoid adaptations do yearn for close relationships, but they are very afraid that the price will be too high. They were usually treated as a “thing” to be used during childhood, not a real person. Negotiation was not possible, and the price of connection was allowing oneself to be dominated and used by the other person.
My clients with SPD tell me that they coped with their difficult childhood by learning to dissociate from their body when they felt stressed, keeping their distance from other people, becoming fiercely independent, and by substituting a rich fantasy life for close relationships. They still use those coping mechanisms today.
Those who do have close relationships often maintain their sense of autonomy by finding ways to dilute the intimacy. For example, they may go in and out of the same relationship repeatedly. They leave when they feel trapped and then come back when they feel less afraid and too isolated. It is common for people with SPD to choose people who are not available for a full-time relationship because they live too far away, or are too busy with work, or are married.
Note: In this article I am using the terms schizoid, schizoid adaptation, and SPD as shorthand ways of referring to someone who qualifies for a full diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder. Although the term schizoid disorder sounds similar to schizotypal disorder, and two psychotic disorders--schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder--it is an entirely separate disorder and much less severe than the above three disorders.
So…How do you get someone with this horrific background to open up to you?
The basic method is to build trust and create safety. Interpersonal safety is the primary need of virtually every person I have ever met who suffers from schizoid personality disorder. Yes, they want other things, such as love, respect, and feeling understood, but their priority is feeling safe with the other person.
Everyone is different, but in general if you want someone with a schizoid personality disorder to open up to you, I suggest the following “Do’s” and “Don’ts.”
- Be Patient
This group of people can be slow to warm up and trust new people. They believe that other people are not trustworthy, do not really do care about their thoughts or feelings, and are likely to take advantage of them in some way.
- Go Slow
Do not barrage them with more attention than they seem to want. Take it slow and try to follow their cues about how comfortable or uncomfortable they are as you develop a relationship.
Occasionally, I meet clients with schizoid personality disorder who are overly trusting and form intense close relationships very quickly. In almost every instance, the person with SPD gets panicked by the amount of intimacy and very quickly backs off because they suddenly feel too unsafe.
The relationships that lasted generally involved getting to know the other person more gradually, lots of tests to see if the new friend or potential lover was really trustworthy and whether enough interpersonal distance was built into the relationship.
- Listen to Them
Some of my clients with schizoid issues report that I am the first person to ever really listen to them, show genuine interest in their feelings and opinions, and try to understand what concerns them. Taking the time to listen and show interest in your schizoid friend’s real thoughts and reactions to life (without being too nosy) is likely to increase the person’s desire to connect with you.
- Tell the Truth
Most of my schizoid clients respond well to the truth—even when it is awkward. They like to know what is really going on and it diminishes their fear that you have a hidden agenda.
- Be Predictable
My clients with schizoid personality disorder feel safer when there are predictable rules that everyone is following. They tend to relax when they know what to expect from the people around them. In their childhood experience, unpredictable adults were likely to be dangerous.
- Don’t tell them what they are feeling
My schizoid clients often find it frightening when other people presume to tell them what they are feeling—even when the other person is right. They tell me that it feels intrusive and presumptuous and takes away their ability to choose how and when to reveal themselves.
- Don’t tell them what to do
They spent their early life ordered around by other people. Now that they are finally in control of their own life, they want to make their own decisions. This also means that you should avoid giving them unasked for advice.
- Don’t assume you know how what is going on inside them
Most of my schizoid clients are hard to read. Even after 40+ years of doing therapy, I still would never guess what many of clients with SPD are really thinking and feeling. They can fake looking normal and at ease really well. When they do reveal their real feelings to me, I am often quite surprised.
- Don’t be pushy
Some people with SPD do not know that they can say “no” to other people’s requests. They may go along to be agreeable because they are used to being pushed around, or because they have trouble determining what they really want. It is better for your friendship to not take a dominate role when you become frustrated by their indecision or slow pace. Let them set the pace.
- No means no
There are three reasons why you should be extra sensitive to even the weakest “no” you get from a person with Schizoid Personality Disorder:
- It is very hard for many people with SPD to learn that they have a right to say no to other people.
- If you persuade them to say yes, this might cause them so much stress that they dissociate from their feelings and the situation in order to cope.
- If you do not accept their response and keep pushing, they will feel unsafe with you. If they do not feel a sense of interpersonal safety, they will not open up to you. Instead, they may distance themselves physically and emotionally from you.
Most people who go on to develop schizoid personality disorder in adulthood had a very difficult childhood. As a result, people with SPD are usually very private, self-sufficient, and reluctant to trust other people. If you want someone with schizoid personality disorder to open up to you, you need to focus on creating interpersonal safety, respect their need for autonomy, and not be intrusive or domineering.
A version of this article appeared in Quora
Klein, R (1995). The self in exile: a developmental, self, and object relations approach to the schizoid disorder of the self. In J. F. Masterson & R. Klein (eds.). Disorders of the Self: New Therapeutic Horizons--The Masterson Approach. NY: Brunner/Mazel, Chapters 1-7, pp. 3-142.
Greenberg, E. (2016). Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety. NY: Greenbrooke Press, Chapters 3 & 13.