Earlier, I wrote an article on low emotionality, and I heard from a handful of readers with similar experiences. However, one reader response caused me some chagrin. They pointed out the similarity to Schizoid Personality Disorder, and I immediately regretted not mentioning it, since it’s the one that actually fits me best. It’s a bit embarrassing to figure out this stuff in real time while I’m blogging about it. But I want to do right by the readers who related to my article, so here we are.
So, Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD). Perhaps the best way to briefly describe it is to cite the DSM-V diagnostic criteria:
- Neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family.
- Almost always chooses solitary activities.
- Has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person.
- Takes pleasure in few, if any, activities.
- Lacks close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives.
- Appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others.
- Shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity.
SPD is diagnosed if a person fits at least four of the criteria, and if it causes some serious impairment or dysfunction. (Please correct me if I’m wrong. The DSM is not publicly available so I’m not sure of the exact criteria.) I more or less fit all seven, although I don’t think it causes any dysfunction in my life. So… I have a schizoid personality or I’m on the schizoid spectrum, but it’s not SPD.
“Flattened affect” seems to be what psychologists call what I was calling “low emotionality”. Well, I knew going in that I’d probably discover psychologists have a pre-existing term for it. “Flattened affect” makes sense given the meaning of “affect” in psychology, but I can’t get over how bad its SEO is. Who’s ever going to search for that phrase?
I’m not much for close friends. I’ve had some close friends over the years, but I don’t make an effort to maintain them, and I don’t have any right now. I am socially active, but my preferred style of friendship is occasionally hanging out with groups of people without becoming close to anyone in particular. I used to do this with atheist student groups for many years, now I do it with meetup groups. And of course, blogging is kind of like that.
“Appears indifferent to praise or criticism” fits me perfectly. Yeah, I’m the kind of person who dislikes compliments and thrives on criticism.
One of the diagnostic criteria is, basically, asexuality. Note, I’m gray-asexual rather than asexual, but that still sorta counts.
Yeah, I feel weird about this. Earlier I said that my low emotionality seemed connected to my asexuality, but I was just trying to make a personal observation of my subjective experience, I wasn’t trying to say they were actually correlated. But asexuality and SPD? It’s official: they’re correlated. That’s why they put it in the diagnostic criteria and all. But I don’t really get the sense from interacting with the ace community that there are a lot of aces with SPD around.
In a 2016 survey of online ace communities, only 2.5% said they had SPD (see this report, page 35). This is similar to the prevalence of SPD in the general population (estimated around 1-3%). But SPD may be under-diagnosed, and perhaps the people who have it are unlikely to participate in ace communities.
One more remark. I feel like by blogging about this, it conveys an exaggerated picture of how strongly I have it. I said I was lacking in enthusiasm and anger, but I can also remember many times when I experienced one or the other, so they’re not totally alien emotions. And I may not experience pleasure in response to things that most other people enjoy, but in general I do not have difficulty feeling happiness, sadness, or humor.
And perhaps this is true of many people with schizoid personalities, for all I know.
This is all to say, if you found my article on low emotionality to be relatable, you might consider looking into schizoid personality disorder. You might find it relatable, or perhaps not, take it or leave it. And if you think you might benefit from an online community, there’s a schizoid subreddit and an SPD PsychForum.
What you describe sounds a lot like how I was when I was on paroxetine. I also knew a friend who was like that until they had HRT. I know both me and my friend both were actually motivated towards social interaction even during that period, it was just hard to be cognisant of it. Personally I dislike labels like SPD because they make it harder to dig deeper into what is actually going on. Although not that it’s necessary unless it’s causing problems for you/you want answers.
I also should warn you though that most psychiatrists tend to forget about the ‘causing dysfunction’ part that’s affixed to the end of all the diagnostic labels.
Laura (ace-muslim) says
There’s a discussion about overlap between asexuality and Schizoid Personality Disorder in Asexuality: A Mixed Methods Approach.
There’s an overlap of some of these criteria with introversion so an introverted ace may meet 3 or 4 of the criteria just from that, without flattened affect being any of criteria that apply.
Thanks! I had been looking for references on asexuality and SPD, and couldn’t remember where I had seen it discussed before.
The problem with studying this from an asexual studies point of view, is that it seems like schizoids would be far less likely to participate in the asexual communities that these studies recruit from. And the problem with studying them from a personality disorder point of view is that most researchers don’t care about asexuality, and don’t even care to say how many people with SPD fulfill diagnostic criterion #3.
On the SPD forums, over a third of people say they’re asexual. Granted, forum polls are terribly inaccurate, but there seems to be a pretty stark difference between number of SPD forum participants who consider themselves asexual, vs asexual community participants who consider themselves schizoid. And asexuality and SPD are about equally uncommon (1-3%), so that’s a bit unexpected.
Asexuality Archive says
I was trying to find where I’ve talked about it in the past, because I’m fairly certain I have, but I’ve come up mostly empty. I think there was a conversation about it *somewhere* in maybe 2012/2013. I do see it get mentioned briefly from time to time. Maybe someone talked about it in the “Mental Health” carnival month? The masterpost for that month seems to have disappeared…
Looking in my copy of the DSM, I’m not seeing a “must cause distress” clause in the criteria. For things like MHSDD, that clause is one of the primary lettered diagnostic criteria, but that’s not the case for SPD. (For what it’s worth, a lot of the other things in the book don’t have a “must cause distress” clause, but I’m not seeing any consistent pattern between the ones that do and the ones that don’t.)
I’m reminded of the character Shaw from Person of Interest. She was likely asexual and schizoid (although they never mentioned asexuality and just said she had an unspecified “Axis-II Personality Disorder”, which SPD was classified as pre-DSM5). In one of the episodes, another character says to her “It’s not that you don’t have feelings. It’s just like the volume is turned way down, like the sound of an old tape.” That was one of the most relatable five seconds of TV ever.
Laura (ace-muslim) says
My thought is that people with schizoid personality disorder, or a similar personality type, may be more likely to participate in online communities than offline, if they do want to seek out community. I know as an introvert, I find online communities easier to handle sometimes. This could lead to SPD being more prevalent in samples drawn from online ace communities (such as AVEN, which seems to be a popular place to recruit samples from) than it actually is in the overall population of aces.
I think that SPD represents a stereotype that may be applied to ace-coded characters and representations, but whether there’s actually any relationship between the two, or a greater overlap than one would otherwise expect, I don’t know.
@Asexuality Archive #4,
Really, no clause about impairment or distress? I actually asked a friend who is in a mental health practitioner program and they felt very strongly that it didn’t count unless it was “pervasively impairing”. It could be that this is an unwritten rule, only explicitly written out when the writers think they need to. It does leave me rather confused though, because for instance that 3% figure that I cited, is it based on the seven diagnostic criteria, or do they also bring in a practitioner to assess the degree of impairment? I haven’t gotten paper access yet so I don’t know.
It sounds like we’re trying to explain opposite things. I’m trying to explain why people with SPD seem so uncommon in online ace communities, and you’re trying to explain why people with SPD are so common? Which is it? Are they common or uncommon? Granted, in the Brotto study you cited, 7 out of 15 subjects said they fit the SPD diagnostic criteria, but that seems like an overestimate if they’re not measuring impairment.
If, as the SPD forum poll suggests, about 40% of people with SPD are asexual, and if SPD and asexuality occur with about equal frequency, then you’d expect about 40% of asexuals to have SPD. So I don’t think it needs to be explained why the frequency of SPD is so high in online ace communities. Instead, it needs to be explained why we’re not talking about it a lot more often.
Impairment and distress are two totally different things. Someone who may be severely impaired but not distressed may not report their situation correctly.
Yes, thanks for pointing that out. My understanding is that impairment refers to the loss of some “important” function, where “importance” is judged by psychologists, and not by the subject themself. Based on what I’ve read, I think most people with SPD aren’t actually distressed about it, but psychologists don’t necessarily consider that relevant.