From the outside, people with schizoid personality disorder often navigate life without difficulty. But inside, detachment causes distress.
Perhaps you find it challenging to express yourself emotionally and build relationships with others — though you truly want to connect. You deeply believe you can’t trust anyone but yourself. Fearing what might happen if you get too close, you spend a lot of time lost in your own thoughts.
This distance and detachment helps safeguard your own well-being.
These key traits of schizoid personality disorder show up internally. So people around you may simply decide you’re a quiet, private person, or assume interpersonal relationships are not your strong point.
The general lack of awareness surrounding this personality disorder means even you may not realize the underlying causes of the behaviors you’ve adopted to protect yourself. You only know they create distress.
That said, if you have come across any information about the condition, you may realize some signs reflect your inner experience. Learning more about schizoid personality disorder can help you take steps toward getting the right kind of support.
Mental health experts still know little about schizoid personality disorder, in large part because people with the condition often don’t reach out for support.
In fact, 2019 research describes this cluster A personality disorder as “one of the most under-researched and poorly understood personality disorders.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) describes the defining trait of schizoid personality disorder as a long-standing pattern of detachment and restraint in relationships and emotional expression.
Where the DSM falls short
The DSM-5 criteria are used for diagnosis, so they may not always help you understand your day-to-day experiences. To get more in-depth insight, we reached out to Dr. Elinor Greenberg, a Gestalt therapist in New York City.
Greenberg is certified in the Masterson approach to psychodynamic treatment for schizoid personality disorder, as well as borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. She’s also written a book detailing her experiences treating the three conditions: “Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety.”
Here’s a more nuanced overview of what living with schizoid personality disorder may feel like:
You avoid close relationships
This avoidance stems from an overarching need for safety, Greenberg says.
You might want an intimate relationship, but your need to feel safe remains paramount. Since you consider other people a potential source of danger, you find bonding with others extremely difficult.
While you can navigate necessary interactions at school or work, you hold back and avoid getting too close. This leads others to consider you shy, even aloof.
To compensate for a lack of connection, you might spend a lot of time fantasizing about relationships you’d like to have, or “fall in love from a distance,” Greenberg says.
You find ways to “accidentally” encounter the object of your affection, but you never try to establish a real relationship. If you end up with the chance to do so — maybe they express interest in you — your imagined relationship will typically win out, since it’s both safe and predictable.
You prefer solitary activities and pastimes
Living with schizoid personality disorder tends to mean you’re extremely independent and mostly keep to yourself.
- favor one-person hobbies, like video games, reading, or exercising alone
- save most of your money so you can always take care of your basic needs without help from anyone
- gravitate toward jobs you can do alone, or better yet, from home
- avoid areas where other people gather in groups, unless you have to attend — even then, you stick to the fringes
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing a lot of alone time to recharge. In fact, these traits could also describe an introverted person.
With introversion, though, you need that time to yourself because socializing drains you — not because it makes you feel unsafe and afraid. What’s more, you’ll probably still have a few close, important relationships.
You have little interest in sex
When you find it difficult to trust others and usually feel unsafe in social situations, it’s only natural you’d lack interest in physical intimacy. Healthy relationships require trust, after all.
When having sex, you might feel somewhat detached and disconnected, rather than enjoy the experience.
If you do want a physical connection, you might:
- choose unavailable people who already have a partner or lack time for a relationship
- stick to casual sex and loosely defined, no-strings-attached relationships
- escape as quickly as possible if the relationship ends up becoming any closer
You don’t often feel excited
Greenberg says that people with schizoid personality disorder generally learn to dissociate from situations when they feel unsafe or stressed.
Over time, this dissociation can become a reflex, leaving you feeling detached and disconnected more often than not.
Your body might feel like a machine you’re operating — something you have no attachment to. Life itself might feel like a stream flowing past you, while you sit quietly in the midst, an unconcerned, unruffled rock.
As a result of this emotional detachment, you consider your daily experiences mostly meaningless. You can meet academic and professional goals and handle tasks at school or work, but day-to-day life brings little joy. Life might seem more pointless than anything else — especially if something stressful happens to add to your sense of disconnect.
You have very few friends or confidants
To you, people are either safe or unsafe. Unsafe people (usually the vast majority) are best avoided.
Believing you can’t trust others can, understandably, make it hard to confide in anyone. This avoidance, however, often prompts an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Greenberg explains that people living with schizoid personality disorder tend to have a blurred or less-defined sense of self. “Often, they’ve never learned to negotiate more subtle boundaries, which leaves them more sensitive to intrusions,” she says.
You might catch yourself zoning out during conversations when you can’t connect to the other person, and avoid situations that require any interaction whenever possible. As a result, you may:
- end up talking only to immediate family, like parents or siblings
- get your needs for connection met through the elaborate relationships you imagine
- bond with animals, since they feel safer than people
In time, your heightened sensitivity can lead to a complete avoidance of relationships — or a pattern of failed relationships with unavailable people.
People with schizoid personality disorder often develop a close bond with one “safety person,” Greenberg notes. This friend or family member doesn’t feel threatening, so you find it possible to let them in, to some extent.
You care little about what other people think
If you feel disconnected and detached from what you consider a mostly meaningless existence, you’ll likely have little interest in the opinions of others.
It may not matter whether they praise you, criticize you, or show interest in your life and activities. Life is meaningless, you reason, so nothing matters.
These internalized feelings of existential dread and despair are common with schizoid personality disorder, according to Greenberg. They may not always reflect a desire to die, but simply a lack of connection to life.
If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone
If you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can access free support right away with these resources:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24-7.
- Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24-7.
- Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-DEAF (3323) or text “HAND” at 839863.
- Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
You keep your emotions to yourself
With schizoid personality disorder, you certainly experience emotions. But dissociation and detachment can leave you feeling cut off from them.
When you feel stressed or unsafe, you might feel as if a wall springs up to sever you from your feelings.
Plus, emotions reflect another layer of vulnerability. Sharing feelings with others means trusting them with your concerns and difficulties — something that could threaten your sense of safety further. Instead of risking pain, you shut down completely in order to protect yourself.
Of course, sharing emotions is an important part of bonding in relationships. Guarding your feelings, then, only reinforces your solitude.
Experts have yet to come to any agreement on possible causes of schizoid personality disorder, though the DSM-5 suggests genetics may play a part.
Older research suggests it may relate to early-life stressors, such as:
- separation from your primary caregiver
- abuse or neglect
- frequent illness
Parental behaviors also contribute
“People with schizoid personality disorder are often born into abusive or neglectful situations. Maybe their parents don’t pay them any attention, model healthy interaction, or respect boundaries. They might intrude on their space, or treat them like an object with no feelings or desires of their own,” Greenberg says.
She adds that highly sensitive people, who tend to be more deeply affected by their environment, may have a greater emotional need than their parents can easily meet. This mismatch can also contribute.
If you live with schizoid personality disorder, you might eventually find ways to adapt, especially when you can’t avoid all social interactions.
The more you interact, the more you might begin to realize some people are, in fact, “safe.” Over time, you can find it possible to create some social ties.
On the other hand, if you have underlying traits of schizoid personality disorder, isolation and a complete lack of interaction can trigger onset of the condition, or worsen existing symptoms.
“Pandemic isolation robbed many young people of the opportunity to learn social skills and practice negotiating relationships,” Greenberg says. “At a time when others are starting to pair off and form lasting relationships, those with schizoid personality disorder yearn for intimacy, but intimacy doesn’t feel safe.”
Lockdowns and quarantine remove chances to interact and challenge your ideas about safety, so you continue the isolation that feels most comfortable to you. Over time, this pattern becomes even more entrenched — and harder to address.
You might consider professional support when you:
- become frustrated with feelings of loneliness, emotional detachment, or dissociation
- find it impossible to navigate that distress alone
Working with a therapist trained to recognize and treat personality disorders is key. Any therapist can help you take steps to build social skills and manage emotional distress. Still, the correct diagnosis can make therapy more successful — while helping you feel more understood and less alone.
In short, what matters most is getting support to live the life you want, and an accurate diagnosis of schizoid personality disorder may help you get the most effective support.
A trained therapist can help you:
- learn to set boundaries that increase your sense of safety
- practice expressing emotions and preferences
- understand and work through past trauma and life experiences
- build social skills to feel more comfortable in interactions
- learn whole object relations, or the ability to recognize yourself and others as complex and integrated people
Group therapy may offer a safe space to begin interacting with others gradually.
Complementary therapies like bodywork can also help you feel less separate from your physical body.
Expanding your social skills can help you build the relationships you want. Of course, this goal can be difficult to achieve alone when you feel unsafe with others.
Support from an experienced therapist can always have benefit. Just know that therapy may take time. Many of the experiences underlying schizoid personality disorder relate to your earliest years, so you might have a lot to unpack before you can begin to feel safe.
These resources can help you begin your journey:
- Project Air, a center of excellence for research, education, and treatment of personality disorders
- Dr. Elinor Greenberg’s informative videos:
- Psych Central’s support for finding a therapist
Crystal Raypole’s work appears on Healthline, and she’s previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her interests include Japanese language and translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues. She hopes to someday write fiction — if she can stop reading fiction long enough to write more than a few chapters of anything.