Wednesday, November 22, 2006

For Some People, Intimacy Is Toxic

There was an article in yesterday's New York Times that suggests that for some people, intimacy is toxic and these people are better off avoiding intimate relationships.

The article looks at the history of one young man who was diagnosed as a "schizoid" patient. He was generally distant, had few friends or close relationships, and exhibited limited emotional expressiveness. He had attempted suicide at one point, but it was during a time when he was in an intimate relationship and dealing with stress from his parents.

The author of this article, Richard A. Friedman, M.D. (a psychiatrist as opposed to a psychologist), fails to distinguish in his discussion between a schizoid personality type, also known as a solitary personality type (SPT), and a schizoid personality disorder (SPD), which is much more serious.

After a bit of digging around on the web, it seems that while the schizoid personality disorder (SPD) is more generally (and falsely) presumed, there is much more prevalence of avoidant personality disorder (APD), which seems to be a pathological variation of social anxiety (SA) and/or a very harsh Inner Critic, and Asperger syndrome (AS), a non-debilitating variation of autism.

Those with SPD do not suffer the low self-esteem that those with APD or SA often experience. Asperger patients also seem to lack, in general, the self-esteem issues, so this may be one of the diagnostic keys to distinguishing between these often confused conditions.

The solitary type, which I think is what Friedman was really looking at in the NYT article, also lacks the self-esteem issues of SA or APD and the autistic traits of AS. For the most part, the solitary type just isn't social.

Here is a brief definition of the primary traits:
Dr. John M. Oldham has defined the Solitary personality style. The following six characteristic traits and behaviors are listed in his The New Personality Self-Portrait.
  1. Solitude. Individuals with the Solitary personality style have small need of companionship and are most comfortable alone.
  2. Independence. They are self-contained and do not require interaction with others in order to enjoy their experiences or to get on in life.
  3. Sangfroid. Solitary men and women are even-tempered, calm, dispassionate, unsentimental, and unflappable.
  4. Stoicism. They display an apparent indifference to pain and pleasure.
  5. Sexual composure. They are not driven by sexual needs. They enjoy sex but will not suffer in its absence.
  6. Feet on the ground. They are unswayed by either praise or criticism and can confidently come to terms with their own behavior.
Source: Oldham, John M., and Lois B. Morris. The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love, and Act the Way You Do. Rev. ed. New York: Bantam, 1995.
None of these traits are in any way pathological. But they are likely to be misunderstood by others and seen to be symptomatic of other, more serious disorders as mentioned above. There is certainly a cultural component involved in that we value those who can play well with others, be diplomatic, make smalltalk at parties, and any number of other social skills that would make a solitary type want to run screaming from the room.

Now, why, you might be logically asking, am I spending so much time tickling out these various diagnoses? Well, for a few of reasons. One is that I score well above average on the Asperger's test (16.4 being average, 25 being my score, and 32 being autistic) but I lack the repetitive/autistic symptoms. Another is that I would rather have my fingernails pulled off with pliers than attend a cocktail party (this is one of the reasons I drank so much earlier in my life, to self-medicate enough to survive social situations). A third reason is that I mostly fit the six criteria listed above for the solitary type (my Inner Critic creates issues with #6, but I seldom respond to praise).

Still another element is that I have some of the traits of the avoidant personality type, but not seriously enough to qualify that as an accurate diagnosis. So here I am trying to shed some light on this issue, which certainly has an impact on my life and has impacted those who have tried to be a part of my life.

I think that I, like many others who fit this solitary type, have found ways to adapt myself to social expectations and have found ways to bring up the lesser functioning social skills in myself so that I don't stand out as much from others in social situations. In my case, having a powerful Inner Critic makes this adaptation essential -- it's job is to protect me from making a fool of myself or otherwise drawing unwanted attention my way. I also have a strong intuitive sense, which allows me to "read" people in ways that makes it easier for me to get along socially.

And I think that I do have a need for intimacy in my life, but it likely won't resemble what anyone else thinks of as intimacy. I need lots of space and the freedom to seek intimacy on my terms, or I shut down psychologically. I have been made to feel in the past that this means there is something wrong with me. I am becoming more clear that there is not anything wrong with me (well, not this at least) and that I will need to be more clear with myself about who I am -- now that I know more about it.

To her credit, Kira (my ex) tried to work with me on this as much as she could (which varied depending on how much she was hurting from the distance I needed), but she wasn't built the same way I am. I doubt many other women who I might be compatible with in other ways are also going to be solitary types. But I won't stop looking for someone who is.

Anyway, this has all come as a big AHA! and it makes clear some things that never seemed to fit in the past. It's another step toward becoming more of who I am so that I am not a barrier to transcending myself over time. And it's a part of the change process that's been underway for some time now.

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