Some people do not appear interested in social relationships and incline towards solitary relationships and pursuits. They come across as aloof and emotionally cold. The people I am talking about are ‘schizoids’ who are fundamentally characterised by one central defence mechanism that of withdrawal.
This withdrawal can be more or less geographical as in the situation where a man retreats to his den or to some other remote location whenever the world is too much for him, or internal, as in the situation of the woman who goes through the motions of being present while attending mostly to internal fantasies and preoccupations. It is a defensive strategy to protect from overstimulation, traumatic impingement and invalidation. It leads to a loss of flexible human contact, the inability to master new situations and a constant flight into established habits.
Some Schizoids may even give the outward appearance of being able to express a great deal of feeling and to make what appear to be impressive social contacts yet in reality they give nothing and lose nothing. This schizoid is able to disown the part which he is playing and thus is able to preserve his own personality intact and immune from comprise.
Schizoid individuals find it hard to interact meaningfully with others because they do not understand the repression of thought necessary for ordinary social exchange. Schizoids are undefended against the nuances of their more primal thoughts, feelings and impulses. Similarly they are able to pick up on this in others and can be remarkably attended to the unconscious processes in others. What is obvious to them is often invisible to less schizoid people. Schizoids find it difficult to ignore this ‘hidden’ information and are thus further delimited in their range of exchange.
More than a Pathology
This schizoid temperament is a problem, yes, but it is also this same hidden information and conversation that schizoid individuals carry on with themselves that gives them access to an elevated form of expression and communication.
In Merleau-Ponty’s 1945 essay ‘Cezanne’s doubt’ the inseparability of artist Paul Cezanne’s schizoid temperament and his art are emphasised : –
[I]t reveals a metaphysical meaning to his illness (schizothymia as the reduction of the world to the totality of frozen appearances and the suspension of expressive values); because the illness thus ceases being an absurd fact and destiny to become a general existence confronting, in a consistent, principled way, one of its paradoxes – the phenomenon of expression because in this to be schizoid and to be Cezanne are one and the same thing. It is therefore impossible to separate creative freedom from that behaviour, as far as possible from deliberate, already evident in Cezanne’s first gestures as a child and in the way he reacted to things.
Kafka offers another perfect example of the linkage of the schizoid process with an elevated mode of art and communication. In his personal life he was intensely involved with a woman called Felice Bauer for five years, sometimes sending her several letters a day. Bauer lived in Berlin and Kafka lived in Prague. During their five years that they were engaged they met only ten times, often for not more than an hour or two. His letters are fraught with anxiety about where Felice was going, who she was seeing, what she was eating or who she was wearing. Kafka demanded instant replies to his letters and was enraged when he did not receive them. He proposed twice, broke it off twice and the letter never took place. The only more disturbing than separation from Felice for Kafka was her presence.
It was, however, this same fragmented manner of relating to people from childhood that informed his works. His writings are full of the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality and parent-child conflict.
W. R. D. Fairbairn- ‘Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality’. pp 16-17
The Examined Life – Stephen Grosz