Frequently confused with schizophrenia, Schizotypal Personality Disorder (STPD) is a schizophrenia spectrum disorder that manifests as an extremely odd or eccentric personality type, with strong social anxiety and unpopular beliefs. The characteristic feature of it is an unwillingness or inability to engage in close social bonds such as friendships. This article looks at how to write engaging and believable characters with STPD.
The concept of a “schizophrenia spectrum” is relatively new and the precise boundaries between the various stages on this spectrum are not yet perfectly clear. One way of thinking of STPD is as a less debilitating and destructive form of schizophrenia. STPD is a Cluster A personality disorder, which means that people with the condition broadly come across as odd or eccentric, but not particularly dangerous or anxious.
Despite affecting around 3% of the population (and a higher percentage in males), so that almost everyone will have met someone with it, STPD is not a well-known condition. A character with STPD might be conspicuous on account of odd habits when it comes to speech or dress. They might mumble and speak vaguely and imprecisely, and they might wear highly unfashionable clothing or styles of clothing without thinking it amiss.
Some theories consider that there are two different forms of schizotypal personality disorder, one which is passive and one which is active. These are called insipid and timorous schizotypy.
If the protagonist of your story encounters an insipid schizotypal person, they might have difficulty with that person’s strange and absent way of being. Sometimes this sort of schizotypy can come across as vacant, as if the person inside was without emotion. If your protagonist is not a worldly type they might mistake a character with STPD for being on heavy drugs.
The protagonist of your story might want to make friends with a character who has a condition like this, only to be constantly frustrated. The other character might have decided as a general rule that other people don’t like them and so it’s not really worth trying to be friends with them, and so they are not interested in a friendship with your protagonist. Your protagonist might try several ways to overcome this social reticence, and may or may not succeed.
People who are timorous schizotypal are likely to create a different set of problems. This version of schizotypy is more active, which means that it is more likely to present as hostility and paranoia. Although a character with this condition is not likely to become aggressive, they are still likely to exhibit much of the suspicion, wariness and hostility that other people often mistake for aggression.
If the protagonist of your story has schizotypal personality disorder, they might find that other people can’t tell the difference between them and a schizophrenic. It is possible that a person with schizotypal personality disorder is not much different from the characters around them, but that this difference is still enough to cause their ostracisation.
As might be guessed from the above descriptions, people who have STPD often have related conditions, such as Paranoid Personality Disorder, Depression or Avoidant Personality Disorder. People with STPD are often genuinely afraid of other people and what those other people might think of them, and this can lead to them becoming paranoid about what other people are saying about them.
A person with STPD might then choose to just stay away from other people so as to not give them a reason to dislike them. A character developing this condition might find themselves discovering more and more reasons for avoiding social contact until they end up becoming a shut in.
Also very common are what are called delusions of reference. This is when a person encounters an event that they interpret as having special meaning just for them. For instance, a character with STPD might hear some advertisement on television and think it’s referring to them specifically, or they might meet a person twice on the same day by total coincidence, and mistake this for being stalked or similar.
Like many of the conditions in this book, schizotypal personality disorder is heavily correlated with early childhood abuse and neglect. There are some theories that suggest that the schizophrenia spectrum, rather than being simply a form of damage, is an adaptation, in which the person afflicted falls into chaos in the hope of reforming in a healthy way, instead of staying hard and risking becoming vicious.
For this reason, the schizotypal personality, like the schizophrenic, often feels hard done by and misunderstood. They might be aware that the usual course of action for a person who has been damaged as badly as them is to become cruel, perhaps vicious, and that their condition has in some sense prevented this. A profound sense of injustice can arise from the reality that their condition will afford a low social status.
This article is an excerpt from Writing With The DSM-V (Writing With Psychology Book 5), edited by Vince McLeod and due for release by VJM Publishing in the summer of 2018/19.