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Friday, May 27, 2011

The Psychology of Character Development, Part VII

Back to the personality disorders. There are seven more of them and I’ll try to cover three today. In week-before-last’s blog, I discussed antisocial, histrionic and obsessive compulsive personality disorders. This week, I think I’ll focus on dependent, paranoid and schizoid, trying to see how each might fit into a fictional character.

Dependent personality disorders, as the name suggests, won’t make good protagonists because they’re so submissive, clingy and have a desperate need to be taken care of. They can make good supporting characters, though, since they tend to partner with the more dominant personality disorders like antisocial. These are the abused women (or men—less common, but it does happen) of the world, either overtly (physically abused) or in more subtle ways that include emotional putdowns and being made fun of. For those of you who read my post from May 13th, you’ll recall that the personality disorders are ego syntonic which is a fancy way of saying that they are a comfort zone for a person. So, from a treatment perspective, it’s very difficult to get a personality-disordered individual to make any significant changes. This is why a woman married to an abusive alcoholic may divorce that person only to go on to find someone else just like their first partner. They need to play the submissive, clingy role and there are only certain other personality disorders who will tolerate a spouse like that.

As an aside, yes the personality disorders do tend to be attracted to one another romantically. It’s rare to find someone with one of the personality disorders partnered up with someone who doesn’t have one of the other ones.

Paranoid personality disorders are just that: paranoid. This is a mental health problem that runs the gamut from mild paranoia that the individual enjoys (there’s that ego syntonic thing again) to a delusional disorder with paranoid features to paranoid schizophrenia. Well, what’s the difference? It’s a matter of degree. Paranoid personality disorders are able to function. It’s just that they interpret other’s motives as malevolent and lead out with suspicion. Paranoid schizophrenics who are not medicated have a very hard time functioning. For example, they can’t hold down a job or maintain interpersonal relationships because their distrust of others holds such a front-and-center place in their minds. Also, they tend to have carefully wrought delusional systems that include fanstastical elements like the Nazis being spirited out of Germany in space ships after World War II, taken to South America and they’re now in communication with the individual. (Someone actually told me that one.) Mild paranoids make great antagonists since they view the world in a skewed manner. Think the Dark King in Tolkien or Cersei in the Fire and Ice series, especially round about book four.

Schizoids are the night watchmen of the world. They have very low socialization needs. And, in fact, they prefer to be alone. They never have any relationships with someone who isn’t a first degree relative and those are generally limited to only one or two. They also are extremely restricted in their emotional responsivity. But, theirs is not the criminal detachment of the antisocial personality. They simply live in their own little worlds and prefer to be left alone…by everyone. Not surprisingly, this is a personality disorder that is hardly ever seen in psychotherapy. They would never want to come in on their own and they don’t have close friends/significant others dragging them in. Schizophrenics isolate as well, but they are delusional. Schizoids are not.

Hopefully, from the above, coupled with the blog post from two weeks ago, some patterns are emerging for you. The mental illnesses frequently have certain traits in common. It is how much of those traits and how they present in an individual that gives a clinician what they need to make an accurate diagnosis. Certainly dealing with story people is way different than dealing with psychotherapy clients. So, you have lots of latitude as an author to mix and match. Just make sure the process yields someone who feels real to you.

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