Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
I know, it sounds like I have a mental problem. Schizotypal sounds so much like schizophrenic, but it’s not. I am genetically similar to schizophrenics, but with some major differences. Most notably, I don’t have paranoia and I don’t hallucinate. Not that I’m normal, but I can cope with my life.
You’ve probably never heard the term; most people haven’t. A person with a schizotypal personality is basically a highly sensitive person who is also highly creative. The combination of these two things makes for a potent cocktail. We have the capacity for genius, but also can be crippled emotionally; We can be sort of like the really fast sports car that’s always in the shop. As an example let’s take two ordinary people. Myself, and “Johnny.” Both of us are about the same age, sensitive, with an artistic nature and pretty intelligent with relatively ordinary lives and fit the description of schizotypal in many ways. Both of us are self employed handymen.
I own my own home, have a contractor’s license, a B.A. in Spanish, I’ve been married for 25 years and I have a host of other accomplishments including speaking awards, short films I’ve created, artwork I’ve painted, this blog and a few other things. I am physically healthy and not in therapy. We have money problems, but this is hardly unusual and by the standards of many, my wife and I are well off.
In contrast, Johnny is sick these days with a spinal infection and has never been able to get his life together. He retreated into heroin many years ago and has never been able to fully kick the habit and never made anything of himself. He earns a bit here and a bit there when he can, but relies on the kindness of others basically to get by. He’s also been in prison. Why did we end up so differently? It may come down to this: my father, who is also a fairly sensitive man, passed on an attitude to me of ignoring conventional wisdom and following your gut. It may have been this simply thing that had given me the toehold that I needed to maintain my sanity. (I’ll explain this later.)
Psychologists are conflicted about us, with some classifying schizotypal as a mental disease with labels such as fantasy prone personality, Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and literally a laundry list of other pathological classifications. Others, by contrast, recognize us as a bona fide personality type.
If ever there was a controversial personality type in psychology, we are it. This is mostly due to one very important aspect of the schizotypal personality: the presence of a trait that David Ritchey refers to as “Anomalously Sensitive,” otherwise known as psychic ability. As you can imagine, this stirs the pot more than a bit as many psychologists have rather strong views on whether this is imaginary or real. Generally, psychological research tends to dismiss the existence of psychic ability while there seems to be more acceptance among practicing psychologists.
It’s a tricky area. Imagine you’re a psychologist and a person comes to you and in the course of therapy admits that he/she can see and hear ghosts. How you respond will depend more on you than the patient. If you think that ghosts are real, then the patient is sane, but highly sensitive. If you think that ghosts are imaginary, then you have a delusional schizophrenic or psychotic patient on your hands. In any case, what you, the therapist, believe, will make a big difference for the patient. If you are wrong it can have serious consequences. A person who is sane, but is extremely sensitive may be psychologically harmed by the idea that he/she is crazy. Likewise a person who is psychotic or paranoid can be harmed by a misdiagnosis.
Hypnotherapist and Schizotypal Personality expert David Ritchey explains the correct approach in his book The H.I.S.S. of the A.S.P.:
(…) Moreover, as a clinical hypnotherapist, my focus was on the clients’ experiences rather than on the phenomena purported to underlie those experiences. Therapeutically, it had historically proven efficacious to work with the clients’ experiences as if they were “really real”– to appropriately contextualize them, rather than to dismiss them as symptoms of a mental disorder. Furthermore, the clients’ belief (or lack thereof) in the objective reality of the alleged underlying phenomena appeared to have little bearing on the successful outcome of the therapy.
This controversy is not at all helpful to people like me because we have obvious biological differences from the general population that create a condition of “otherness” that leads to a sense of isolation. In the general population, the left side of the brain is dominant, while in schizotypals the right side is dominant. For that reason, many schizotypal people are left-handed. Those schizotypals who are right handed, such as myself, may have strong bilateral tendencies. (We use both hands well.) Being identified as being different from an early age and understanding the ramifications of this would be very helpful.
Just as extremely tall or short people and left-handers have to adjust to a world that was not built with their needs in mind, right brain people have to deal with a world in which the vast majority of values, attitudes, ideas and beliefs are in line with left brain dominant cultures. Since those of us with schizotypal personalities typically grow up with little to no understanding of these differences, (and most often no one around us understands these differences either) we are frequently at odds with the rest of the world, which can be very stressful for us.
We tend to be more spiritually oriented than ordinary with an emphasis on direct experience (Gnostic) and tend to value emotional traits over physical ones. Honesty, integrity, self awareness and wisdom are more valuable to us than height, physical beauty, skin color, sexual orientation or age. Social issues are more important than personal ones’ and when it comes to objects, usefulness is more important than function.
Aside from these differences, by far the most challenging aspect of being schizotypal is the fast switching between different states of consciousness as a result of our high emotional sensitivity and consequent strong emotions. I rarely hear or read of psychologists mentioning this central aspect of our lives. Logical thought is tied almost exclusively to our emotional state. When our emotions change, so does our decision making. This isn’t new. California law recognizes that fact in this law:
Consumer’s Rights to Cancel Home Solicitation Contracts
Virtually any consumer transaction in the amount of $25 or more which takes place in the buyer’s home or away from “appropriate trade premises” can be canceled by the buyer, without penalty or obligation, if the consumer gives a proper notice within three business days without giving a reason after the buyer signs the contract. In order to cancel, the buyer must give the seller written notice of the buyer’s intention not to be bound by the contract.
This cancellation right is created by the Home Solicitation Sales Act (the “Act”).1 The purpose of the Act is to protect consumers against pressure to make an immediate purchasing decision when a salesperson appears at their home, or where the sales pitch is given at a non-business location. Similar protections apply to most sales by telephonic sellers (see VI. below)2
What this law is saying is that people’s emotions can be swayed by smooth talking salespeople and therefore their logic can be impaired. If given a chance to return their emotions to their normal state and rethink the contract, they might have regrets and this law gives them an opportunity to seek redress if that happens.
Now if this happens to ordinary people and their ordinary emotional states to the point where it requires a law, imagine what life must be like for people like me who experience their emotions very strongly. Logical thought can be blown around like a dinghy on the open seas during a storm. I can tell you from personal experience that this is probably the hardest thing we have to deal with, as these emotions can range from suicidal to deliriously happy.
I have moments of true paranoia, severe panic attacks, sudden phobias, tremendous joy, deep and heartfelt love, mischief and a variety of other very strong emotions. All of these come with their own logical state of mind and in certain cases, memories. Some memories are only accessible in certain emotional states. Many memories and a lot of logical processes are very hard to access while in a state of strong fear. I’m inclined to believe that different emotional states are actually altered states of consciousness that we’re so familiar with that we don’t even notice that this is what they are.
Yet for all of these strong emotions, I am not a basket case. I manage just fine. I did this by creating an Über self. There is a part of me that watches myself having these emotions and does not get sucked in by them. It allows me to remain rational in the midst of my logical mind going haywire, in which case the best thing to do is almost always . . . nothing. Don’t react, don’t make decision, don’t argue or whatever it was that I was going to do and just chill out. Eventually the heightened emotional state will die down and I’ll be able to think clearly again; often more clearly than I was previously able to. Sometimes this cool down period is a matter of minutes, sometimes it’s a matter of days. The noise in my head is a constant racket and only this Über self can calm it down. I have to see me, seeing myself in order to make any change.
Learning how to do this took many years and in the process I never stopped growing as a person and becoming more mature. I did this because I didn’t have much of a choice. Either I learned how to deal with this, or I gave up on life. It was that kind of a decision.
I don’t think that Johnny ever learned how to develop that Über self to watch over his emotional merry-go-round. Instead, he substituted drugs to quiet the noise in his head. But what if someone had been there to help him? What if someone had understood his sensitivity and guided him on how to deal with being so different from ordinary people? How might his life have turned out?
All good questions.