50 Shades of Grey's Central Character Meets the Criteria for Schizoid Personality Disorder

Is Christian Grey from 50 Shades of Grey a Schizoid? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Karen Arluck, Clinical Psychotherapist in private practice, on Quora:

The character Christian Grey, in 50 Shades of Grey, is the ultimate portrayal of the high functioning schizoid client.

What are Christian’s schizoid traits?

  • Suffered physical and emotional abuse in childhood, where he could not rely on adults (his birth parents) to keep him safe. As a result he suffered massive physical (cigarette burn scars all of his chest), and emotional scars (birth mother abandoning him, birth mother dying of presumed crack overdose, neglect), and developed a personality disorder due to the emotional defenses he developed to cope with the ongoing trauma.
  • Learned to disassociate from his feelings to protect himself from being vulnerable, hurt, exposed, and feeling powerless.
  • Obsessed with power and control, going as far as creating “relationship” contracts, with detailed and agreed upon "rules" and "boundaries" so that he does not have to worry about what his partners or "submissives"expect from him emotionally or physically, and fears of their emotional expectations that he would find intrusive, and scary.
  • Obsessed with BDSM, and most comfortable with sex where one person has complete physical control over the other, he gets to be in charge, as a way repeat the trauma from his childhood by him getting to play the master. Christian desperately tries to feel in charge finally, but never actually feeling the confidence that he has any control.
  • He continually tries to heal past trauma of the pain that was inflicted on him as a child, seeks therapy on a continual basis, and despite his continued behaviors, has a great deal of self-awareness about his experience and struggles.
  • Christian often disassociates from his feelings when they are strong, and disconnects from the feelings of others. He uses sex as a diversion and distancing technique to avoid connecting emotionally, and listening to his submissive/girlfriend, Anastasia.
  • Christian bonds with women through sex, which helps him to avoid connecting on an emotional level as partners. He struggles with relinquishing control in anyway, (especially to women), due to the extensive trauma his mother inflicted on him.
  • Christian utilizes his extreme wealth as a security blanket, and means of reducing his anxiety by either being the owner or boss of almost every person and/or organization he encounters.
  • He continues to be obsessed with emotional and physical safety, hires bodyguards, has files "vetting" potential submissives, giving him the false sense of security that if he is constantly in control, has all information on the other person, and has the power, that somehow this would prevent him from getting hurt.
  • Christian feels most comfortable when his submissive/girlfriend is as close as he wants (she has a bedroom in his home), but does not allow her to sleep in his bedroom with him after sex (at first). Initially sharing a bed with a woman felt too vulnerable and intimate for him, and served to keep his women at precisely the emotional and physical distance he was most comfortable with.

The Schizoid Dilemma:

Like many high functioning people who suffer from SPD, and SPD adaptations, as Christian feels safer with Anastasia, he develops feelings for her, and an emotional attachment. This feels both exciting, and very anxiety producing for him. Due to his schizoid patterns, he does not know how to negotiate emotional differences, and feelings in the relationship. Christian believes that his only option is to stay and do it exactly as Ana wants, or to leave.

This is a common schizoid dilemma as someone with this disorder never learned that there was a third option, which was to communicate, empathize with the others point of view, and come up with with a compromise that works for both people. In the second book and movie, Christian comes back and agrees to have the "vanilla" relationship that Anastasia wants, attempts to have more emotional and physical closeness in order to avoid losing her. However, he has not yet figured out that it does not have to be exactly what she wants, (at his expense), or exactly what he wants (at her expense).

What motivates change?

Like many people with personality disorders, Christian is motivated by fear of losing someone he loves due to his own emotional struggles. He attempts to practice compromise between what he wants emotionally, and what Anastasia wants. This is not an easy change for someone with SPD, and the emotional and behavioral patterns continued to be an ongoing challenge for him to work on. Part of healing his schizoid patterns, involved him practicing being more emotionally vulnerable with her, and having the reparative experience of the other person (Anastasia), treating him lovingly and respectfully (unlike his birth parents).

2 steps forward, 1 step back:

Like anyone working on these kinds of emotional difficulties, Christian goes through the “2 steps forward, 1 step back” pattern. This means that he makes progress (being more emotionally vulnerable or “two steps forward”), gets scared or hurt in some way, regresses (defense), and then tries again. While many people feel that they have “failed” if they regress in anyway, this is actually a very normal and healthy part of making positive emotional changes.

James F. Masterson MD, (who wrote extensively on personality disorders), refers to this pattern as the “Triad:”

  • Self-activation leads to abandonment depression which leads to defense.

In Christian’s case, his self-activation meant being emotionally vulnerable, discussing feelings openly, and in one example, he let Anastasia “touch” his physical scars. This was representative of him letting a woman come into VERY close contact with him emotionally. Christian felt extreme fear and anxiety while doing this, as he had never let anyone touch him in a meaningful and connected way. However, when things would get too emotionally connected, Christian got scared (abandonment depression/fear), which led him back into defense (running away, going back to his comfort zone of bondage, buying the company she worked for, etc.).

The point is…

Christian Grey is an enticing fictional representation of an extremely high-functioning person with schizoid personality disorder. Many people incorrectly assume that people with SPD are loners with no social skills, which is often not the case in my experience. Christian, like many of my clients with SPD, is a seductive, extremely intelligent, and high-functioning man in many aspects of his life, but still suffers tremendously due to his maladaptive coping defenses he adapted as a child. Christian had no emotional and physical safety as a child, and continues to struggle with the level and type of emotional and physical contact he allows in the relationship. Many parts of his character are surprisingly accurate portrayals of someone with this disorder who makes progress slowly, has setbacks, and cannot buy, intellectualize, or seduce his way out of these struggles. Instead, Christian has to make a constant and concerted effort to confront his difficulties, and work on them throughout the story.

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