WAPLT? Shy, Reticent, Avoidant: The SRA Spectrum

One interesting possibility on the pleasure-pain spectra is the coexistence of a reduced ability to experience pleasure and an increased sensitivity to pain. For people who fall under this category, life can be quite vexing, with little reward and a lot of distress. Consequently, they become extremely alert and avoid situations that might cause them pain.

There are various factors that could lead to social detachment, and it can manifest in different ways. The AAS schizoid personality spectrum is a group of personalities that are pleasure-deficient and exhibit passive detachment. They lack the necessary emotional capacity for successful social interactions, and they do not respond to typical incentives or consequences that would normally stimulate social behavior and communication.

The SRA avoidant personality spectrum seems similar to the AAS schizoid group on the surface. However, these individuals are actively detached and oversensitive to social cues. They are hyperreactive to the moods and feelings of others, particularly when it comes to the possibility of rejection and humiliation. This extreme anxiety impairs their thoughts and behaviors, and they tend to avoid situations that could be pleasurable or beneficial as a way of protecting themselves from potential pain.

These two types of detachment, passive (AAS schizoid) and active (SRA avoidant), correspond closely to the two contrasting sets of characteristics observed in studies of schizophrenia. Some researchers view schizophrenia as a result of deficits, such as underarousal, undermotivation, and insensitivity, while others argue that it arises from excessive reactivity, overarousal, overmotivation, and hypersensitivity. Millon’s theoretical work supports both viewpoints, suggesting that both sets of findings are correct, but only when viewed in terms of the distinction between active and passive detachment. Although the symptoms of these two styles may seem similar at first, their underlying dispositions, experiences, and coping strategies are quite distinct.

Passive detachment tends to be associated with chronic underreactivity, lack of affectivity, cognitive issues, and indifference to interpersonal relationships. In contrast, active detachment, or SRA spectrum, is characterized by chronic overreactivity, hyperalertness, affective disharmony, cognitive interference, and interpersonal distrust. The contradictory results observed in schizophrenia research are due, in large part, to the failure to recognize this fundamental distinction between active and passive detachment. (708-709)



The polarity model can be understood as a framework for ecological adaptations that reflect different ways of dealing with life circumstances based on both innate dispositions and early learning. When we talk about disordered personalities, we are referring to maladaptive modes of ecological functioning that are not only pathological but also pathogenic. For example, individuals with SRA personalities may have an innate sensitivity to pain, which manifests as extreme fearfulness even in benign circumstances. They may also experience anxiety in response to potential or actual stressors, both physical and psychological. Alternatively, we may find that children who have been repeatedly exposed to threatening life circumstances, such as rejection or hostility from parents, develop a fearful reactivity to similar situations. In both cases, there may be a deficiency in the ability to experience pleasure and joy in life.

Furthermore, some individuals may exhibit an overconcern with activities that are focused on preserving life and avoiding negative emotions like sadness and anxiety. This hyper-alertness to the possibility of things getting worse may result in a lack of attention to experiences that can make life more fulfilling and pleasurable. Additionally, we may observe an excessive utilization of the active mode of adaptation in individuals who are hypervigilant and avoidant of events that may lead to rejection, humiliation, or failure. These individuals prioritize self-preservation and have a minimal focus on others. Ultimately, the key feature of avoidant personalities is their hyperalertness and reactivity to the possibility of experiencing psychic pain. (716-717)

Trait Domains


Expressive Emotions: Fretful: SRAs tend to exhibit a pervasive sense of unease and restlessness. They are prone to overreacting to benign experiences and are hesitant about engaging with events that may pose personal challenges. They often interpret such events as indicative of ridicule or rejection from others. In terms of communication, SRAs tend to speak slowly and with constraints. They exhibit frequent hesitations, fragmented thought sequences, and occasional digressions that may be confused or irrelevant. In terms of physical behavior, SRAs tend to be highly controlled or underactive, but with periodic bursts of fidgety and rapid movements. Although they tend to keep their overt expressions of emotion in check, they are often deeply tense and experience internal disharmony. They exercise great restraint in controlling not only their anxiety, but also their confusion and anger. (Haller & Miles, 2004; Farmer, Nash, & Dance, 2004). (718)

Interpersonal Conduct: Aversive: SRAs display a strong aversion to close personal relationships, and often distance themselves from situations that may involve such relationships. They prefer privacy and are uncomfortable in social situations, feeling awkward and mistrustful. SRAs have a history of rejection, leading to a general distrust of others and a broad social anxiety. They are guided by the need to put distance between themselves and others in order to minimize involvement that may reactivate or duplicate past humiliations.

Interpersonally, SRAs are best characterized as actively detached personalities who seek to avoid the anguish of social relationships by keeping a watchful eye against incursions into their solitude. They are overly attentive and aware of variations and subtleties in their stimulus world, having learned that hyper-alertness to cues is the most effective means of avoiding social rejection and deprecation.

SRAs may deny themselves even simple possessions to protect against the pain of loss or disappointment. Efforts to comply with the wishes of others, no less to assert themselves, may have proved fruitless or disillusioning. Appeasement may have resulted in a loss of what little personal integrity they may have felt they still possessed, leading only to feelings of greater humiliation and disparagement. The only course they have learned that will succeed in reducing shame and humiliation is to back away, draw within themselves, and maintain a vigilant and detached stance towards others.

Observers who have only passing contact with SRA personalities tend to see them as timid, withdrawn, or perhaps cold and strange, similar to the image conveyed by AAS schizoid personalities. Those who relate to them more closely, however, quickly learn of their sensitivities, touchiness, evasiveness, and mistrustful qualities. (718-720)

Cognitive Style: Distracted: SRAs have a cognitive style that is characterized by distractibility and hyper-vigilance to potential threats in their environment. They are often preoccupied with intrusive and disruptive thoughts and feelings that interrupt their focus and disrupt their social interactions. Although this sensitivity serves to protect them from harm, it floods them with excessive stimuli and distracts them from attending to ordinary yet important details in their surroundings. This is in stark contrast to AAS schizoids, who have difficulty registering extraverbal cues and are insensitive to emotional expressions.

SRAs are highly perceptive observers who scan and appraise every movement and expression of those around them. They possess an infallible ear for vocal cadences and nuances, especially those that are potentially derogatory or judgmental. However, this flood of information can complicate their cognitive processes and diminish their ability to cope with everyday tasks, particularly in social settings where their perceptual vigilance and emotional turmoil are most acute. In summary, SRAs have a distractible cognitive style that is characterized by hyper-vigilance, sensitivity to emotional cues, and intrusive inner thoughts and feelings. (720)

Self-Image: Alienated: SRAs often view themselves as socially incompetent and inferior. They tend to evaluate themselves as personally unattractive and lacking in interpersonal skills, downplaying any accomplishments they may have achieved. They feel isolated, rejected, and empty, with valid reasons for their feelings. They commonly express feelings of loneliness, unworthiness, and a lack of belonging. Due to their pessimistic outlook, they have difficulty relating to others and exhibit avoidance behaviors in social situations. They are plagued by disharmonious emotions, a sense of emptiness, and depersonalization. They are overly introspective, self-conscious, and feel different from others. They often lack confidence in their identity and self-worth, leading to a sense of alienation from themselves. They may express hopelessness about their life and hold a deflated self-image. They may use self-deprecating language, even more severe than what others use to describe them. (720)

Intrapsychic Content: Vexatious: Vexatious Intrapsychic Content refers to the persistent and distressing memories of problematic early relationships that are deeply ingrained in the minds of SRAs. These memories are easily triggered and there are few positive memories to draw upon to view the world in an optimistic way. Due to the pervasiveness of these troublesome memories, SRAs have limited opportunities to develop effective coping mechanisms to regulate their emotions, resolve conflicts, or manage external stressors.

SRAs are trapped in a cycle of seeking to avoid the distress that surrounds them and the wounds that reside within them. This is because they find no solace or freedom within themselves. They have internalized negative attitudes towards themselves that were formed during their earlier life experiences, resulting in feelings of shame, devaluation, and humiliation. As a result, they experience little reward in their accomplishments and thoughts and instead, they find themselves constantly struggling with painful thoughts about their own self-worth and existence.

The struggle to ward off these painful thoughts and feelings is all-consuming and pervades every aspect of the SRAs’ being. They must expend even more effort than usual to regulate their emotions and manage their intrapsychic content. This is especially difficult because there is no way to physically avoid the self, making the experience even more distressing. As a result, SRAs suffer from a constant sense of worthlessness and self-derision, which leaves them feeling powerless and trapped.(720-721)

Intrapsychic Dynamics: Fantasy: SRA avoidants often resort to breaking up, destroying, or repressing painful thoughts and emotions. They strive to prevent self-preoccupation by blocking irrelevant thoughts and communications and making their normal thoughts and communications take on different, less significant meanings. In effect, they actively interfere with their own cognitions. They similarly restrain, deny, turn about, transform, and distort their anxieties, desires, and impulses, muddling their affective life even more. For them, diffuse disharmony is preferable to sharp pain and anguish from being themselves.

Despite their efforts at inner control, painful and threatening thoughts and feelings periodically break through, disrupting more stable cognitive processes and upsetting whatever emotional equanimity they can muster. SRAs depend excessively on fantasy and imagination to achieve a measure of need gratification, to build confidence in their self-worth, and to resolve conflicts. They experience their feelings deeply and use daydreams and reveries as a means of dealing with their frustrated affectionate needs and discharging their resentful and angry impulses. However, fantasies also prove distressing in the long run because they point up the contrast between desire and objective reality. Repression of all feelings is often the only recourse, hence accounting for the avoidant’s initial appearance of being flat, unemotional, and indifferent, an appearance that belies the inner turmoil and intense affect these persons truly experience. (721)

Intrapsychic Architecture: Fragile: The intrapsychic architecture of the SRA personality is characterized by a precarious and complex network of turbulent emotions that can easily overwhelm the fragile psychic controls of these individuals. Their reliance on avoidance, escape, and fantasy is excessive, and they possess few effective mechanisms to cope with personal risks or unexpected stress. The avoidance of situations that may result in personal humiliation or social rejection is the guiding force behind their interpersonal relationships. Additionally, their own aggressive and affectional impulses are distressing, as they fear that their actions will prompt others to reject and condemn them. They expend much intrapsychic energy denying and binding these inner urges.

The conflicts that SRA personalities face are notable, particularly the struggle between affection and mistrust. They desire to be close to others, show affection, and be warm, but they cannot shake their belief that such actions will result in pain and disillusionment. They also have strong doubts concerning their competence and fear venturing into competitive aspects of society, which curtails their initiative and leads to a fear of failure and humiliation. Every route to gratification seems blocked with conflicts, and they are unable to act on their own due to self-doubt, but cannot depend on others because of mistrust. As a result, they find it difficult to attain security or rewards from either themselves or others, leading to feelings of pain and discomfort. (721-722)

Mood/Temperament: Anguished: Anguished Mood/Temperament is a term used to describe the emotional state of individuals with SRA personality. They experience a constant and confusing undercurrent of tension, sadness, and anger, and feel anguish in every direction they turn. These individuals vacillate between unrequited desires for affection and pervasive fears of rejection and embarrassment. Their confusion and dysphoria can lead to a general state of numbness.

SRA personalities have a deep mistrust of others and a markedly deflated image of their own self-worth. They have learned through painful experiences that the world is unfriendly, cold, and humiliating, and that they possess few of the social skills and personal attributes necessary to experience the pleasures and comforts of life. They anticipate being slighted or demeaned wherever they turn and must be watchful and on guard against the ridicule and contempt they expect from others.

Looking inward offers no solace for SRA personalities because they find none of the attributes they admire in others. Their outlook is negative: to avoid pain, to need nothing, to depend on no one, and to deny desire. Moreover, they must turn away from themselves also, away from an awareness of their unlovability and unattractiveness, and from their inner conflicts and disharmony. Life, for them, is a negative experience both from without and within.

The hyperarousal of SRA avoidants may reflect a biophysical sensory irritability or a more centrally involved somatic imbalance or dysfunction. A fearful temperamental disposition may simply be a behavioral term to represent a biophysical limbic system imbalance.

Some anatomic and biochemical factors may contribute to the emotional dysregulation observed in SRA personalities. For example, they may possess an especially dense or overabundantly branched neural substrate in the “aversive” center of the limbic system, which makes them experience aversive stimuli more intensely and frequently than others. Excess adrenaline resulting from autonomic or pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunctions may also give rise to the hypervigilant and irritable characteristics of this personality. Imbalances of this kind may lead to the affective disharmony and cognitive interference found among these patients. Deficiencies or excesses in certain brain neurohormones may facilitate rapid synaptic transmission and result in a flooding and scattering of neural impulses, leading to cognitive interference and emotional dysphoria. (722)


Oldham and Morris (1990) use the terms “vigilant” and “sensitive” to describe two distinct personality styles. According to their characterization, individuals with a vigilant personality style possess exceptional environmental awareness, with sensory antennae that continuously scan their surroundings. These people are quick to identify what is out of place, dissonant, or dangerous, particularly in their interactions with others.

In contrast, those with a sensitive personality style acquire their heightened perceptiveness in a small and intimate world, where they know everyone. While these individuals tend to avoid wide social networks and shun the limelight, they can achieve recognition for their creativity. They thrive in a secure emotional environment with a few close family members or friends, where their imagination and spirit of exploration know no bounds.

A different description of the avoidant personality style is provided by Millon, Weiss, Millon, and Davis (1994), who characterize it as a “hesitating” pattern of social relatedness. Avoidant individuals feel unsure of their acceptance, are sensitive to social indifference or rejection, and experience general social unease and self-consciousness. Although they can function well in secure settings, they often anticipate difficulties in new situations, particularly those that are social or interpersonal. These individuals may feel tense and expect others to think poorly of them. They prefer to work alone or in small groups where they feel accepted, and once they are comfortable, they can be friendly, cooperative, and productive.

The avoidant personality style often acquires secondary features as individuals begin to withdraw socially and experience critical or unsupportive responses from others. Research has shown that avoidant personality traits are often associated with schizoid, dependent, depressive, negativistic, schizotypal, and paranoid personalities. As a result, avoidant individuals may start to exhibit some of these features, leading to mood changes and actions that provoke reactions different from their original personality traits. (725)

Anxiously Shy Personality: The anxiously shy individual is a deeply private person, who is often consumed by their own anxious thoughts and feelings. They tend to interpret events and relationships through a subjective lens, shaped by their rich inner world of worries, values, concerns, and anxieties. While they may appear calm and composed on the outside, they lead an intensely active and concerned inner life. They are always anticipating problems and seeking self-knowledge, in a never-ending quest for self-revelation, and a desire for psychic peace of mind.

Their search for calmness and peace is often hindered by their belief that pain and anguish are an inherent part of human existence. They tend to withdraw from others, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people, preferring privacy to avoid the discomfort of social interactions. They are likely to shy away from the forefront of any group and avoid confrontation or conflict, preferring to undersell their strengths rather than drawing attention to themselves. They lack assertiveness in expressing their views, and they are not particularly practical-minded or goal-oriented.

They are sensitive to external evaluation and criticism, which compounds their habit of self-criticism and feelings of personal inadequacy. Despite their efforts to see life in a positive light, they may appear disengaged or indifferent to their surroundings, fading into the background and assuming a peripheral role in social, work, and family relationships. They are hesitant about extending themselves socially, avoiding competitive encounters and accommodating the wishes of others who are more assertive.

Their self-consciousness and shyness often lead them to view themselves as socially uninteresting and of modest competence, and they tend to devalue their own achievements. In public settings, they may behave in a reserved and taciturn manner, appearing to others as phlegmatic and lacking in energy and vitality. Their timid and relatively uncommunicative style may lead others to view them as both behaviorally and cognitively limited. Despite their introspective and desirous nature, they may seem to be behaviorally and cognitively limited due to their reserved nature.(725-726)

Imaginatively Shy Personality: This personality is characterized by a rich and complex imagination that is often expressed through daydreaming and creating fanciful solutions to life’s problems. While they seek social peace and predictability, they tend to be cautious and avoid problematic situations and troublesome relationships. They believe that good relationships do not last and prefer to minimize social discomforts by being prudent and sensible.

Their fertile imagination allows them to cope with their problems and circumvent difficulties through utopian cognitive solutions. They react quickly to situations that may become a problem and plan strategies and alternatives to optimize their ability to master the events of their life. They focus inward and prefer to keep their thoughts private, being ill-disposed to share inner feelings and beliefs.

Although pragmatic, systematic, and objective, they tend to focus on tangible and practical events and keep track of everyday facts and details. They are cautious and concentrate on observables, requesting that things be clearly stated and structured in most affairs of work, personal, and family life. However, they may become lost in minor details, exhibit rigidity about established procedures and regulations, and be closed to promising innovations created by others.

They tend to have a non-competitive and self-sacrificing style and believe that others do not think well of them. Socially reticent and submissive, they occasionally feel that their life can only get worse and are often their own worst enemy. (726-728)

Hypersensitively Reticent Personality: The hypersensitively reticent personality is characterized by an intensified version of its general features. These individuals display a high-strung and prickly manner, and are hyperalert to signs of rejection and abuse. They also exhibit excessive weariness that leads to a peevish and wary attitude toward their environment. These hypersensitive individuals display a fusion of basic SRA characteristics, permeated with features more central to the MPP paranoid personality.

In addition to their pervasive apprehensiveness, hypersensitive reticent individuals experience intense and variable moods, including prolonged periods of edginess and self-deprecation. They expect people to reject and disparage them, which can lead to profound gloom at one time and irrational negativism at another. Despite a longing to relate and be accepted, they may withdraw from threats to their fragile emotional balance and maintain a safe distance from any emotional involvements. This defensive retreating can cause them to become remote from others and from needed sources of support. They may exhibit a surface apathy in their efforts to dampen or deaden excess sensitivities. Nevertheless, intense contrary feelings occasionally break through in peevish and immature outbursts.

Thin-skinned and deeply resentful, hypersensitive reticents find it difficult to bind their anger toward those who have seemed unsupportive, critical, and disapproving. Their little sense of security is threatened when they discharge these bristly feelings and resentments. While they desire to protect against further loss, they make repeated unsuccessful efforts to resist expressing anger. When not withdrawn and drifting in peripheral social roles, they are unpredictable, irritably edgy, and negativistic, engaging at times in quarrels and disappointments with others. They vacillate between being agreeable, sullenly passive, and irritably angry. These difficulties are frequently complicated by genuine expressions of guilt and contrition mixed with feelings of being misunderstood, unappreciated, and demeaned by others.

Hypersensitive reticents have learned to be watchful, on guard against ridicule, and ever-alert to signs of censure and derision. They detect even the slightest traces of annoyance expressed by others and make a minor and passing slight into a mountain of personal ridicule and condemnation. They have learned that good things don’t last, that affection will capriciously end, followed by disappointment and rejection. (728-731)

Phobicly Reticent Personality: The phobic reticent personality is a type of personality that is characterized by a mixture of dependent and avoidant personality traits. They desire close personal relationships but have a fear or distrust of others. These individuals often use symbolic external objects to divert their anxiety and fears away from conscious awareness. However, unlike other personality types, the objects to which phobic reticents displace their anxiety often have a clear symbolic significance and represent the more pervasive sources of their anxiety.

They may fear explicit and defined objects to gain a degree of protection and security among supportive individuals. However, they may also keep their phobias hidden and personal to avoid further humiliation. For some phobic reticents, the process of finding a phobic object may represent a “cry for compassion” and a desire to use self-created fears to deter rejection and abandonment threats. The phobic reticent personality is prone to private phobias and tends to avoid social attention and support, believing it will only bring ridicule and abuse. (731-732)

Conflicted Avoidant Personality: Conflicted Avoidant Personality is a personality type characterized by a deep-seated struggle between the desire for detachment from others and the fear of being independent. While these individuals desire close relationships and affection, they also anticipate experiencing pain and disillusionment, which is further complicated by their deflated self-esteem. They often feel trapped in conflict and are unable to act alone due to marked self-doubts, but also cannot depend on others because of a deep social mistrust.

Conflicted avoidants may become anxious and withdrawn, experiencing a persistent and pervasive dysphoric mood as a way to protect themselves from humiliation and loss. They often exhibit petulant and negative behavior and may attack others for failing to recognize their need for affection and nurturance. Others may have turned against them or disapproved of their efforts to achieve autonomy, leading to deep-seated resentments.

Their discontent, outbursts, and moodiness frequently evoke humiliating reactions from others, reinforcing self-protective withdrawal. Conflicted avoidants report feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, and demeaned by others, and often have a deflated self-image. They may feel a sense of futility about life and frequently refer to themselves with contempt and deprecation.

This personality type is disposed to anticipate disappointments and often precipitates disillusionment through obstructive and negative behaviors. The unresolvable angst of conflicted individuals often results in a blending of core avoidant features with those seen among negativistic personalities. They may jump the gun with impulsive hostility, exhibiting a cyclical variation of constraint followed by angry acting-out, remorse, and regret.

Conflicted avoidants are unable to orient emotions and thoughts logically, which may result in them becoming lost in personal irrelevancies and autistic asides. This inability to order ideas and feelings in a consistent and relevant manner only further alienates them from others. Despite their efforts to deny past resentments and portray an image of general well-being and contentment, these efforts readily give way under the slightest pressure. (732-733)

Self-Deserting Avoidant Personality: Self-deserting avoidant individuals tend to withdraw from social interactions and turn inward as a means of avoiding the discomforts of relating to others. This inward focus may initially involve using fantasy as a coping mechanism, but over time, it can lead to a heightened awareness of inner sorrows and past traumas. While fantasies may provide temporary relief, they eventually become less fulfilling, and the individual may feel increasingly disconnected from others and their own sense of self-worth.

As this process continues, self-deserting avoidants may experience a merging of avoidant and depressive personality features, characterized by social aversion and self-devaluation. They may create a protective barrier from the outer world, but the inner world they withdraw into proves to be no less problematic and disparaging. They may increasingly distance themselves from their own thoughts and feelings, becoming neglectful of their own well-being and ultimately failing to fulfill even the basic acts of self-care.

This flight from self-awareness can result in a splitting of consciousness, a breaking up of the interconnected parts of the self into exchangeable pieces. This fragmentation can lead to a blending of avoidant and schizotypal personality traits. As self-deserting avoidants regress and fragment further, they may become outside spectators, observing their own transformation but remaining disconnected from themselves and others. Some may become overwhelmed by their anguish and despair, while others may experience emotional numbness and disconnection as a habitual way of life. (733-736)

One response to “WAPLT? Shy, Reticent, Avoidant: The SRA Spectrum”

  1. […] up, accepting continuing misery as inevitable. Although these patterns share similarities with the avoidant spectrum personality, there are notable differences. Both personality disorders exhibit an adaptive focus on […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: