Table of Contents
Relief from Unwanted Emotional Habits © Martyn Carruthers
Hysteria is an old term referring to expressions of intense emotions with persistent psychosomatic symptoms. Such symptoms may now be called conversion disorders, hysterical neurosis or histrionic personality disorder.
Hypochondria is big business. About half the visits to medical doctors and at least 10% of all medical treatments are for people who have no evidence of organic disease. Hypochondriacs compulsively spend nine or ten times more for health care than normal people.
Histrionic Personality Disorder is a term used by the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association to characterize emotional attention-seeking, an excessive need for approval and inappropriate seductiveness.
These symptoms often seem to follow covert emotional incest.
What is Hysteria?
Hysteria was first identified in ancient Greece, and although the description changed many times, it was called a woman’s disease, because the uterus (womb) was thought to move around the body. Intense emotions, screaming, kicking and unusual body sensations were called hysterics.
Hysterical outbursts usually include a temporary loss of adulthood. Expect impulsive childish emotional expressions of anxiety, depression, excitement and / or frustration. Symptoms called hysteria may include nausea, vomiting and difficulty breathing. Occasionally, the symptoms can include convulsions, loss of sensitivity to touch or pain and psychosomatic sensations such as tingling skin.
Some psychiatric drugs such as Diazepam and Valium, and some antihistamines are known to trigger hysterical symptoms. But when people feel on the edge of an emotional explosion – almost anything can trigger intense reactions.
Historical treatments for hysteria included surgical removal of the womb (hysterectomy) and/or ovaries. Adolf von Strümpell (1853-1925) postulated psychic trauma as the cause for hysteria in 1884 and Paul Möbius (1853-1907) developed a psychotherapeutic concept for treating these disorders before Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed his psychoanalysis. Pierre Janet (1859-1947) first used the term dissociation to describe the behavior of people who had been diagnosed with hysteria.
If you do any of the following, we can probably help you:
- you react impulsively
- you feel deserted or isolated
- you damage or destroy relationships
- you cannot cope with strong emotions
If you notice any of these in yourself, perhaps talk with trusted friends. (If you use an employee-assistance program, your personnel file may forever include details of your need for psychological assistance).
We find that many people show mild symptoms of hypochondria, although rarely at a severity that would indicate referral to a psychiatrist. Strangely, few people seem to want to manage their symptoms or to improve their lives. We assume that the benefits of the symptoms often outweigh the disadvantages.
The symptoms associated with conversion disorders appear to be delayed
(age regressed) emotional reactions to relationship problems.
These disappointments are shown as dramatic and exaggerated
childish behavior that once attracted attention and sympathy.
Do you attract attention or sympathy? Children seem to copy these behaviors from their parents, and use these symptoms as bonds (“Look, I’m just like you!“)
Histrionic Personality Disorder
The World Health Organization characterizes histrionic personality disorder by the presence of at least 3 of the following:
- shallow, flexible emotional attachments
- overly concerned with physical attractiveness
- continually seeks to be the centre of attention
- easily influenced by people and circumstances
- inappropriately seductive appearance or behavior
- exaggerated, dramatic and theatrical emotional expressions
Women with histrionic behavior often describe covert father-daughter emotional incest. This can result when women feel enmeshed with their fathers, often resulting in strong emotional bonds that may delay or prevent bonding with a male partner. Also, such father-bonds can damage their future partnership.
My wife cannot get enough attention. If she’s not the center of attention she explodes …
I am frustrated with her shallowness but inside she’s just a lost little girl …
My psychiatrist told me that partnering a hysterical person can destroy the partner.
How can I help her before that happens? England
Men seem less likely to show these symptoms so obviously, although these symptoms may follow mother-son emotional incest.
My last boyfriend was beautiful. He looked like a male model although he worked in a car wash. He spent all his money on clothes, and he would change them many times each day. He was always posing, and if I didn’t continually compliment him, he would sulk like a scolded puppy – and then go home to his adoring mother. Florida
Emotions & Maturity
Carl Jung wrote that we cannot solve the most important problems in life, we can only outgrow them. Loss, rejection, unrequited love, unfulfilled ambitions … we may not be able to solve these problems although we often help people become more mature.
Anxiety and depression often increase when people hide emotions, family secrets and other emotional baggage. Then something minor can trigger hysterical behavior.
People who show signs of hysteria often seem to be egotistic and/or irresponsible. Egotists may focus on showing how special they are, while irresponsible people may be better described as childish. Some people with these habits may be dysfunctional.
Martyn, for my master’s degree in psychology, I learned history, theories and statistics from professors who have never been in private practice. You offer experience! Boston
Relief for negative emotions
If you suffer negative emotions, you have three main choices:
- Do Nothing: If you do nothing about your symptoms, you risk becoming bitter and angry as healthier people build happier relationships. If you do nothing, your emotional and physical health may decline.
- Take drugs: While there are no specific drugs for the direct treatment of conversion disorders, medications are often prescribed to help people manage emotions. (Can drugs manage relationship problems?)
- Change Yourself: You can use your symptoms to motivate yourself to re-evaluate how you want to live your life, manage your emotional problems and limiting beliefs, participate in relationships and achieve your goals.
Emotions & Maturity
If you are prone to emotional outbursts, consider …
- Not all good advice will benefit you
- Happiness reflects your relationships
- You are unique … and not particularly special
- You can attract healthy people by living healthy values
- Consequences can teach you to avoid repeating mistakes
- Too much positive thinking can have unpleasant consequences
- Childish reactions are not bad – only childish – yet can damage your life
Do you want to manage your emotions and build healthy relationships?
Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 2008-2018
All rights reserved.
- Dorland’s Pocket Medical Dictionary. 25th edition. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company.
- ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioral Disorders. World Health Organization. Geneva.
- Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, Section 15. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories.
- DSM 4 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th edition. American Psychiatric Association.