The hysterical personality has an infantile need for exclusive love and demand for attention. Self-dramatization, exhibitionism, uncontrolled emotional outbursts, obstinate hard headedness, and lack of consideration for others can all be personality characteristics. Frequently they adopt a helpless and dependent posture, however when dependent needs are not met they throw a temper tantrum or a guilt trip to get their way.
Hysterics don’t care what emotions and feelings get out of hand, as long as they can maintain their biased self-image (i.e. charming, adorable, ‘special’, and admirable). The hysterical display of emotional fireworks lacks depth and these fireworks are to be forgotten as soon as attention can be diverted to a more desirable self-image. No hysteric would put ‘proper behavior’ ahead of a pleasing self-image. A simplified fairy tale version of a pure self is maintained at all cost. Each experience in life is reduced to simplified categories of either ‘terrible’ or ‘wonderful’, that is …fitting or not fitting the fantasy bound image of the self (S. Kopp). Of course this fantasy self is a compensation for deep feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Any split of the self is emotionally costly. Fooling others always takes a tremendous amount of energy and limits freedom.
Hysterics are not committed to logic or order. They insist that things must be what they want them to be. Whatever challenges their fantasy world is fully denied. They’re not concerned about sticking to the truth if a dramatic distortion will accomplish getting their needs met. Fact and fiction are often intertwined.
The hysterical personality is extremely seductive. The primary motivation is not a sexual one, but a need to obtain admiration, protection and approval in order to repair an injured self-image. Overexaggeration of sexuality is a compensation for inadequate feelings of one’s sexuality. Different levels of frigidity or impotence can, but do not have to accompany this condition. Competition with members of the same sex is prevalent, particularly those who use similar seductive devices to obtain attention and affection. They deny the significance of their own manipulative and seductive behavior, which eventually leads to isolation and loneliness.
Often male hysterics wear the persona of a ‘precious prodigy’ or a ‘romantic adventurer’. Their hysteria is sometimes revealed through their display of exaggerated manliness. The male hysteric frequently suffers from sexual addiction or Don Juanism, be it in the hetero or homosexual world. Their mothers were often inappropriately seductive with them and their fathers emotionally or physically absent.
The female hysterics often put on the social masks of being either ‘glamour queens’ or ‘adorable little princesses’. The typical mother of the female hysteric is cold, competitive, argumentative and resentful. She overprotects or overindulges to compensate for her inability to give real love (Frazier and Carr). In early life the daughter and father turn to each other for warmth. He reinforces the flirtatiousness and emotionality of his ‘little princess’, greatly due to his own immaturity and weakness. At puberty he abandons her (many times for a mistress) as he is threatened by his incestuous feelings, leaving her abandoned, confused and rejected.
It is the deeper feelings of sadness, helplessness and loneliness all hysterics need to own and not defend against with hyperemotionality and massive repression. Memory loss of childhood is frequent. Hysterics feel superior in his or her hyperemotionality and consider themselves more sensitive and feeling persons than those upon whom they are dependent.
The hysterical personality is afraid of the adult role. They need to let go of being a dependent child in order to get better. By mid-life, they absolutely have to give up, as all of us do, the illusion that a magical protector exists. They also need to take responsibility for their helplessness, possessiveness, jealousy, envy and damaged self-image. Finally they need to understand the following cycle: When they are understood they feel loved, when they feel loved they make unrealistic demands, when they make unrealistic demands they will eventually be rejected.
Dr. Peter Milhado © 2011