Now, now, let’s not get… hysterical

Continuing on our journey into common Characterists and Traits of Borderline Personality Disorder:

Hysteria is inappropriate over-reaction to bad news or disappointments, which diverts attention away from the problem and towards the person who is having the reaction.

This is especially notable in Histrionic Personality Disorder but the Borderline is no stranger to it either.
Hysterical people take everyday situation and elevate them to a level that is inappropriate, unhelpful and diversionary. They may sometimes appear more comfortable in a crisis than in a calm situation. They are the kind of people who threaten, bluster, overreact, take it up a notch, go to extremes.
Out of the Fog talks about this being a systematic approach used to seek attention.
“Many people enjoy 15 minutes of fame. But for a Drama Major or Drama Queen, obtaining and holding other people’s attention is more than a flight of fancy – it is something which they seek out using a systematic approach.
The goal of a hysterical person is to draw attention to themselves and to their plight – primarily from people who do not know them well and who are more likely to present a sympathetic response. Basically, it is a way to manipulate strangers into serving a person’s emotional need.”
This may be true for the Histrionic but from my experience I can’t say it’s true of my particular experience of Borderline. It’s almost impossible to ignore someone that is hysterical.  The end result may absolutely gain attention but becoming hysterical is never something I’ve planned to do, it just happens.
Hysteria describes unmanageable emotional excesses. Do I even need to describe this? For me, this is what accompanies panic and severe anxiety attacks. Panic attacks is probably closest. The ceiling feels like it’s closing in on me, there’s not enough oxygen in the room, the world is aligning against me and nothing I can do will pull my life out of the shit hole that it’s managed to fall into because of some event beyond my control. Last instance I recall is when I panicked about my job, wanted to quit, and an outright panic attack at Therapist (read: healthy outlet where I should be releasing these emotions), declared to Roommate and friends at large that I was done with engineering and would be exploring new occupation avenues because it felt like my life couldn’t continue on in the direction I’ve been going. And nothing could convince me otherwise. There is no consoling, no rationalizing. All there is, is the feeling that what’s happening right now, is taking over.
Current psychiatric terminology distinguishes two types of disorders that were previously labeled ‘hysteria’: somatoform and dissociative. Somatization disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis applied to patients who persistently complain of varied physical symptoms (like phantom back pain) that have no identifiable physical origin. The dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, dissociative identity disorder, depersonalization disorder, and dissociative disorder not otherwise specified. The origin of Borderline hysteria is probably much more easily identifiable as the direct result of, or perceived result of,  loss, abandonment or conflict {internal and external} and the inability to regulate emotional responses.
Hysteria can encompass symptoms of psychiatric phenomena that have been linked to psychological trauma. This brings me back to something that needs a little reiterating. Borderline Personality Disorder doesn’t just happen. It may have biogenetic origins, but it’s exacerbated and encouraged by the often traumatic environment that the borderline experiences growing up.
Recent neuroscientific research is even starting to show that there are characteristic patterns of brain activity associated with these states.  These disorders (somatoform and dissociative) are thought to be unconscious, not feigned or intentional malingering. So while the physical result may be to garner attention, act out, even manipulate a specific reaction from someone… It’s a temperamental predisposition, not necessarily some devious plot thought out in advance.
NOTE: This is not a justification and these reactions are something that can and should be tempered and controlled. Understanding what is going on though is key to bringing it under control. Recognizing that these things are unconscious, that is, of the mind, can help in the realization that these things are not real, or that these feelings are exaggerated. In recognizing this, hopefully it is possible to get ahold of these runaway feelings and ground them with the knowledge that they will pass and aren’t actually going to end the world.
Amusing origin story:
Freud was an idiot.
Historically, the ancient notion of hysteria, is of the “wandering womb.” Derived from the Latin histrionicus, “pertaining to an actor.” Ancient Greeks thought that excessive emotionality in women was caused by a displaced uterus and sexual discontent. Christian ascetics during the Middle Ages blamed women’s mental problems on witchcraft, sexual hunger, moral weakness, and demonic possession. By the 19th century, medical explanations proposed a weakness of women’s nervous system related to biological sex. Thus, “hysteria” reflected the stereotype for women as vulnerable, inferior, and emotionally unbalanced.
The cure of course, was to go to your local physician and have these sexual tensions ‘relieved’. Now there’s a cure ::smirk::. Talk about gender bias for Histrionic PD too. I’d say it’s pretty obvious where that came from.
The concept of a hysterical personality was well developed by the mid-20th century and strongly resembled the current definition of histrionic personality disorder. The first DSM featured a symptom-based category, “hysteria” (conversion) and a personality-based category, “emotionally unstable personality.” Haha, recognize this?!? Borderline. DSM-II distinguished between hysterical neurosis and hysterical (histrionic) personality.
To me this seems like a characteristic that borders between Histrionic and Borderline or one that keeps them identifiably intertwined. So I guess really, Hysteria is two related things: a personality characteristic whereby someone is a hysterical person in general (histrionic) and/or a situational state of being; as in having a hysterical incident.

Personally, while I may have panic attacks, I am not a hysterical person. This is a trait I associate more with Low-Functioning Borderline.

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2 comments on “Now, now, let’s not get… hysterical

  1. I have read this post 4 times now and maybe it's because I don't "know" you in "real life" but I find it hard to see this in you. Maybe it's just what I think of as "hysterical" is not what they are referring to I don't know.

  2. Oh in general I am not a hysterical person at all. I do have some pretty extreme, world shattering panic attacks, but day to day I'm high functioning an I keep all that under wraps. I tend to internalize my hysteria. I can receive bad news and it'll feel like a bomb's gone off inside me, but I'll smile and nod til I can be alone and fall apart.

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