Just too painful…

In the past few years I have had several encounters with people who showed symptoms of Hysteria.

Hysteria is not a disease, much rather it is a state of mind, signified by uncontrollable emotional excess. To be “hysteric” in the common sense, means losing it, throwing a temper tantrum or being overwhelmed by fear.

Modern medicine and psychology have given up the use of the word hysteria in favour of  “somatisation disorder” or “conversion syndrome”. However, I will continue to use the original term, because there are some important pointers, that may also help us to identify symptoms in ourselves, that may resemble this raging war between the cool, rational  mind and the raging emotions underneath.

Interestingly enough, in my own experiences with conversion syndrome, I was not directly involved in the relation, but I was the one who was instrumental uncovering the behaviour.

The first case was a co-worker who worked day and night to create a certain image of himself. He had a charismatic personality, was very convincing and of sheer inexhaustible energy. When I realised something was very wrong, this person had created significant damage for the business and other colleagues and my own reputation. It is very difficult to uncover the truth about someone who created a favourable impression about himself. People just won’t believe you. I was lucky that this person left, after a few very unpleasant meetings.

The other cases included a long-term acquaintance of a close friend, who seemed to have an extraordinary unlucky and long strain of being wrongly accused, sued and pursued. Then a situation working on a project with someone being overly committed, making herself indispensable, just to drop the ball in a very critical moment, causing a lot of stress and chaos. The third one was the new partner of a friend, who appeared like a dream come true, only to turn out to have created a web of lies and in the end getting overwhelmed by the stress of keeping up appearances.

What all of these four cases had in common was someone very convincing, appealing and charismatic, a lot of energy and involvement, intensity and then a sudden break-down, that usually would lead to an end of the relationship.

And of course they also had someone to believe their stories and co-operated as accomplice to strengthen the appearance.

It is very  important to realise that people with this pattern are not lying on purpose. They are keeping up appearances and believe unswervingly  in the story they create. I have always to think back at the time when I was a kid and we played a lot of fantasy games. It got so real, that I sometimes had a hard time to differentiate between what was true, and what was imagined. It is a little like that, the border can be crossed easily and something that only exists in the mind, that maybe just a little bending of truth, suddenly starts to get an life of it’s own.

Hysteria is a Greek word, meaning “womb”and the condition was thought to be related to female sexual dysfunction. Later it was related to a “split consciousness”. Both give us an indication regarding the origin of a condition that is very frequent, with many possible manifestations. Energetically, the “womb” is associated with the liver meridian, that is the prime imbalance in states of stress. “Split consciousness” is giving an indication of creating another reality, by avoiding what is true.

What seems to be a common denominator though, is that somewhere in the development a psychological trauma has taken place. This inner conflict creates such massive emotional turmoil and stress, that it is either converted into physical symptoms or in the creation of another “identity” or “personality”, an “alter ego” with it’s own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment. It appears that the emotional turmoil associated with the trauma seems so intense, that the afflicted person is creating an alternate reality to relieve the pain and release the pent up energy.

It is very difficult to treat the condition, because the driver is massive fear of overwhelming emotional pain. It appears to be impossible for the sufferer to deal with the memory of the trauma. The same mechanism Is seen in people with PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder), who have survived atrocities. But also severe emotional abuse in childhood, like an alcoholic or psychotic parent, can lead to the same condition.

Today the official terminology of hysteria  is “conversion disorder”, and include somatoform (bodily pain and symptoms) and dissociative (creating a split personality) manifestations. It is important that this is not a disease, but a protective reaction, to stay clear of strong emotional pain.

I have recently seen some cases of people who appeared to have very intense emotional pain and traumatic experiences that make it very difficult for them to go deeper within their own being.  Very often they create a “false refuge”, an inner space that allows them to feel safe and at peace, but is still created by the mind. They also tend to suffer from terror, vivid images or mystical experiences with symbolism and phenomena.

People suffering from this extreme control of the mind over their emotional experiences suffer very often from addiction. Energetically it is the area of the fifth chakra – the thyroid – that is afflicted, as it symbolises the openness, the mind-body connection, or the integration of thinking and feeling.

The reason I am so interested in this well described, but otherwise not well understood, phenomenon, is that it points us to the mechanism of ego formation. In many ways, people with signs of conversion syndrome, either inexplicable physical symptoms or inconsistent, conflicting behaviour, can be looked at as models and much can be learned by understanding their way of coping, by manipulating and controlling themselves and their environment.

We all do that, even if we think we are honest and never would a lie pass our lips. We all have disconnected the thinking mind from the felt sense of the body. The mind can create a million stories, but the body does not lie.

It is like clouds passing by – we can interpret their shape and their meaning, but what they are is just droplets of water.

About Michaela

I am a wanderer and a wonderer, like you are. I love our journey and to walk in the company of friends – to learn, experience, share, laugh, cry and above all I simply love this marvelous, magical, mysterious life. I have no plan (cannot believe I am saying this) and my only intention is to be truthful to myself and others.
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6 Responses to Just too painful…

  1. Dreamfable says:

    I my work we sometimes encounter hysterical people. Usually because something terrible happened. A father losing a child because of a accident. Things like that.
    Would you say that this is the same kind of hysteria ?

    I am sorry to say we generally don’t have the time, or the means, to give them the attention they need. Often takes a lot persuasion to make sure that they are no danger.
    How would you handle people who are in such a state?

  2. Michaela says:

    Hi, no – what you are talking about is just an intense emotional reaction facing a tragedy. This is grief. It can escalate tough to a “hysterical” reaction, crying, screaming, wailing, shouting, hurting themselves..etc. This is anger trying to run away from grief.

    How to handle the situation ? By accepting their pain and be with them in presence. If necessary help them even with medication, if they want to and need it, to get over the first most painful stages until they accept.

  3. Dreamfable says:

    I see.. Our medics have these kind of medicine.
    Thank you.

  4. Michael says:

    You mention that these observations could help in the understandings of ego formation. In the cases you mentioned I would submit the ego self was already formed which I believe you would agree with. When I was diagnosed with chronic PTSD what I eventually uncovered was that my young 19 y/o ego self was so traumatized by combat that nothing I had believed to be true previously about our race was valid. Those feelings and thoughts were stripped away. My form of PTSD revolved around a deep racial myth about who and what we were.

    On the surface we can appear to be at least somewhat civilized, whatever that word means to the individual, but look a little deeper and one would find a frightened unconscious creature who’s only purpose is to survive. If part of that survival strategy is the killing and maiming of others so be it.

    We humans are prone to a wide variation in feelings, thoughts and behaviors. In most cases still these are guided by and based on our attachments to the physical. The relative mind along with its buddy the ego views creation using the lens of separation.

    The ego is all about survival. It along with our relative thoughts attempts to create the best scenario possible in order to do that. So the examples you gave are merely examples of this. If the egoself decides to bury, avoid or take on another kind of persona it will. It’s a thing of whatever it takes to survive.

    Almost 40 years ago I worked on an active acute mental health unit. If I was able to do so again my views about this would be quite different than they were then.


    • Michaela says:

      Thank you for your comments, Michael.

      PTSD is an extreme expression of basically the same mechanism – a trauma too difficult to hold, process or forget. A memory triggering an excess emotional response. The difference is – as you mention – that PTDS invades and overrides the “normal” ego formation. As you say, the ego is all about survival and it can create – or co-opt – any “reality” it sees fit.

      What fascinates me in the case of much “milder”, but still debilitating, conversion syndrome is that it is so frequent and there is a grey zone between normalcy (whatever this is) and a psychological or medical condition.

      We do not need to know why ego os doing what it is doing, but I think we all must be aware of what it can do. The only place to go that the ego has no access to – is to be truly present.

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