Advanced Psychopathology

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Obsessive-Compulsive vs. Hysterical Character Styles

Obsessive-Compulsive versus Hysterical Character Styles

For cognitive style, the obsessive-compulsive type is the polar opposite of the hysterical type. That is, in the former case, the person scrutinizes life, attending to selected details almost exclusively at the expense of broader themes as well as other unselected details. This feature is in large part due to the deficiency in attention-shifting. In the latter case, the hysterical person is overly global, and this is at the expense of important discrete facts. However, like the obsessional character, this orientation is also based on selectivity, only here it is not the lack of the attention-shifting capacity, but the frequent implementation of repression. The capacity for repression is so profound that it defines this neurotic type, distorting their experience of life and relationships, their memory, and personal narrative.

Unlike the hysteric, who is, in a way, over-engaged in the world, the obsessive-compulsive is disengaged from the world. In both cases, this way of being is naturally a defense. The hysteric’s perpetual attention-seeking behavior is driven by an intense inner dread that they are unwanted and disliked- they feel devalued, though maybe not consciously. The obsessive-compulsive is driven away from the world, isolating himself, as an attempt at control and preservation of an unconscious wish for omnipotence. The illusion (delusion) of control is maintained by the person’s rejecting of the world, avoiding the fear of being rejected. Thus he is making the choice before the world makes it for him.

Thematically, it seems as though the hysteric’s organizing way of managing their anxiety and fear is through the usage of defenses which ultimately manipulate and distort their own conscious experience, where as the obsessive-compulsive is generally prone to externalizing the causes of his thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Hysterics tend toward controlling how they experience the world. Obsessive-compulsives tend toward controlling what of the world they experience.

Nice formulation at the end there, Jay. That's a handy way to encapsulate this stuff.
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