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Affective Permeability: On Hysteria and Atmospheres.

BACKGROUND: Phenomenological literature has recently given much attention to the concept of atmosphere, which is the pre-individual affective tonality of the intersubjective space. The importance of atmospheres in psychopathology has been described for various disorders, but little is known about the interaction with hysteria. The aim of the present paper was to describe the psychopathology of hysteria from the angle of the phenomenon of atmosphere, focussing on the hysterical person's peculiar "affective permeability".

SUMMARY: Hysterical people have difficulty defining themselves autonomously. As compensation, they adopt models transposed from the external environment such as social gender stereotypes or are influenced by the gaze and desire of others. They also possess a special sensitivity in perceiving the affectivity present in a given social situation, by which they are easily impressed and influenced. Their sensibility to environmental affectivity may allow them to take centre stage, assuming the postures and behaviours that others desire and that they sense by "sniffing" the atmosphere in which the encounter is immersed. Thus, a paradox may take place: sensibility is not mere passivity in hysteria but may become a tool for "riding" the emotional atmosphere and manipulating it.

KEY MESSAGES: Affective permeability to environmental atmospheres and manipulation of the environment are the two sides of the same coin. This overlap of passive impressionability and active manoeuvring is necessary to be grasped in the clinical encounter with hysterical persons not to be submerged by their theatricality, that is, by the hyper-intensive expressivity of their feelings and behaviours.

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