Psychasthenia: What Is It And What Disorders Is It Associated With?

This psychological concept is one of the mental characteristics meditated by the MMPI tests.


There are concepts within the field of psychology that have existed practically since the beginning of this and although they are not currently used in the same way, they can still be used for the evaluation and identification of a series of psychological alterations or disorders.

One of them is psychasthenia, currently conceived as a personality trait. Those who present this characteristic can experience high levels of anxiety, obsessions and even episodes of depersonalization.

What is Psychasthenia?

Although the concept of this has changed a lot over the years, psychasthenia is considered an alteration of psychological or mental tension characterized by presenting symptoms associated with phobias, obsessions, compulsions or anxiety disorders.

This term was described for the first time in 1903 by the psychologist and neurologist Pierre Janet, who elaborated a clinical picture that included the different varieties of phobias, anxieties and obsessions typical of his symptoms.

Despite this, at present, psychasthenia is not considered as a disorder or clinical diagnosis, it still appears as one more personality factor within the clinical evaluation scales of the MMPI, an evaluation test used to detect personality alterations and behavior.

In this sense, as a personality trait, psychasthenia is distinguished by causing a lack of control of conscious thought and memory, which results in scattered thoughts and language or a tendency to forget what was being talked about.

This disintegrated speech is the result of poorly ordered thought processes, which are manifested through sentences that are not very congruent and that are usually incomprehensible to the people who listen to it. In addition, the person with features of psychasthenia tends to manifest intense and irrational fears associated with their attention and concentration difficulties. As well as severe pictures of stress and anxiety.

All these symptoms make psychasthenia understood as a breakdown of psychological tension, which can become permanent, degenerative and, according to some theorists, hereditary.

What symptoms does it present?

Although it is not considered a psychological disorder or disorder with a specific diagnostic label, psychasthenia is characterized by presenting a series of signs in those in whom it occurs.

These symptoms characterize the personality of the person, which is defined by being of an anxious nature and presenting phobic, obsessive or compulsive symptoms among others. The severity of this clinical picture can vary between the people who present it. However, this symptomatology is usually quite intense, reaching the point of interfering in the person’s daily life and well-being.

Next, we go on to describe the main characteristics or symptoms of the psychasthenic personality.

1. Anxiety

Traditionally it has been determined that anxiety is the main symptom of psychasthenia, which causes and generates the rest of the anxious symptoms that characterize it. People with psychasthenia tend to manifest constantly high states of anxiety and tension, leading to habitual nervousness and distress.

2. Phobias

Phobias consist of a series of disorders or mental alterations that are characterized by provoking in the person feelings of fear and disproportionate and irrational fear before the appearance of certain stimuli, objects or specific situations.

This variety of fear disorder generates clinically significant anxiety symptoms as long as the person is in front of the stimulus considered as phobic, causing him to carry out all kinds of behaviors and behaviors to avoid or flee the feared situation.

3. Nervous tics

Due to the high degree of stress that psychasthenia causes, it is very possible that the person experiences a series of sudden and uncontrolled tics and movements known as tics. These muscular reactions are distinguished by being convulsive, sudden and exaggerated.

4. Obsessions

Obsessions are traditionally defined as a series of mental alterations caused by the development of fixed and recurring ideas and thoughts in the person’s mind.

These obsessive thoughts are usually associated with a specific idea that appears repeatedly causing serious concern, high levels of anguish and anxiety.

5. Compulsions

Associated with obsessive ideas or thoughts we find compulsions. This concept refers to the need that the person feels to carry out repetitive behaviors or behaviors.

These behaviors are carried out with the aim of reducing the anxiety reactions caused by obsessive ideas and thoughts. Although obsessive-compulsive reactions form a specific clinical picture of OCD, in psychasthenia they appear as part of its symptomatology.

6. Depersonalization

The last of these symptoms is depersonalization. Depersonalization consists of a disorder by which the person experiences an alteration of the perception of himself in which he feels that his mind is detached from his body and that he can perceive it from outside, as an observer.

Concept according to the MMPI

As mentioned above, despite the fact that psychasthenia is no longer considered a mental illness or disorder as such, the MMPI continues to recognize it as a pathological personality alteration very close to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In addition, the MMPI user manual adds that these people also tend to experience extreme and abnormal feelings of guilt, pathological concentration problems or a tendency to self-criticism.

Although it cannot be considered as a diagnostic label, this subscale facilitates the identification of personality traits in which the lack of control of conscious thought, alterations in memory and the tendency to anxiety and obsessive thinking prevail.

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