Psychological Problems: Cardioneurosis, Cataphasia, Hebephrenia, Korsakoff’s Psychosis

Marc McCutcheon’s book Building Believable Characters has a section called PSYCHOLOGICAL/PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS. My last post on this topic generated a bit of disagreement, so let’s see what I can come up with today from the alphabetical listing of psychological problems. (Note: the list is in alphabetical order, so you can see I’m just beginning. I’m also skipping many of the well-known ones, like bulimia, compulsive disorders, delusions, etc.)

CARDIONEUROSIS: “A neurotic fear of having a heart attack. Symptoms include perceived chest pains, palpitations, and shortness of breath.” This one can be used seriously, but I’ve also seen it done for comedic effect. Victoria Laurie has a series with a young man who’s always terrified of getting sick. Not like a head cold, but strokes, heart attacks, exotic fevers, and off-the-wall sicknesses that make him extremely funny.

CATAPHASIA: “Repetition of the same word or phrase over and over.” You could use this one without ever labeling the problem, and I could see this working extremely well. Many well-loved characters have catch-phrases (“Elementary, my dear Watson” comes to mind), but you could magnify this one enough to truly make your character stand out. Too much repetition and the reader will tire of it, but used in moderation, this could be a fantastic tool for creating a memorable character. This disorder closely resembles ECHOLALIA, which is “a brain disorder in which the victim repeats the words of others.” Both of these could also be used for comedic effect, too.

HEBEPHRENIA: “A form of schizophrenia characterized by regressive behavior and a perpetual silly grin.” If you want to use this one, do a ton of research before diving in. I bring it up, though, because I’ve never heard of it before and the “silly grin” stood out to me as unique and interesting (in a morbid sort of way). As I know nothing about this problem, I hesitate to comment as I may get it all wrong, so I’ll leave you with the description and your own imagination.

KORSAKOFF’S PSYCHOSIS: “Distorted thinking and memory loss caused by alcohol.” Again, I know nothing about this, but the memory loss part sparked several ideas. Do your research if you want to use this one. If any of you have heard of this one (or the previous), please share in the comments section.

The next part of the list has a bunch of manias, and I’ll discuss those in my next post. Questions? Comments? Rants? Share them all.


7 thoughts on “Psychological Problems: Cardioneurosis, Cataphasia, Hebephrenia, Korsakoff’s Psychosis

  1. Cataphasia – but when I use the same words over and over in my story, my critique partners tell me to cut them! LOL. I think it could be pulled off even with the phrase being too frequent in use AS LONG AS at least one other character expresses some degree of annoyance with it. Drawing that sort of attention makes it clear to the reader – yes, I’m aware that this character is saying this too much, and yes, it’s okay if you’re getting tired of it. Often that little note of recognition is all the difference between a character quirk that annoys the reader versus a character quirk that the reader can accept.

    Hebephrenia – one of the most common traits of the varying types of schizophrenia is that emotional responses are not appropriate. The person might display flat affect (never showing any emotions) or emotional reactions that don’t match the situation. There are high-functioning people with schizophrenia out there, and with a bit of research, such a person could make a fascinating character. But do the research – nothing annoys us AR types more than when someone can’t tell the difference between schizophrenia and multiple personalities, for instance. 😉

  2. This really good. Sounds very professional but for readers who don’t really understand those technical terms, do you have any common terms for these psychological problems? Terms that would be in lay man’s term.

    • I don’t know any layman’s terms for these, Abigail. Sorry. Anyone out there know something they can share?

    • I don’t believe there is any layman’s equivalent for these. But even if there was, it’s not like you would want to make a label your main way of identifying/including the traits. I could see writing a character in a book who exhibits these behaviors throughout the entire story without ever identifying what the psychological diagnostic term would be. These are just things that can add a layer of depth to your character, and you have the added bonus of knowing there actually are people out there with these specific traits, adding a layer of realism along with that depth.

      But you don’t have to worry about the specific terminology. Your protagonist is driving down the road, sees something dart out, feels his heart rate increase. Panic starts to set in. Oh no. My weak heart. It’s going to give out while I’m driving, and I’m going to end up killing someone. Gotta find somewhere to pull over. Is my chest getting tight? It is! Oh dear Lord, let me find a parking space, fast! Gotta cough. They say you can hold off a heart attack by coughing hard. – Etc, etc. You don’t have to tell the reader what the technical name for this is because all your reader needs to know is right there – your protagonist believes he’s having a heart attack, and it terrifies him. No need to know a fancy medical term for it.

      If you do want to find a place to insert the term, then bring in the outside party. Your protagonist is chatting with a new coworker, making pleasant small talk, when suddenly something about the last two words strikes a chord in her mind and her mouth starts repeating them, repeating them, repeating them, repeating them… She manages to regain control and clamp down, but now Ted the New Guy is staring at her like she’s a freak. She blushes furiously. Stammers out an awkward apology. He’s still staring. She fumbles her way around a weak explanation. She has… an imbalance, just a little one, and there are times it makes her repeat words, that’s all. Don’t worry, she adds with an awkward, forced giggle, I’m not going to go crazy and start stabbing people or dancing with lamps. I’m fine. I just repeat things sometimes. Sometimes. Sometimes. Her cheeks burn even hotter now. Ted stares with huge eyes and then mumbles out a flimsy excuse before all but running away. It takes all her self control not to go hide underneath the nearest desk.

      Remember that these descriptions are a starting point only. Do your research. For instance, cataphasia is most commonly associated with schizophrenia, so if you go with that one, you’re delving into some heavier psychological issues there. You want to write a schizophrenic character on medication who is generally balanced and ‘normal’ aside from the occasional repeated word or phrase? Great, that’s fine – but make sure you know what you’re dealing with. If you don’t, you’ll end up with some long-winded letters from readers who do.

      Also, as a side note – coming back and looking again, I recall a bit more from my ages-past studies, and the above depiction might be more accurate to cataphasia than the idea of a repeated catchphrase. If I’m remembering correctly, it’s more commonly any random word (or words) spoken that might end up being repeated, outside of the speaker’s control, rather than being one specific phrase. Yet again, research is your friend. If you’re going to use it, make sure to take a little time to dig up facts on it and make sure you know how it presents in real life. If you can’t find that online, then look up a local psychiatrist or psychologist, call them, and ask if you can ask them a few questions as research for a book you’re writing.

      • Apologies – in the third paragraph, I claimed I was going to show how to insert the actual term and then never did! Oops, lol. The point being, the protagonist is talking with someone unfamiliar with these things, and so might explain the name as a way of making it seem more acceptable. You know, we all feel better when we hear that there is a technical name for something. Since cataphasia is a subtype of schizophrenia, I used the line about ‘imbalance’ to hint at rather than identify schizophrenia because people hear that word and tend to freak out, so your protagonist will probably want to avoid using that word. But there would be nothing wrong with, “I repeat words sometimes – it’s called cataphasia. It’s just a quirk, that’s all.”

        The other quick and dirty way of sneaking in technical terms would be the same situation (someone who doesn’t know this person) but with a third party. Going back to cardioneurosis: “Oh, Jim’s fine, don’t worry. He does this all the time. Convinced he’s going to have a heart attack, the poor dear.” “Convinced, nothing! I AM having a heart attack! Call the ambulance!” (lower tone) “He’s fine, honest. The doctor says it’s called cardioneurosis. It just means he’s scared of having heart attacks so much that his brain tricks him into thinking he’s having one. More tea?”

      • Thank you for that fabulous response, Aggeloi. Your examples are great, as always. Hope this helps, Abaigail.

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