Updated: Nov 11, 2021
This post is a summary of Nancy McWilliam's chapter on Manic personalities in her book Psychoanalytic Diagnosis
McWilliams combines depressive and manic personalities in one chapter. Her position is that manic personalities are fundamentally depressive personalities but with extreme denial as a defense. The figure of a comic, who is energetic, witty, addicted, and with a darker depressive side, represents the stereotypical hypomanic personality.
Humor is a primary defense of those with hypomanic personalities. While this humor might help them create many friends, many times it also keeps people at a distance and those friendships might not be very deep. Anxiety is often present, even though the person may demonstrate a cheery exterior.
The primary defenses of hypomanic personalities are denial and acting out. There is a relationship between the denial and the acting out in that both are in the spirit of escaping inner pain. The criteria for a manic episode in the DSM include the acting out behaviors of sexual promiscuity, impulsive buying and so on. Distraction from their deep emotional suffering is what is on display.
Relationally, hypomanic people have typically experienced many disrupted relationships that were traumatic and ultimately unaddressed for the child who experienced them. There's typically a history of critical parenting and even physical abuse.
The self of a manic personality is always on the verge of coming apart. As a result, they engage in frenetic activity to run from that fear.
One of my hypomanic patients described herself as a spinning top. She was keenly aware of her need to keep moving lest she feel something painful... Often they come to therapy right after a depressive experience of profound self-fragmentation, when their manic defenses failed.
Some people who become masterful at managing their external and internal worlds become skillful at getting others to become emotionally attached to them without becoming emotionally attached to them in return. In this way, the hypomanic personality can create a world where they are not alone, but one where the loss of any of the one-sided relationships would not be emotionally devastating.
Therapists who aren't keen to these dynamics may underestimate a person with hypomanic personality's ability to charm them and hide the depth of their suffering. If the therapist doesn't quickly address the issue of flight with a patient with a hypomanic personality, the patient will likely abandon therapy as soon as they begin to become emotionally invested--exactly when the therapy may begin to be gaining traction.
Personality Analysis of the Manic Personality References
McWilliams, N. (2011). Psychoanalytic diagnosis: Understanding personality structure in the clinical process (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.