Hans Eysenck, a Brit born in Germany in 1916, may not be one of the more widely known personality theorists; however, he was one of the finest. And his work is important to panic attack sufferers.

Eysenck believed temperament, a characteristic mode of emotional response, is the featured component of personality. And he believed it was up and running at birth. Now, that isn’t to say he didn’t believe in the influence of environment, it’s just that he reasoned nature, as opposed to nurture, merited top billing with regard to how we think, feel, and behave.

Now, in his PEN (Psychoticism, Extraversion, Neuroticism) model, Eysenck submitted there are three dimensions of temperament; what he called “superfactors.” Within the context of panic, I’d like to limit our chat to neuroticism and extraversion.

People that fall into this dimension are generally fairly calm to very nervous. According to Eysenck, these folks are prone to what he called “neurotic” problems, issues of a mental or emotional nature that result in stress. Interestingly enough, Uncle Hans focused upon the sympathetic nervous system. Well, panic sufferers know this system well, as under the direction of our fear and emotion circuitry, the sympathetic nervous system launches our physical fight/flight response. According to Eysenck, neuroticism involves, shall we say, a “hyperactive” sympathetic nervous system.

The most noteworthy expression of neuroticism, so says Eysenck, is a panic attack. And here’s the pathological progression. One becomes mildly frightened by something, which most often causes the amygdala to sound the alarm. Well, answering the bell is the sympathetic nervous system, and the physical sensations it generates make one even more on-edge, upset, and hyper-reactive to any form of stimulation. Well, that just eggs-on the amygdala and sympathetic nervous system all the more, and now everything’s cycling very quickly out of control. And before you know it, in the midst of this viciously cycling mess comes a panic attack. Very curiously, when it’s all said and done, one is actually reacting more to one’s stimulus-overload than the original mildly frightening hiccup. Does that sound at all familiar? I’m thinking so.

According to Uncle Hans, extraversion is grounded in the balance between inhibition, the brain’s ability to calm itself down, and excitation, the brain going into alert mode. So it goes like this. One who is extraverted has strong inhibition; let’s say the ability to stay relatively calm in the face of highly traumatic circumstances. And since these people don’t go into a freeze mode in the face of trauma, they’re more likely to step-up and face whatever the next moment, or day, may bring. On the flipside, Eysenck tells us the introvert has weak inhibition, resulting in a high level of sensitivity to trauma. This results in intense feelings of get-out-in-the-world inhibition for fear of facing any number of calamities. And it’s all based in instincts of self-protection, driven by trauma-memory.

The Interaction Between Neuroticism and Extraversion
Now, we’ve already learned that Eysenck believed highly neuroticistic folks have an exaggerated response to fearful stimuli. If we’re an introvert, we’ll very quickly learn to avoid panic-inducing situations, even to the point of developing and implementing some very troubling coping mechanisms, such as specific phobias, avoidance, obsessions, and compulsions. Eysenck would say that neuroticistic extraverts would lean toward ignoring and forgetting overwhelming stimuli. Their coping mechanisms of choice would be denial and repression.

I believe if you’re a panic sufferer what we just reviewed is most relevant and worthy of ongoing consideration. If you buy-in to what Uncle Hans proposes then you have to put credence in the concept of playing the hand you’ve been dealt. In other words, adopting a measure of acceptance with regard to how you’re, shall we say, pre-wired. Now, I’m certainly not saying one must acquiesce to what may be considered undesirable traits. I’m simply pointing out the value of recognizing and accepting your particular biological engineering as you approach positive change.

Yes, all elements of “you” must be taken into account as you design and implement strategies and techniques for the resolution of panic attacks. And this concept applies to any mental, emotional, or physical “given.”

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Author's Bio: 

After a winning bout with panic disorder, a career in the business world, and a part-time job working with socially challenged adolescents, Bill found his life's passion and work. So he earned his master's degree and counseling credentials, and is doing all he can to lend a hand to those having a tough time.

Bill has some powerful BE CALM mentoring and service packages available for panic attack sufferers on his website, which include his panic attack education and recovery eWorkbook, "Panic! ...and Poetic Justice." The eWorkbook is delivered via an immediate download. You'll also find a link on the website to Bill's Panic Attack Freedom! blog. Lots of good stuff going on and much more to come.

In addition to doing psychiatric emergency work, Bill continues to do a lot of writing and speaking. He's conducted numerous mental health workshops and is available for future engagements. Bill is a national and local member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (N.A.M.I.). He resides in the far western suburbs of Chicago where he enjoys time with his two wonderful teenage children.