Description and Characteristics of Parathymia

A person bursting out laughing at a funeral (while everyone else gives them a scornful look) might have Parathymia. This is an emotional disorder and today's article will reveal the causes.
Description and Characteristics of Parathymia

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Laughing at a funeral or when a friend expresses desolation because a beloved family member has a terminal illness might be due to Parathymia. This is an emotional disorder a person experiences when they express themselves inappropriately in a particular situation.

This doesn’t mean they’re not sad when a person died, as per the funeral example above. It’s only that there’s a discrepancy between what they feel and what they express.

It’s important not to confuse Parathymia with emotional indifference though. A person definitely feels, but is incapable of expressing themselves adequately. That’s not the case with emotional indifference as a person in this scenario doesn’t express emotions because they don’t feel them.

Types of Parathymia

In order to better understand this emotional disorder, we must first talk about the three types. This is because it’s important to differentiate them so as not to mistake one for the other. After all, they do have similar characteristics.

Let’s review each one of them.

1. Parathymia

This is the one we’ve referred to so far, albeit in a general way. A person who experiences it is unable to express an emotion that matches what they’re feeling.

They’re emotions that confuse those around them because they’re not in accordance with what they’re feeling. It’s as if something is wrong; as if there’s a disconnection.

A woman crying.
Parathymia alters the expression of a person’s emotions and confuses those around them.

2. Positive parathymia

A person with positive parathymia is usually in a state of hyperactivity and euphoria.

This state is maintained over time and is what differentiates it from the manic phase in bipolar disorder. The state of euphoria in this emotional disorder can be lengthy and disconcerting to those around.

Read about Bipolar I Disorder

3. Negative parathymia

The opposite happens in this type.

A person with negative parathymia maintains a state of sadness for a long time. One could compare it to the depressive phase of bipolar disorder. However, a person may in fact be happy – they’re just unable to express it. Instead, they only show great sadness, a melancholic state they cannot get rid of.

The causes of parathymia

There are various causes but schizophrenia, a type of dementia, is the most common. It can also manifest after a blow or injury to the head that causes brain damage.

It may also be due to bipolar disorder, which we mentioned above when we compared positive and negative parathymia. In fact, this sort of makes us think that this emotional disorder rarely appears by itself.

Symptoms of parathymia

There’s basically one symptom: the inability to express what a person is really thinking or feeling. The people around might be surprised and frightened, as they don’t understand why the person is crying at a birthday party or laughing at a funeral.

It’s definitely puzzling and clashes with our cultural background, and also causes discomfort and frustration in the person who experiences it.

Furthermore, people with parathymia can’t control the way they express themselves. It leads to rejection, both from others and from themselves. Thus, the situation leads to isolation, to not feeling worthy of being with others. It’s quite damaging to self-esteem.

Check out these Nine Tips for Helping a Person with Bipolar Disorder

Some examples

We gave some above but we must emphasize them to try to make it easier to understand. It’s not common to meet people with this disorder but knowing the symptoms and how they really feel will help you to understand them in case you run into one of them:

  • A person says they’re in deep pain while smiling broadly
  • Someone confesses they have terminal cancer and then bursts out laughing
  • Or, they express great sadness when someone says they love them
  • They may seem rather distressed at their own wedding
A person wondering if they should smile or not.
Understanding that people with parathymia can’t properly express what they feel generates empathy. It’s important that they aren’t isolated.


The best treatment for parathymia is pharmacological in the form of antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anxiolytics.

Drugs on their own won’t be enough though. The pharmacological approach must be supplemented by therapy to teach them certain strategies to express what they’re feeling.

One must also take into account the causes. A brain injury may not require drugs if it has a good prognosis. Moreover, we must stress the importance of understanding this disorder.

A person with schizophrenia or a personality disorder must understand what’s happening to them. Many disorders are still in the shadows, so bringing them to light will allow us to be more sympathetic to those afflicted by them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bleuler, E. (1996). La esquizofrenia (1926). Revista de la Asociación Española de Neuropsiquiatría.16(60), 664-676.
  • Lince, B. Á. (2011). La posición depresiva. Desde el Jardín de Freud, (11), 77-92.
  • Melero, M. L. (2018). La indiferencia afectiva como rasgo nocivo de la personalidad. Anuario de derecho penal y ciencias penales71(1), 265-305.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.