Under the term hysteria is a disorder difficult to defineSymptoms appear without the person having to suffer from any type of organic condition that justifies them. In these cases, it is assumed that the cause of the disease is a psychological conflict to be resolved, which turns the person’s discomfort into physical symptoms, for this reason, it is also known as conversion disorder.
however, this diagnosis did not always work the same way. Since ancient times, hysteria was considered a disease of women, which could manifest itself in any type of symptom and was caused by great sexual repression.
What is hysteria?
The diagnosis of hysteria is what is currently known as conversion disorder, Which is located in the classification of neuroses and can be suffered by both women and men.
But that hasn’t always been the case. Throughout the history of psychiatry, the diagnosis of hysteria was reserved for women, who have been treated with a procedure known as pelvic massageThis treatment consisted of manual stimulation of the intimate area of the woman, by the clinical professional, until she reached orgasm.
Science at the time hypothesized that women suffered from hysteria due to repressed sexual desire, and that by reaching this orgasmic state, which they called “hysterical paroxysm,” symptoms of hysteria they slowly recovered.
These hysteria-related symptoms have covered physical symptoms such as headache, muscle spasms, or fluid retentionEven psychological symptoms such as insomnia or irritability, which they called “propensity to cause problems”.
Another important fact in the history of hysteria is that, thanks to this type of disorder, the well-known psychiatrist Sigmund Freud understood that there was something beyond consciousness itself. Following the study of hysteria, Freud determined the existence of the unconscious, theorizing that the cause of this disorder was the suppression of a traumatic event, Which manifested itself by seizures that appeared without any explanation.
Early diagnosis of hysteria
Although the diagnosis and study of hysteria reached its peak in the Victorian era, it has records of hysteria diagnoses from much older times.
Hysteria can be found described in ancient Egyptian records, and Plato and Hippocrates already described it at the time. During ancient Greece, assumptions about hysteria were based on a myth that the female uterus is able to pass through any part of the body, Causing all kinds of diseases.
This myth is the one that gives rise to hysteria, since the root of it has its origin in the Greek word hystera, used formerly to denote the uterus.
If we go a little further in time, the famous physician Galen described hysteria as a condition caused by sexual misconduct in women with passionate tendencies; and vaginal massages were already recommended as a treatment procedure.
The rise of hysteria in the Victorian era
Considering how many symptoms the Victorian-era medical community attributed to hysteria, it became the default diagnosis for virtually any condition, however mild, a woman experienced.
Meanwhile, one in four women has been diagnosed with hysteria, And the list of symptoms exceeded 75 pages in some manuals. The majority belief was that the pace of life at the time acted as a precipitating factor for women to suffer from this disease.
Another element that facilitated the large number of hysteria diagnoses was their ease of treatment. Vaginal massages were a safe treatment, as it was impossible for the patient to get worse or die from the procedure, which was very common in the Victorian healthcare system.
The main disadvantage of this treatment was that it had to be done periodically and constantly. In addition, the techniques used to stimulate the woman were tiring for the doctor, as he it could take a long time for the woman to reach a “hysterical climax”, With the consequent physical fatigue that this meant for both him and the patient.
To overcome this drawback, the invention of an apparatus created to facilitate this task has occurred. this device it was some kind of mechanical vibrator, Which was placed on the intimate area of the woman; thus giving birth, and without anyone in the scientific community noticing, to today’s sextoys.
Although in their early days as devices they could only be found in the consultations of doctors and psychiatrists, over time and thanks to the spread of electricity, vibrators reached practically every home, with the aim that women they could carry out the treatment themselves in the comfort and privacy of their own home.
It is curious that although the cause of the hysteria has been determined to be a lack of activity or sexual satisfaction, the medical community has categorically rejected the idea of the vibrator as an object for sexual purposes. Goal which, over time, is what was granted.
The end of this type of diagnosis
However, the fame and benefits of diagnosing hysteria were not enough to sustain it. Advances in psychology studies have led to a better understanding of the human mind, so hysteria has come to be viewed as conversion disorder, which has much more specific symptoms and can occur in men as in women.
Therefore, during the first years of the twentieth century, the diagnosis of hysteria significantly decreased. Also in part because the medical community itself has admitted that it is impossible to maintain a diagnosis that included all possible symptoms.
Finally, although the term continues to be used today as another way of referring to conversion disorder, its diagnosis according to Victorian-era guidelines is completely eradicated.