See A. Roy, ed., Hysteria (1982); E. Showalter, Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture (1997).
In psychology, a neurosis marked by extreme emotional excitability and disturbances of psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions. The earlier concept of hysteria was used frequently in the first half of the 20th century to explain a wide variety of symptoms and behaviours observed particularly in women. (The term hysteria derives from the Greek word for womb, reflecting the Greeks' belief that the condition resulted from disturbances of the uterus.) Disorders with symptoms similar to those of conversion disorder include factitious disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and personality disorder (histrionic type).
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Psychiatrists and other physicians have in theory given up the use of "hysteria", replacing it with more euphemistic terms that are essentially synonyms. These include "psychosomatic", "functional", "nonorganic", "psychogenic", and "medically unexplained". In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association officially changed the diagnosis of "hysterical neurosis, conversion type" to "conversion disorder". Hysteria also has significant overlap with the diagnostic term "somatization disorder" and with somatoform disorders in general.
The same general definition, or under the name female hysteria, came into widespread use in the middle and late 19th century to describe what is today generally considered to be sexual dissatisfaction. Typical treatment was massage of the patient's genitalia by the physician and later vibrators or water sprays to cause orgasm. By the early 1900s, the practice and usage of the term had fallen from use until it was again popularized when the writings of Sigmund Freud became known and influential in Britain and the USA in the 1920s. The Freudian psychoanalytic school of psychology uses its own, somewhat controversial, ways to treat hysteria.
The knowledge of hysterical processes was advanced by the work of Jean-Martin Charcot, a French neurologist. However, many now consider hysteria to be a legacy diagnosis (i.e., a catch-all junk diagnosis), particularly due to its long list of possible manifestations: one Victorian physician cataloged 75 pages of possible symptoms of hysteria and called the list incomplete..
Current psychiatric terminology distinguishes two types of hysteria: somatoform and dissociative. Dissociative hysteria includes amnestic fugue states. Somatoform disorders include conversion disorder, somatization disorder, chronic pain disorder, hypochondriasis, and body dysmorphic disorder. In somatoform disorders, the patient exhibits physical symptoms such as low back pain or limb paralysis, without apparent physical cause. Recent neuroscientific research, however, is starting to show that there are characteristic patterns of brain activity associated with these states. All these disorders are thought to be unconscious, not feigned or intentional malingering.
Freudian psychoanalytic theory attributed hysterical symptoms to the subconscious mind's attempt to protect the patient from psychic stress. Subconscious motives include primary gain, in which the symptom directly relieves the stress (as when a patient coughs to release energy pent up from keeping a secret), and secondary gain, in which the symptom provides an independent advantage such as staying home from a hated job. More recent critics have noted the possibility of tertiary gain, when a patient is induced subconsciously to display a symptom because of the desires of others (as when a controlling husband enjoys the docility of his sick wife). There need be no gain at all, however, in a hysterical symptom. A child playing hockey may fall and for several hours believe he is unable to move, because he has recently heard of a famous hockey player who fell and broke his neck.
Jungian psychologist Laurie Layton Schapira explored what she labels a "Cassandra Complex" suffered by those traditionally diagnosed with hysteria, denoting a tendency for those with hysteria to be disbelieved or dismissed when relating the facticity of their experiences to others. Based on clinical experience, she delineates three factors which constitute the Cassandra complex in hysterics: (a). dysfunctional relationships with social manifestations of rationality, order, and reason, leading to; (b). emotional or physical suffering, particularly in the form of somatic, often gynaecological complaints, and (c). being disbelieved or dismissed when attempting to relate the facticity of these experiences to others.
A similar usage refers to any sort of "public wave" phenomenon, and has been used to describe the periodic widespread reappearance and public interest in UFO reports, crop circles, and similar examples. Also, when information, real or fake, becomes misinterpreted but believed, e.g. penis panic.
Hysteria is often associated with movements like the Salem Witch Trials, McCarthyism, the First Red Scare, the Second Red Scare and Terrorism where it is better understood through the related sociological term of moral panic.