Here are some of my recent thoughts on female hysteria:
It seems, to me, that female hysteria is alive and kicking as much today as at any other time in history. Hysteria, as a term, ceased to be used about WWI. I have revived it.
In the late 1980’s I began an inquiry into why many females were so preoccupied with abuse. I was particularly appalled by the fabricated claims of abuse and false accusations of many females. Due to my own observation of female claims of abuse (I’ve written many articles on it in this blog) I began to see that there was an association of the female preoccupation with abuse and the mother instinct. To put a long story into as short an explanation as possible: “abuse” is a reference to childbearing as well as sex . . . the preoccupation with “abuse” is really a repressed desire for children! This is one reason why female claims of abuse tend to become sexual abuse, or a form of it, or involve the male in some way. Generally, the emphasis has primarily been on sex no doubt as a result of Christian morality. But I began to see that this was only a stage in the process to childbearing. In short, behind what is called “sexual desire”, “sexuality”, and such, is really a desire for children. As a person who was studying to be a psychoanalyst this seemed the subject of a drive for childbearing is a subject seldom, if ever, mentioned. This puts things on a whole new level. But I found it to be a major role in things. In effect, people sought childbearing in life but it even went further than that. I found that this was also associated with a drive to be productive in life. I started to call this “the principle of productivity” (see my article The Principle of Productivity and psychoanalysis). In this way, I found that sex lead to childbearing which led to a desire to be productive in life.
What I found is that the theme of childbearing, in particular, is a very neglected subject. But, as a result of these observations, I began to inquire about it and eventually began to speak of what I called the “womb sickness” in the 1990’s. Interestingly, hysteria means “womb sickness”, basically, which is why I began to reuse the term. As I looked closer I began to notice similarities to the classical traits of hysteria. Because of this, I began to feel that the old claims of hysteria has some truth in it.
As a result of my inquiry into females claims of abuse I began to see that females were afflicted with many problems associated with the mother instinct. Much of these problems have been “intellectualized”, “trivialized”, and passed to the side as nothing. Interestingly, this is primarily done by the females themselves. In fact, according to my inquiry, since the 1800’s, there has developed something like a contempt and denial of “femininity” in many females in Western society. This includes the mother instinct and motherhood. As a result, much of the problems that originate from the mother instinct have been as if forgotten or neglected since then by the females themselves . . . and this has been going on for around 200 years!
It seems, to me, that this contempt, denial, and forgetting of femininity and the mother instinct is part of the new form of hysteria that began in the 1800’s and dramatically affected its symptoms. In this way, we see two phases in female hysteria:
- Pre-1800’s female hysteria – tends to primarily be physical manifestations
- Post-1800’s female hysteria – tends to primarily be mental manifestations
When I was looking at females claims of abuse I began to look into, and inquire, into post-1800’s female hysteria with its mental qualities. Occasionally, I saw physical manifestations but they were minimal.
As part of this inquiry I began to see hysteria in a new light and a new way . . .
I tend to feel that hysteria is an ailment caused by a weak ego. A weak ego makes causes things like:
- It makes it hard to resolve conflicts which tend to be “misdirected” to other areas
- It makes it so that impulses, passions, and desires tend to be “misdirected” to other areas
So we see that a weak ego tends to cause a tendency of “misdirection” of impulses. The symptoms of hysteria are primarily caused by this “misdirection”. These “misdirected” impulses can go in almost any direction and location which is one reason why the symptoms of hysteria are so varied.
For the female, the main impulse that is “misdirected” is the mother instinct because it is so strong and influential. Because of this, female hysteria is closely associated with the impulses, passions, of the mother instinct.
But the mother instinct is not the only impulse the female has. Many other impulses can be “misdirected” as well. This means that hysteria doesn’t always originate with the mother instinct.
But we can see that, in female hysteria, we have several forms:
- Female hysteria as a result of a weak ego
- Female hysteria as a result of womb sickness
Females are predisposed to hysteria because of the mother instinct which, as part of its effects, tends to create a weaker ego in females. Basically, the mother instinct makes the female “dependent on another” (the child) and, accordingly, makes them not develop a firm sense of an independent self. This phenomena inhibits the growth of an ego. I often call this the Partial Self or Partial Mind.
Forms of Hysteria – Hysteria Complex
Because hysteria originates from a weak ego it means that males can have symptoms of hysteria as well. The big difference, of course, is that it has nothing to do with the “womb sickness” or mother instinct.
In addition, society tends to create a weak ego and this causes a social form of hysteria, what we call mass hysteria.It does this because society creates something like another “mind” which becomes as controlling as ones own mind. In this way, we are controlled by our own mind and the social “mind”. Mass hysteria is when the social “mind” takes control of us. When we do this we are no longer in control of our mind and, accordingly, our ego is weakened. This causes things like doing things we normally wouldn’t do, letting emotions overpower us, and losing a common sense.
So we see three effects of a weak ego which cause three forms of hysteria:
- Female hysteria
- Male hysteria
- Mass hysteria
The later two aren’t really hysteria’s, in the sense of a “womb sickness”, but the term hysteria has become so prevalent for these things that I keep using them as a result.
This is an example of the confusion that the term hysteria has created. In many ways, hysteria has become a conglomeration of different phenomena that have been lumped together over the years. This is primarily because of a number of reasons:
- The multitude and forms of the symptoms of hysteria makes it mysterious
- The symptoms have no other explanation
By the 1800’s hysteria was being used for practically any ailment that couldn’t be explained by any other means. In this way, by the late 1800’s the term hysteria, as something defined, became as if confused, which eventually led to it no longer being used in the early 1900’s.
My inquiry into female claims of abuse led me right back to it by showing a pattern much like this:
abuse—mother instinct—womb sickness—hysteria—weak ego
Unlike previous people, though, I saw the common denominator of it all as the weak ego. This point of view, as far as I know, is new.
Previously, people have said that hysteria was caused by things like:
- A “floating womb” that migrated around the body
- Sexual desire that isn’t satisfied
- A physical disease
- A result of some trauma
- Repressed feelings and desires
All these explanations only confused hysteria and what it is.
But, to me, I’d define hysteria in this way:
Hysteria is a phenomena created by a weak ego. It causes a tendency to “misdirect” impulses in unusual directions causing unique symptoms. Because the mother instinct tends to inherently weaken the ego, hysteria is more prevalent in females than males.
As a result of this definition there are many forms of hysteria which may or may not involve the mother instinct. As a result, I call all these phenomena the “hysteria complex” which allows us to use the hysteria term but to note that they are not related to the “womb sickness” necessarily.
Female hysteria, in my opinion, does not necessarily originate from a problem, as if often supposed, but has many causes. These include:
- The nature of the mother instinct . . . it just causes symptoms
- An aspect and part of growth for a woman
- An “initiation into womanhood” that as if reveals the mother instinct to girls
- A conflict due to a clash in the females character with qualities of the mother instinct
- Because they struggle with its effect and end up wrestling with it
- As a result of some conflict they are having
- As a result of something traumatic that has happened to them
What we see, then, is that some aspects of hysteria is actually healthy and normal and do not originate from a pathological cause. It seems to suggest that the mother instinct often causes naturally appearing hysteria or hysteria-like symptoms in females.
THE WEAK EGO
As stated above, a weak ego basically causes hysteria. But what is the ego? Here are some qualities of it:
- It collects ones being and makes it separate from the world and other people
- It identifies ones being as a single entity with unique qualities
- It directs passion, impulses, desires, etc. in healthy ways
- It helps controls ones world, surroundings, and ones association with the world
In this way, the ego as if consolidates ones being into a single entity in the world. In this way, it is associated with a stable self and a stable association with the world.
An Incomplete Self
One interesting effect of the mother instinct is that it does not allow the female to consolidate herself into a whole entity as a single person. Why is this?
The mother instinct, by its nature, makes the female “incomplete”. The female is “whole” only when there is a child . . . the child “completes” her. This shows the power of the mother instinct. As a result, the female has an inherent inability to consolidate themselves as a single entity and person. The effect of this is that females tend to inherently have weak egos.
In fact, its the females weak ego that creates the quality of “feminine”. It gives them the qualities of being weak, frail, sensitive, vulnerable, insecure, etc.
The effect of this incomplete self, weak ego, and “femininity” is a predisposition to hysteria in females.
ASSOCIATION OF HYSTERIA WITH THE WOMB
One thing that has mystified me is how the people centuries ago made the association of hysteria symptoms to the womb. Its not an easy association and not one that’s immediately obvious. How, then, were they made? I think there are a number of ways:
- The biggest thing is that hysterical symptoms are almost always displayed by females. This naturally made them assume it is related to the female exclusively and, therefore, must be related to the womb.
- They describe similar symptoms.
- The symptoms often originate after of an event.
- The symptoms seem unrelated to any other ailment.
- Personally, I think that intuitive sense plays a big part. How many times have I watched female behavior and “felt”, intuitively, that there was something else behind it?
We must remember that the mother instinct is not an organ nor is it necessarily “centered” in the womb or any organ. Its something that is within the female herself, as part of her makeup. As a result, the mother instinct has no center or organ. When I say “womb sickness” it would actually be more accurate to say “mother instinct sickness”.
THOUGHTS ON CHARCOT
In the mid-late 1800’s Jean-Martin Charcot worked with hysterics at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. He would have great influence on hysteria in the 1800’s. His point of view, though, was that hysteria had a physical cause much like a disease. The hysteria he was looking at, during that time, is a very extreme form of ailment that seems to be going on in France at that time and were rather unique in manifestation.
I’m no expert but I’m more inclined to say that the extreme and unique symptoms that he was witnessing was probably a result of a mass hysteria though that’s difficult to say. I say this for a number of reasons:
- It was extreme
- It was unique
- The symptoms often followed a pattern not seen elsewhere
- It appears to of only lasted in the mid-late 1800’s
- It seems unique to France
This suggests that it is cultural and time-related. The question then becomes “what was going on in France at that time?” Personally, I’m inclined to think that this is a form of a reaction to the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars era. Its part of a post war phenomena in which the society as if reacts after the war. Its prevalence would suggest a post-war mass hysteria but I’m not sure.
Several interesting things come out of Charcot’s investigations:
- There was an establishment between hypnosis and hysteria. Hypnosis, in a way, is a form of an absence of self. Because of this, people with hysteria are more easily hypnotized.
- Many hysterics were said to be false or faking the symptoms. This seems to be stated, in various ways, throughout history. I often think that this shows that people can sense the “absent self” in hysteria which makes the hysteric not appear genuine giving the appearance of being a fraud. I’ve often had this sense when watching females.
FORMS OF FEMALE HYSTERIA
There seem to be two forms of female hysteria:
- Physical hysteria
- Mental hysteria
The difference between these two seems to be related with how females lived their daily lives. Since the ego is associated with hysteria its no surprise that which form of hysteria females display seems to be related to where the female mind (ego) is most directed in their daily life.
Physical hysteria is prevalent in females with these qualities:
- They are before the mid 1800’s in Western Europe.
- It seems prevalent in females that live a more physical life, such as in farming. This causes a tendency for the ego to direct impulses into physical directions and manifestations.
The Problem of Physical Hysteria of the 1800’s World
There are a number of problems with physical hysteria in the pre-1800’s world:
- The great physical manifestations of hysteria are rare now, or I have never heard of them. As a result, its hard to assess them and their origin in the pre-1800’s world.
- More than likely, over the years, many different problems have been lumped together under the heading of hysteria. In this way, hysteria has more than likely become a conglomeration of many ailments in the pre-1800’s world making it hard to assess what is real and what is not.
To me, many physical symptoms of female hysteria is a reflection of what I call “physical conversion”. By this is meant that some mental tension is directed to some part of the body which causes symptoms in that part of the body. For years I have seen females display this quality, but never to the scale of the extreme forms seen in the pre-1800’s world.
I’ve often been stunned by how, and complete, this “physical conversion” can happen in females. This is one reason why physical hysteria seems so believable to me, even in its extreme form. Females have a closer connection between emotion and body than the male, or so it seems to me. Their emotional state will have great impact on their bodies. I’ve even heard females state this fact, and with pride! Oddly enough, when they do this they are basically bragging about their proneness to hysteria. This close emotion/body connection is one reason why females are more prone to display physical hysteria symptoms.
Some of the “physical conversion” I have personally seen include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- A tenseness of muscles
- A rigidity of muscles almost to the point of epilepsy
- A shaking
- Having false symptoms that they have obviously created in their minds
None of these are that dramatic but they display qualities similar to what is seen in the symptoms below. I tend to believe that even the more extreme versions of symptoms were somewhat rare in the pre-1800’s world. Most were probably somewhat mild but were appear to be seen more frequently than today.
I have displayed some of the symptoms described above, but it is always momentary. I think we all have. We all do “physical conversion”, to some extent, but because females have a stronger emotion/body connection it is more prevalent in them. In a way, these simple and mild “physical conversions” can be described as a mild hysterical symptom. Its when it gets out-of-control that it becomes hysteria. Some ways it does this include:
- It becomes particularly strong
- It becomes damaging in some way
- It lasts a long time
In this way, the physical symptoms of hysteria, described below, are really an exaggerated manifestation of a common thing we all do. As I said above, “physical conversion” seems an intensification and localization of tension in some part of the body.
Problems Created by a Weak Ego
The weak ego causes many symptoms of its own that are unrelated to “physical conversion” and still make an appearance in the pre-1800’s hysteria.
The weak ego causes an incomplete self which causes a tendency to take on the “self” of other people. This causes a number of interesting effects:
- Hysterical contagion. This refers to the tendency to imitate other people.
- Hysterical identification. This is when they make other peoples problems as if its their own.
These are good examples of the effects of the incomplete self by trying to become the “self” of other people.
One effect of the adopting the “self” of others is the creation of problems with ones own self. These cause things like:
- Losing a hold as to who one is
- Problems with ones identity
- Problems with growth and maturation
- The feeling of being threatened by other people or the world
- The feeling of being controlled
- A tendency to mindlessly follow
- A predisposition to mass hysteria
In these ways, the weak ego, that causes hysteria, can also cause other problems.
Here are some symptoms, as described in the pre-1800’s world:
Symptoms possibly caused by “physical conversion”
Head, neck, throat, chest, and abdomen symptoms:
- Pains in head, eyes, etc.
- Contraction or rigidity of limbs
- Tremors and shaking
- Numbness and anesthesia
- Palsies – paralysis and involuntary tremors
- Difficulty walking
- Catalepsy . . . can’t move or speak but conscious
- Passing out or losing consciousness
- Feeling as if there are lumps in ones body
Symptoms possibly caused by weak ego
- Voice problems, such as being unable to speak
- Oppression (feeling as if something bearing down all around you)
- Fits of laughing
- Trance states
- Loss of sensibility
- Becoming dumb
- Loss of identity
- Hysterical contagion
- Hysterical identification
- Mass hysteria
Other important points about the symptoms
- Some symptoms start and stop when seeing certain people or things or in remembering something
- Touching a specific part of body can sometimes affect symptoms
The symptoms of females hysteria are rather deceiving in that they are a result of where the tension went, for whatever reason, and do not hint at or describe its origin. This is because its a “physical conversion” of a tension. It shows that the symptom originates from the mind and that the “symptoms” often don’t reveal much. I call this the “indirect associative phenomena” of hysteria because the symptoms are often associated indirectly with the source. In many ways, this is a characteristic trait of hysteria. Its one reason why the symptoms seem so bizarre at times and seem unrelated with anything.
Some ways the associations are made include:
- By an association of an event which dictate how the symptoms appear
- By a physical association . . . that is, something is associated with a physical part of the body
- By an outlet of tension association, such as tensing the neck muscles when stressed
- By an association with physical anatomy or characteristics where the body takes a tension and manifests it physically without ones will or knowledge
The Dramatic Effect of Female Physical Hysteria
Many physical forms of female hysteria can have dramatic effect on people because of their intensity and severity. This is especially if its like an epileptic fit that happens regularly or entails screaming, hallucinations, or other things. This dramatic effect may have a lot to do with the witch hysteria of the past and why it caused such a panic.
Mental hysteria is prevalent in females with these qualities:
- They are after the mid 1800’s in Western Europe
- A more mental dominated life
- A more social orientation
This form of hysteria seems to be a result of a redirection of the impulses in other directions than physical, as was seen in the previous form. This made the symptoms appear in a totally different way. They do not resemble the classical forms of hysteria at all but, remember, I am defining hysteria as the effects of a weak ego . . . that’s whats determining everything. The symptoms of mental hysteria are caused by a weak ego but its effects are different.
Something that seems particularly influential is the creation of this form are:
- A more urban lifestyle that is less physical and more mental
- The coming of a multitude of media forms
- The bourgeoisie mentality which is a want-to-be and imitative mentality
The effect of these is that it turned the female into a person whose whole life is mentally dominated, imitative and a suck-up to society. In this way, the tension was no longer directed in physical directions but developed new directions, primarily turning to mental areas and manifestations.
Overall, I would venture to say that the symptoms of post-1800’s female hysteria is primarily caused by the effects of over-imitation and being a puppet to society. These have weakened the ego and caused several things to happen that are quite dominant:
- By being a slave to society it made the female more susceptible to mass hysteria. Because of this, the post-1800’s female hysteria has a close association with mass hysteria.
- Being controlled by society the female lost a control over who she is and what she is.
- It caused the contempt and denial of femininity.
Because of the different conditions the symptoms are different.
The female puppet
The female puppet is a result of the female becoming a complete slave to society and its ideals. Hence, they become much like puppets. As a result, they lose a sense of who they are to the point that they cease to exist as a separate person. Some effects of this include:
- A mindlessness
- A feeling of being controlled
- Always trying to be someone else
- A loss of a sense of self
- Leeching . . . trying to “live of other people”
- A slavishness to society
- Hysterical contagion
Interestingly, many females can feel that they are slaves or controlled by things and often complain about it. The problem is that they blame the wrong thing . . . usually the male or society . . . never themselves. In actuality, the slavishness they feel is what they have imposed upon themselves . . . they are slaves to themselves.
The alienation of the mother instinct
As they lost hold of who and what they are they developed an alienation of the mother instinct which caused things like:
- They develop a victim mentality
- They neglect the mother instinct and female things
- They develop a contempt of the female
Alienation with self
Since the female is no longer herself she tries to be other things:
- They try to be the social ideal
- They follow trends
- They try to be a man
Interestingly, much of these can be described as a “weak mindedness” reflecting the weak ego:
- They become easily traumatized
- Over sensitivity
- Over reaction
- Low self-esteem
- Obsessive-compulsive tendencies
The Dramatic Effects of Female Mental Hysteria
The effects of the mental hysteria can be as dramatic as the physical forms but in a different way:
- They’ve created a whole world of victimhood that has convinced many people of its truth and created many false myths about the female
- There has been extensive false accusation negatively affecting many people
- There has become a degradation and destruction of the female identity
In other words, mental hysteria has developed many negative and destructive qualities over the years. In fact, I’d say that the most destructive overall effect of mental hysteria is the degradation and destruction of the female and the female identity. In many ways, this makes it far worse than the physical form. The female is no longer a “woman” but a puppet to society.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen