What the heck is hysteria? by CJC (Book)

This book is a historical review of the ideas that shaped the concept of hysteria, with special emphasis on the final decades of the nineteenth century, the period in which Psychoanalysis was born. It aims to answer a simple question: How did what was called hysteria look like? Thus, it tries to give a picture, as complete as possible, of that disease, one that was capable of passing for almost any disease known to man. It also shows how hysterical patients used to be identified and what treatment they received.

In essence, this book is a modern treatise, full of quotations from many authors, on hysteria, an ancient disease, an obsolete medical entity, but still of great interest to certain academic groups, especially psychoanalytic ones. It is a book that dismantles many myths related to hysteria by giving a complete and detailed picture of what was called hysterical. In doing so, by dismantling myths about hysteria, it dismantles myths of Psychoanalysis, obviously based and founded on them. Dismantling the myths of hysteria leads, therefore, to dismantling the myths on which the couch is legitimized and thus to see what was the true place that Psychoanalysis had at the time, that is, when it was confronted with hysteria. It allows us to see that the phrase “what is new is not true and what is true is not new” applies perfectly to Freud. In short, this book is a guide, with quotations and sources, to debunk several myths of hysteria and, by transitive property, of Psychoanalysis.

The book is composed of nine chapters. Each deals with a particular topic. The first three chapters lay the necessary foundations for doing so. In the remaining chapters, some ancillary ideas are presented, and some major myths are debunked thanks to the foundations laid out in those three chapters.

As in any historical review, the first chapter is a historical summary of hysteria from its beginnings in ancient Greece reaching up to the early 19th century and, a little further, passing through the idea of the wandering womb and the aromatic treatment that derived from it. In short, it shows what was called the suffocation of the mother, which can be called early hysteria.

The second and third chapters form a kind of block. The second is a tour through various definitions, or attempted definitions, given for hysteria in that form in which Freud knew it. It shows the wide variety of thought there was about this disease. It also shows that, among such a disparity of opinions and views, there were points of agreement that made it possible to outline and detail with good specificity what hysteria was. However, this was never enough. It needed to be described in its symptoms, which is what the third chapter does. It attempts to describe them in as much detail as possible to give a tight and detailed picture that answers the question of what hysteria looked like, which the various definitions could not achieve.

The fourth chapter deals with the discussion that was held about the possible causes and influences that hysteria was thought to have. This chapter debunks the idea that doctors ignored their patients, that they did not listen to them, and that they shied away from anything sexual, as Freud implied. Emphasis is also placed on the theory of the cause and generation of hysteria (etiology) which he held at the time, his caput nili, and which he never seems to have abandoned, which serves as the basis for Freudiana, the sixth chapter.

Chapter five is devoted to showing how, in reality, hysterical patients were not despised for being simulators, that is, people who feigned their condition. The exact opposite was the case. Hysteria was well established in the medical books and no doctor disregarded any hysterical patient just for being hysterical, but rather considered them very broadly, perhaps too broadly. That breadth of vision was the origin of modern psychotherapy and not Freud as he is usually presented.

Chapter six deals with hysteria from the same Freudian perspective. It sets out, in considerable detail, how the Freudian caput nili actually works by analyzing Freud's actions in various cases of hysteria. The novelty is that his actions and thinking are compared with the medical thinking of his time, as described in the previous chapters. Freud's way of acting is evaluated against the same standard of his time. This is a fairly common argument of his defenders and, unfortunately for them, Freud does not come out of this comparison well.

The seventh chapter tries to give an answer to the mystery of the disappearance of hysteria. A disease of at least 25 centuries of existence, which reached epidemic levels, in only a couple of decades diminished and today it is very difficult to find a case like the one Freud and his contemporaries used to encounter day by day. This, in itself, is a mystery: what could have made such a well-established and elusive disease disappear for two millennia? How could it disappear so easily without anyone doing anything to provoke it? The answer to this question shows how it could also be maintained for centuries.

The eighth chapter is somewhat confusing. In the previous chapter, it is argued that hysteria disappeared. However, it did not. To be more exact, hysteria as a disease disappeared, but as an idea, as a concept, as a nosological entity, it did not disappear. It is still present today, although no longer in manuals of general or gynecological medicine, but in manuals of psychiatry. Specifically, hysteria found a sanctuary in the DSM itself and from there it continues to serve physicians in the same way it did in the 19th century, as Colin denounced it. The curious thing about this is that hysteria is also used similarly by current modern philosophers, thinkers and psychoanalysts, but what they call hysteria is no longer hysteria and this chapter shows it.

The last chapter of the book is, perhaps, the most interesting, since even with hysteria gone it seems to be able to continue to create myths. Specifically, it deals with the myth that hysterical patients were treated with genital massages that sought to bring them to hysterical paroxysm. In other words, doctors would have been masturbating hysterical patients to orgasm. Although this myth is completely discredited, it is still alive and well in Spanish-speaking environments. In this chapter, he collects many quotes from different doctors that show how wrong and extremely false this myth is. By showing how the treatment was really given to patients with hysteria, it is shown how wrong and false the myth was.

This book can be purchased at the stores listed below, which will change over time. The project of this book is a self-made one, that is to say, it is my own personal effort, without a publisher for the moment. So I appreciate the diffusion of this page so that the project advances, either towards new books or that the ideas of this one expand. So, also, there are some limitations due to this lack of a publisher, to support this self-published project. I can only offer one format. The book is only available in reader-friendly PDF. I would be happy to offer an EPUB format, but that would delay much longer than its publication was delayed. In the same sense, for now, there is no paper version available, but I do not rule it out in the future. For comments, doubts and any kind of questions, my office door is always open.