“In the DSM-5, symptoms that were once labeled under the broad umbrella of hysteria fit under what is now referred to as somatic symptom disorder.”*


From: Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton (1861) – Chapter 43 – The Doctor:

“2643.Hysterics.–These fits take place, for the most part, in young, nervous, unmarried women. They happen much less often in married women; and even (in some rare cases indeed) in men. Young women, who are subject to these fits, are apt to think that they are suffering from “all the ills that flesh is heir to;” and the false symptoms of disease which they show are so like the true ones, that it is often exceedingly difficult to detect the difference. The fits themselves are mostly preceded by great depression of spirits, shedding of tears, sickness, palpitation of the heart, &c. A pain, as if a nail were being driven in, is also often felt at one particular part of the head. In almost all cases, when a fit is coming on, pain is felt on the left side. This pain rises gradually until it reaches the throat, and then gives the patient a sensation as if she had a pellet there, which prevents her from breathing properly, and, in fact, seems to threaten actual suffocation. The patient now generally becomes insensible, and faints; the body is thrown about in all directions, froth issues from the mouth, incoherent expressions are uttered, and fits of laughter, crying, or screaming, take place. When the fit is going off, the patient mostly cries bitterly, sometimes knowing all, and at others nothing, of what has taken place, and feeling general soreness all over the body. Treatment during the fit. Place the body in the same position as for simple fainting, and treat, in other respects, as directed in the article on Epilepsy. Always well loosen the patient’s stays; and, when she is recovering, and able to swallow, give 20 drops of sal volatile in a little water. The after-treatment of these cases is very various. If the patient is of a strong constitution, she should live on plain diet, take plenty of exercise, and take occasional doses of castor oil, or an aperient mixture, such as that described as “No. 1,” in previous numbers. If, as is mostly the case, the patient is weak and delicate, she will require a different mode of treatment altogether. Good nourishing diet, gentle exercise, cold baths, occasionally a dose of No. 3 myrrh and aloes pills at night, and a dose of compound iron pills twice a day. [As to the myrrh and aloes pills (No. 3), 10 grains made into two pills are a dose for a full-grown person. Of the compound iron pills (No. 4), the dose for a full grown person is also 10 grains, made into two pills.] In every case, amusing the mind, and avoiding all causes of over-excitement, are of great service in bringing about a permanent cure.”

From: Part II of the Project for a Scientific Psychology (1950 [1895]), by Sigmund Freud:

“The formation of symbols also takes place normally. A soldier will sacrifice himself for a many-coloured scrap of stuff on a pole, because it has become the symbol of his fatherland, and no one thinks that neurotic.

But a hysterical symbol behaves differently. The knight who fights for his lady’s glove knows, in the first place, that the glove owes its importance to the lady; and, secondly, he is in no way prevented by his adoration of the glove from thinking of the lady and serving her in other respects. The hysteric, who weeps at A, is quite unaware that he is doing so on account of the association A – B, and B itself plays no part at all in his psychical life. The symbol has in this case taken the place of the thing entirely.

This assertion is correct in the strictest sense. We can convince ourselves that whenever anything is evoked, from outside or by association, which should in fact cathect B, A enters consciousness instead of it. Indeed, one can infer the nature of B from the provoking causes which – in a remarkable fashion – evoke A.

We can sum the matter up: A is compulsive, B is repressed (at least from the consciousness).

Analysis has led to the surprising conclusion: that for every compulsion there is a corresponding repression, that for every excessive intrusion into consciousness there is a corresponding amnesia.”

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