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Origins of the terms Hysteria and Hysterical Conversion

What is hysteria? What is hysterical conversion? What is the origin of the term hysteria? Provides context on what Hysteria is.

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1. The following is the official medical definition of Hysteria, taken from:

Copyright © 1996-1997 Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ, USA. All rights reserved.
(Conversion Reaction; Conversion Disorder; Dissociative Reaction; Dissociative Disorder)

A neurotic disorder characterized by a wide variety of somatic and mental symptoms resulting from dissociation, typically beginning during adolescence or early adulthood and occurring more commonly in women than men. Since the concept of hysteria as a disease is over 2000 yr old, its limits as a disorder have become blurred by a variety of definitions. Discussion is restricted to those phenomena classified as conversion and dissociative disorders of consciousness, which have a common basis in the mental phenomenon of dissociation.


The concept of dissociation, a process whereby specific internal mental contents (memories, ideas, feelings, perceptions) are lost to conscious awareness and become unavailable to voluntary recall, is central to an understanding of the genesis of hysterical symptoms. Though unconscious, these mental contents can be recovered under special circumstances (eg, in dreams or a hypnotic trance). Furthermore, they are able to affect the individual's awareness and behavior in a variety of ways. For example, the dissociation and loss from consciousness of memories of motor patterns lead to paralysis; the emergence of a fragment of a dissociated visual memory may produce an ego-alien visual hallucination; the emergence of a complex of mental associations forming a dissociated personality may effect a complete change in the individual's behavior. All phenomena of conversion and dissociative hysteria may be viewed as the effects of either the dissociation itself or the eruption into consciousness of portions of the dissociated mental contents of varying degrees of complexity. Proneness to dissociation may in part be genetic.

Two special aspects of dissociation should be noted: (1) It is closely correlated with hypnotizability, and individuals prone to spontaneous dissociation usually rate high on hypnotizability scales. (2) It may serve as a psychologic defense; ie, it provides a mechanism for banishing unpleasant, painful, and anxiety-provoking ...

Solution Summary

This solution provides a working definition of the terms Hysteria, Hysterical Conversion and examines the origins of the term Hysteria.