Friday, November 03, 2006

Hysteria and Anna O. background Info

That's Rosie the Riveter vs. Sigmund Freud, ha ha.

Kind of funny I am posting two blogs this week associated with Freud. I actually have a book I have checked out from the library called "Freud on Women" which I think I will sit down and have a nice chat (er, I mean read) with on my couch this weekend.

Anyway, if you have read my first blog you might have guessed that I am currently doing a personal research project on 19th century Female Hysteria. I find this subject fascinating. If I were to go to grad school, it would probably be the topic of my thesis (no matter if I was studying art or women's studies). There is not a WHOLE LOT of information on the subject readily available though. I think there is a library somewhere out in Maryland or Virginia with some good research books on the subject. There are some OK websites, but nothing, so far that I have found, that does the subject justice.

I will start with the basics in this blog. It began with the ancient Greeks who believed the cause of Hysteria was a misplaced uterus. They believed that a woman's uterus could float around in a woman's body and get stuck in places that it shouldn't. They basically diagnosed any woman who was depressed, excitable, nervous, whatever- as having Hysteria. It was a catch all for women who had things "wrong" with them, but that the doctors could not diagnose.

Nowadays, the term Hysteria is not used in the medical or psychology field, and has not been since in the 50's 0r 60's (I forget which). It was decided that it was a disease based on sexism, and not anything medically proven. Though, I have heard rumors that the term may be making a come back, but it would include men in the equation as well.

You may be wondering what Hysteria is, right? Well, it can mean a lot of different things. Symptoms include "faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a 'tendency to cause trouble.'" Medically, the term was assigned to someone who for no plausible reason becomes temporarily paralyzed in a part of their body. They have done brain scans of people with this problem and have found no reason to believe that this is a psychological problem since the scans show that the brain is in fact sending signals to that part of the body to move when the patient tries to move that body part.

In particular, I find the 19th century the most interesting time for this "disease." Freud and another psychologist named Josef Breuer made this century famous or Hysteria because of a study they published called "Studies in Hysteria." They mostly believed that the cause of Hysteria was sexual frustration. Freud further developed this idea to include the root cause of repressed memories and later changed the name of the disease to Conversion Disorder. Any time a woman seemed a little weird, too excited, too sexual, too paranoid, creative, or too whatever- it was thought that they had Hysteria.

One of Freud and Beuer's famous patients was Anna O. You can read her short biography here which will also explain the title if this blog, "The Talking Cure."

I have a feeling that there are a lot of cases out there that are much more entertaining to learn about, especially in Jean Martin Charcot's legacy at the famous Salpêtrière hospital in France. He did demonstrations on the resident patients there with crowds of people watching as if it was a circus act. He would hypnotize the women and make them do various "tricks," like barking like a dog, eating off the floor, and other such embarrassing acts. He would treat their illness by performing "genital massage" to relieve their sexual frustration (apparently was the cause of Hysteria). Actually, I read that the treatment of Hysteria in Dr. Charcot's experiments is how vibrators were originally invented.

Anyway- I will give updates every-once-in-a-while as I learn more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.