Hysteria Research

Studio, Uncategorized

Inspired by my initial project ideas, I decided to research the medical and societal ideas surrounding hysteria in both the past and the present, as well as it’s definite meaning and whether this connects to the distinctly female experience of female hysteria.

The definition of hysteria is as follows:

1 : a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions

2 : behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess <political hysteria>

I am very interested in this idea of hysteria as such a physicality in its ‘vasomotor’ abilities, manipulating the body in a very carnal manner, controlling the blood – the sense of delivery across the body, as the blood vessels contract due to an emotion independent of the body – in fact it is a disturbance of the psychic. A disturbance to me suggest the infliction of an outer source, separate from the body, gaining access and violating the physic and sensory systems that control the body’s ability for ‘rational’ action. The idea of hysteria as an outer source, interrupting the body is very interesting to me, as perhaps it is the vicious structures of a commodified patriarchal society which infiltrate the body, particularly the female body, causing a very visceral physical reaction of the physic or the sensory which cannot always be contextualised in the forms of other emotions or emotional disorders.


This article was interesting as it gave me a brief overview into the time line of hysteria and the practices aimed at solving it throughout different moments within history. I am interested in Freud’s ideas of unconscious conflicts based on the misdevelopment of the Oedipal theory. Hysterical symptoms coming from distinct sexual regression is a commonly held believed cause of female hysteria, yet I believe that the sexual repression faced by women was not necessarily a cause of hysteria, but a frustrated subset. To define a woman’s actions constantly by a male focused version of sex will not describe the acute female experience of being marginalised not only sexually but socially, economically and politically – constantly subjected to male language and male societal structures which truly repress the account of a uniquely female experience not interfered with by men. I am interested in the role of patriarchal structures in the development and understanding of female hysteria and would like to explore this further..


screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-08-58-36I am interested in the description of somatic pain or symptoms as a form of hysteria in this article, as one perceives a physical symptom as a reality when in fact it is fiction. Through knowledge of illness one is more likely to be prone to this type of hysteria, as well as if they have had minor health issues in the past. I am interested in this notion, and would think the topic of hysteria as a reality for the subject, yet an avoidable and imagined action presents an interesting dichotomy with which to base my project.


I found this article very enlightening, as I could gage the whole scope of the idea of female hysteria throughout recorded history, and see how ideas about treatments and causes developed as religious, societal, scientific and cultural progress was made. Some of the cures women were subjected to were barbaric, and the way that ideas changed on whether a woman should have more, less or no sex when suffering from hysterical symptoms were very interesting as attitudes to sex changed between different cultures. One of the most interesting case studies included in this essay was the evidence of hysteria in the Salem Witch Trials. Many were detained and 19 were hanged for supposedly being possessed, however they were most likely suffering from mass hysterical symptoms which were left without understanding. As the article writes, if a doctor did not understand a patients symptoms then they would be regarded as possessed by the devil or a witch due to their psychiatric symptoms. This caused a lot of pain for many mentally ill women who were misunderstood in the Middle Ages, and most probably resulted in executions for many believed ‘witches’. Examples like this are what make the word ‘hysteria’ so culturally loaded.


This article presents a modern take on the idea of hysteria, as the author tries to reclaim the notion of the hysterical woman, as a woman who is emotionally unafraid, without the need to restrain ones wants or desires despite societal pressure for a woman to be passive to a man’s actions and sexuality. I am interested in the idea of reclaiming such a historically loaded term, as women begin to use the dreaded language of the past to define themselves culturally, taking a patriarchal term and turning it into a feminine trait to be proud of.

Through my research, I have learnt a lot about modern and ancient attitudes to hysteria, and would like to base my work around the ideas explored and discovered today, to create a dynamic work which expresses the experience of female hysteria from a distinctly female perspective.

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