AskDefine | Define hysterics

Dictionary Definition

hysterics n : an attack of hysteria

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. an attack of hysteria

Usage notes

Extensive Definition

Hysteria, in its colloquial use, describes a state of mind, one of unmanageable fear or emotional excesses. The fear is often caused by multiple events in one's past that involved some sort of severe conflict; the fear can be centered on a body part or most commonly on an imagined problem with that body part (disease is a common complaint). People who are "hysterical" often lose self-control due to the overwhelming fear.
Psychiatrists and other physicians have in theory given up the use of "hysteria," replacing it with more euphemistic terms that are essentially synonyms. These include "psychosomatic," "functional," "nonorganic," "psychogenic," and "medically unexplained." In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association officially changed the diagnosis of “hysterical neurosis, conversion type” to “conversion disorder.” Hysteria also has significant overlap with the diagnostic term "somatization disorder" and with somatoform disorders in general.


The term originates with the Greek medical term, hysterikos. This referred to a medical condition, thought to be particular to women, caused by disturbances of the uterus, hystera in Greek. The term hysteria was coined by Hippocrates, who thought that suffocation and madness arose in women whose uteri had become too light and dry from lack of sexual intercourse and, as a result, wandered upward, compressing the heart, lungs, and diaphragm.
The same general definition, or under the name female hysteria, came into widespread use in the middle and late 19th century to describe what is today generally considered to be sexual dissatisfaction. Typical treatment was massage of the patient's genitalia by the physician and later vibrators or water sprays to cause orgasm. particularly due to its long list of possible manifestations: one Victorian physician cataloged 75 pages of possible symptoms of hysteria and called the list incomplete..
Current psychiatric terminology distinguishes two types of hysteria: somatoform and dissociative. Dissociative hysteria includes amnestic fugue states. Somatoform disorders include conversion disorder, somatization disorder, chronic pain disorder, hypochondriasis, and body dysmorphic disorder. In somatoform disorders, the patient exhibits physical symptoms such as low back pain or limb paralysis, without apparent physical cause. Recent neuroscientific research, however, is starting to show that there are characteristic patterns of brain activity associated with these states. All these disorders are thought to be unconscious, not feigned or intentional malingering.
Freudian psychoanalytic theory attributed hysterical symptoms to the subconscious mind's attempt to protect the patient from psychic stress. Subconscious motives include primary gain, in which the symptom directly relieves the stress (as when a patient coughs to release energy pent up from keeping a secret), and secondary gain, in which the symptom provides an independent advantage such as staying home from a hated job. More recent critics have noted the possibility of tertiary gain, when a patient is induced subconsciously to display a symptom because of the desires of others (as when a controlling husband enjoys the docility of his sick wife). There need be no gain at all, however, in a hysterical symptom. A child playing hockey may fall and for several hours believe he is unable to move, because he has recently heard of a famous hockey player who fell and broke his neck.
Jungian psychologist Laurie Layton Schapira explored what she labels a "Cassandra Complex" suffered by those traditionally diagnosed with hysteria, denoting a tendency for those with hysteria to be disbelieved or dismissed when relating the facticity of their experiences to others. Based on clinical experience, she delineates three factors which constitute the Cassandra complex in hysterics: (a). dysfunctional relationships with social manifestations of rationality, order, and reason, leading to; (b). emotional or physical suffering, particularly in the form of somatic, often gynaecological complaints, and (c). being disbelieved or dismissed when attempting to relate the facticity of these experiences to others.

Mass hysteria

The term also occurs in the phrase mass hysteria to describe mass public near-panic reactions. It is commonly applied to the waves of popular medical problems that "everyone gets" in response to news articles.
A similar usage refers to any sort of "public wave" phenomenon, and has been used to describe the periodic widespread reappearance and public interest in UFO reports, crop circles, and similar examples. Also, when information, real or fake, becomes misinterpreted but believed, e.g. penis panic.
Hysteria is often associated with movements like the Salem Witch Trials, McCarthyism, the First Red Scare, the Second Red Scare and Terrorism where it is better understood through the related sociological term of moral panic.

See also


  • The H-Word, Guardian Unlimited,,3605,782338,00.html
  • Halligan, P.W., Bass, C., & Marshall, J.C. (Eds.)(2001). Contemporary Approach to the Study of Hysteria: Clinical and Theoretical Perspectives. Oxford University Press, UK.
  • Sander Gilman, Roy Porter, George Rousseau, Elaine Showalter, and Helen King (1993). Hysteria Before Freud (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford: University of California Press).
hysterics in Arabic: هستيريا (مرض)
hysterics in Czech: Hysterie
hysterics in German: Hysterie
hysterics in Modern Greek (1453-): Υστερία
hysterics in Spanish: Histeria
hysterics in Esperanto: Histerio
hysterics in French: Hystérie
hysterics in Icelandic: Sefasýki
hysterics in Italian: Isteria
hysterics in Kurdish: Hîsterî
hysterics in Dutch: Hysterie
hysterics in Japanese: ヒステリー
hysterics in Norwegian: Hysteri
hysterics in Polish: Histeria
hysterics in Portuguese: Histeria
hysterics in Russian: Истерия
hysterics in Slovak: Hystéria
hysterics in Serbian: Хистерија
hysterics in Finnish: Hysteria
hysterics in Swedish: Hysteri
hysterics in Turkish: Histeri
hysterics in Chinese: 歇斯底里
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1