Barbara Roberts, Homeopath


There is a movie on Netflix at the moment called Hysteria, set in England in the 1880s. I enjoyed it, and if you like rom-coms then add it to your “to watch” list. It has adult themes and is not for children, and likewise this post is best kept away from young eyes.

The events in the movie are now controversial and thought to be a myth (check out the link at the end of the post for more information).

Have you ever wondered why removing the Uterus is called a Hysterectomy? After all when tonsils are removed it is a tonsillectomy, adenoids an adenoidectomy, and appendix and appendectomy. The root of the word is the same as that of hysteria, a Greek word hystera signifying the uterus.

A women’s disorder first described by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, hysterical suffocation was thought to be due to a wandering uterus that could be coaxed back into place by pressure, smells, and sneezing. Hippocrates first used the term Hysteria and believed the humours were unbalanced, women’s bodies were cold and damp, and marriage was the answer.

In 1697, Hysteria was first defined as an emotional condition by Thomas Sydenham, and over the following two centuries more investigations and theories were defined.

Spoiler alert- The movie dramatises a women’s clinic in the 1880s that used manual clitoral stimulation as a treatment for hysteria, until a “paroxysm” (orgasm) occurs, and then because of the repetitive strain on the hand of the physician, the development of an electrical device to have the same effect. In reality there were clinics, but they used a pelvic massage (inside the vagina at the same time as on the abdomen), and studiously avoided sexual and clitoral contact.

By the 20th century Hysteria was a term not just for women, and in World War I there were cases of hysteria among the British and allied forces. Decades later in World War II some diagnoses of Hysteria had been replaced by a diagnosis of Anxiety, and after World War II there was a steady decline in Hysteria with a corresponding increase in anxiety or depression. Hysteria was no longer recognised as a psychological disorder in 1980 when the DSM-II was replaced with the publication of the DSM-III.

The current definition of Hysteria, according to the Cambridge dictionary is “extreme fear, excitement, anger, etc that cannot be controlled.”

In homeopathy we still use many reference books from the early 20th century, and Hysteria is symptom in my repertory for 375 different remedies. Ignatia was perhaps the most prescribed remedy for Hysteria, with Clarke even discussing that it is not the only Hysteria remedy and can be used for other things as well. He says Ignatia is for “Changeable disposition; jesting and laughing, changing to sadness with shedding of tears (hysteria).” But then you look at the other remedies listed- Aconite, Aurum, Calc Carb, Nat Mur, Nux Vomica, Pulsatilla, Sepia, Sulphur, all of which have vastly different mental emotional pictures. I guess it goes to show that hysteria, as an extreme manifestation of emotion presents in different ways for different people.

An article about the premise of the movie

A paper on the history of Hysteria

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