Hysteria, or more correctly known as “somatization disorder,” generally has two types. One type is the conversion disorder, in which a patient usually complains of a physical illness that has no medical cause. The other type is the dissociative disorder, in which the patient experiences interruptions in his memory, consciousness, and his awareness of his surroundings. Both types are said to have a common cause: a repressed or suppressed psychological or emotional experience that manifests itself in a physical manner.
Between the two types of hysteria, the conversion disorder is said to be more common, especially during the First and Second World Wars when many suffered traumatic experiences worldwide. Common symptoms include pain and inability to use a body part, such as not being able to lift one’s arms. A specific symptom called “astasia-abasia” refers to the patient’s inability to stand or sit up, but oddly enough, the person can easily move his legs when in a relaxed position, like lying down. In some cases, there is also an inability to use a sensory organ, such as blindness or deafness, or even a predomination of a certain sensation, such as constantly hearing a certain sound. When pain is not involved, partial paralysis or weakness can also be experienced.
According to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (DSM-III),” one important criterion for diagnosing a conversion disorder is that the patient is not “faking it,” or just making up the pain. He actually feels the pain as real, although medical exams cannot find a proper cause for the pain. The physical symptoms also create difficulties in social and emotional well-being of the patient. Some disorders under conversion hysteria are body dysmorphic disorder, hypochondriasis, and pain disorder.
In the other type of hysteria, the dissociative disorder, the patient has “spells” wherein he does not act like himself and often does not remember the incidents. The DSM Fourth Edition defines four disorders under the dissociative disorder, one of which is dissociative amnesia wherein a person fails to recall certain periods of time and information about her identity such as her address and family relatives. Usually, an object, a word, or a scene would trigger a sudden recall, although complete retrieval of memories might not happen. Another well-known type of dissociative hysteria is dissociative identity disorder, in which the patient is observed to have several identities, the most assertive of which may suddenly emerge during especially stressful moments. These identity transitions are usually not remembered, but the patient usually comes to disoriented and confused.
As a disorder, hysteria can sometimes be interpreted as the body’s defense mechanism after a traumatic experience, such as sexual abuse, witnessing a murder, or being suddenly abandoned. Symptoms are usually observed in young adults, but children may also exhibit some hysteria symptoms, although these are harder to diagnose. Psychotherapy and stress management sessions have proven effective in reducing symptoms and, more importantly, discovering the real root of the hysteria.