Definition of HYSTERIA


Hysteria is a complex and historically significant concept that has evolved over time to encompass various psychological, medical, and social meanings. As both a noun and an adjective, hysteria refers to a state of exaggerated or uncontrollable emotional or psychological disturbance, often characterized by symptoms such as irrational behavior, emotional outbursts, and physical manifestations without an apparent organic cause. Throughout history, hysteria has been subject to diverse interpretations and cultural perceptions, reflecting shifting understandings of mental health, gender, and societal norms.

As a noun, hysteria denotes a psychological condition characterized by a wide range of symptoms, including anxiety, dissociation, conversion disorders, and somatization, among others. Historically, hysteria was predominantly associated with women and was believed to stem from disturbances in the uterus (hystera in Greek), hence the term’s etymology. Symptoms of hysteria often manifest as physical ailments such as paralysis, seizures, fainting spells, and sensory disturbances, despite the absence of identifiable organic pathology.

Historical Context: Hysteria has a long and complex history dating back to ancient times, where it was believed to be caused by a wandering uterus affecting women’s mental and physical health. Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, hysteria was commonly attributed to demonic possession, witchcraft, or moral corruption, leading to various forms of stigmatization, persecution, and mistreatment of affected individuals. In the 19th century, hysteria became a prominent diagnosis in Western medicine, particularly among women, and was associated with Freudian psychoanalytic theories.

Psychoanalytic Perspectives: Sigmund Freud’s theories played a significant role in shaping modern understandings of hysteria and its psychological origins. Freud viewed hysteria as a form of neurosis resulting from unresolved psychological conflicts, repressed memories, or unconscious desires. He proposed that symptoms of hysteria served as symbolic expressions of underlying emotional distress or trauma, often stemming from early childhood experiences or conflicts related to sexuality and identity.

Contemporary Perspectives: In contemporary psychology and psychiatry, the concept of hysteria has been largely replaced by more precise diagnostic categories such as somatic symptom disorder, conversion disorder, and dissociative disorders. However, the term continues to be used colloquially to describe exaggerated emotional reactions or mass hysteria phenomena observed in group settings. Additionally, feminist scholars have critiqued historical notions of hysteria as being inherently sexist and pathologizing women’s emotions and bodily experiences.

Social and Cultural Influences: The perception and interpretation of hysteria have been heavily influenced by cultural, social, and gender norms, leading to disparities in diagnosis, treatment, and societal responses. Historically, hysteria was often used as a means of exerting control over women’s bodies and behaviors, reinforcing patriarchal power structures and gender stereotypes. Contemporary efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and promote gender equality have led to greater awareness of the social and cultural factors that shape experiences of hysteria and other mental health conditions.

In conclusion, hysteria represents a complex and multifaceted phenomenon with deep historical roots and diverse cultural meanings. While its medical and psychological connotations have evolved over time, hysteria continues to be a subject of interest and debate within the fields of psychology, medicine, and gender studies. By examining the historical, social, and cultural contexts in which hysteria arises, we can gain a deeper understanding of its complexities and work towards more inclusive and compassionate approaches to mental health and well-being.

Examples of HYSTERIA in a sentence

  • Hysteria swept through the crowd as rumors of an impending disaster spread.
  • The political speech incited hysteria among the audience, leading to protests and unrest.
  • Mass hysteria broke out when the fire alarm sounded, causing chaos in the building.
  • The media’s coverage of the outbreak fueled public hysteria and panic.
  • The doctor diagnosed her symptoms as a result of hysteria rather than a physical ailment.
  • Historical accounts often describe episodes of mass hysteria during times of crisis or uncertainty.
  • The comedian’s joke was met with hysteria as the audience erupted into laughter.
  • The film’s portrayal of a fictional epidemic sparked hysteria among viewers, who feared a real-life outbreak.

Origin of HYSTERIA

The term hysteria has a complex linguistic history, originating from ancient Greek and evolving through various cultural and medical contexts, reflecting its shifting meanings and connotations over time.

  • Ancient Greek Origins: The term “hysteria” derives from the Greek word “hystera,” which means “uterus.” In ancient Greek medicine, it was believed that hysteria was a condition exclusive to women and caused by disturbances in the uterus.
  • Classical Medicine: In ancient Greek and Roman medicine, hysteria was often attributed to the wandering of the uterus within the body, leading to symptoms such as anxiety, irrational behavior, and physical discomfort. This understanding persisted for centuries and influenced medical thought in the Western world.
  • Middle Ages to Early Modern Period: During the Middle Ages and into the early modern period, hysteria continued to be associated with female-specific ailments and was often treated through methods such as exorcism, purging, or confinement.
  • Evolution in Psychiatry: In the 19th and 20th centuries, the understanding of hysteria shifted within the field of psychiatry. Influential figures such as Sigmund Freud proposed psychological explanations for the condition, emphasizing the role of repressed emotions and trauma.
  • Modern Usage: In contemporary usage, the term “hysteria” is often used more broadly to describe a state of excessive or uncontrollable emotion, often characterized by irrationality, panic, or mass excitement. It may also be used to critique or dismiss behavior perceived as overly emotional or irrational.

The term hysteria thus represents a complex linguistic journey from its ancient Greek origins, through various medical and cultural contexts, to its modern usage, where it encompasses a range of meanings related to emotional excess or irrational behavior.


  • Agitation
  • Frenetic
  • Paroxysm
  • Commotion
  • Turmoil
  • Disturbance
  • Uproar
  • Bedlam


  • Calm
  • Serenity
  • Tranquility
  • Composure
  • Equanimity
  • Peacefulness
  • Placidity
  • Soothing


  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Paroxysm
  • Uncontrollable
  • Disarray
  • Hysterics
  • Overwrought
  • Commotion

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