I wrote this last year for my psychoanalysis course with Jamieson Webster; I wanted to post it because I recently re-read it and was quite pleased with what I had written, especially since I had written this in two to three hours; in which case, it could be seen as just one constant flow of ideas, as opposed to filtered and edited ones. For the curious, I received an “A” for this short paper.
Commentary on the Hysteric (Then and Now)
June 23, 2010
In considering the two key opposing subjects of neuroses – the obsessional and the hysteric – investigated by Freud in the early twentieth century, the referral to the hysteric is often seen as a historical one. However, the hysteric, often female, does exist in today’s society given the continued (yet diminishing) practice of and treatment by psychoanalysis, in addition to its inclusion in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which will be later discussed. And thus, the idea of hysteria’s existence in society today beckons further examination and insight not only from Freud’s A Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, but also from observations of the current social issues that are found to be prevalent and give way to being cause for diagnosis by the DSM IV.
Drawing upon Freud’s famed case of Dora, one immediately draws two conclusions; the first being that the hysteric is a complicated character, which demands close insight, and the second being that Freud’s selection of the failed case unveils positives and negatives of his then methodology. The notion of a failed case comes not only from the fact that Dora had left before she could be deemed “cured,” but also from the various assertions that Freud had aggressively made, such as the possibility that Dora was in fact the perpetrator and not a victim (Gay 210), and that she had a sexual desire for her father given that her behavior was similar to that of a “jealous wife.” (Gay 200) The fact that he denies his questionable linking between ideas of observations in his postscript illustrates the failure to acknowledge his skewed and subjective viewpoint, which compromised his impartiality, which would allow for Dora to be “cured.”
And with this particular case, there are discoveries regarding the hysteric that Freud makes, which allow him to contribute to his idea of treatment, as well as his theory of psychoanalysis. Of the assertions that he makes in the postscript section of his piece, the most notable are that transference is the most recent manifestation of the issue on hand and that once the patient overcomes such transference, then she is cured. What Freud goes on to say as an elaboration and link between the aforementioned is that “a whole series of psychological experiences are revived, not as belonging to the past, but as applying to the person of the physician at the present moment.” (Gay 234) Evidently, the shift provides immediate and constant confrontation of the rooted problem, and in doing so, the cause for hysteria can arise over the screen memories, such as the kiss between Herr K and Dora. Interesting to consider is the fact that this transference is exhibited through the hysteric’s projection onto the therapist. In which case, Freud does not offer the answer as to whether or not there can be an inversion of roles. Given the shift in Western society with regards to providing women the ability to act on their sexual desires, than before, one can begin to wonder if this increased freedom
And what can be seen of the hysteric today is very much blurred by the attempts made by science to categorize and medicate problems. Seemingly to be the most fitting is the diagnosis of borderline personality for the hysteric. Considering that hysteria is “not… an illness affecting an individual, but rather the unhealthy state of a human relationship that subjects one person to another,” according to psychoanalyst Juan-David Nasio, one can draw connections to the description of borderline personality disorder with its vast array of symptoms, such as pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, and/or behavior, and intense bouts of anger, depression, and/or anxiety . The blanketing of various indications and behaviors with the term “borderline personality” can be recognized as the modern day hysteria.
In the society that values immediate gratification, one can easily understand as to why psychoanalysis is not as recommended as it once was as a means of treatment. The tangibility of a diagnosis provides solace to the affected, whereas psychoanalysis provides a working frame with no concrete answer (i.e. this particular illness out of thousands, and this type of medication) as to what is wrong and as to what cure to prescribe, aside from discussion. Instead, the illness on hand is still the same, despite one being acknowledged in DSM IV and one not, what with hysteria being general and its root being specific to each case. The idea of a cure for such displaces the notion of overcoming transference by overcoming a different biological issue, and leads more towards the scientific with the use of antidepressants and antipsychotics as opposed to the psychological. Of course what many fail to realize is that the onslaught of medication too has its flaws, as each person’s reaction to medication is different.
But perhaps even more interesting to note with regards to the idea of the hysteric in contemporary society is the aversion to the discussion of sex and fear of impingement of personal space resulting in limited face-to-face communication. What is meant by such reveals two things: Western culture afraid to openly discuss matters of sexuality and that such culture has become heavily dependent on distanced communication (such as email and instant messaging), in which case the confrontation of the illness and its sexual roots are compounded by the uncomfortable physical presence of another when discussing such matters. Therefore, one could state that from such contemporary observations that hysteria is still ever present in today’s society, given its existence in the DSM; however, the approach to remedying such has become what one can consider “hush hush,” with the avoidance of discussing sex and face-to-face contact.
Freud. The Freud Reader. Ed. Gay, Peter. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989. Print.