Women and Mental Health

By Elizabeth Howell; Marjorie Bayes | Go to book overview

14
The Hysterical Personality:
A "Woman's Disease"

HARRIET E. LERNER

It is widely recognized that the diagnosis of hysteria is infrequently applied to male patients and very commonly to female ones. A paper by Robins and associates (1952) suggests that hysteria in men is extremely rare, if indeed it occurs at all, and there is general agreement that an initial diagnosis of hysteria in males is somewhat of a clinical anomaly (Berger 1971). It should be noted that grave hysterical symptoms (e.g., conversion reactions, dissociative phenomena) have been observed in male patients, but these individuals tend not to manifest the type of cognitive and personality organization that is characteristic of the hysterical individual (Chodoff and Lyons 1958). It is especially in regard to the hysterical personality, character, or "style" that the male patient is a rarity, and it is in this sense that the word hysteria will be used in the present paper.

In explaining the preponderance of female hysterics, psychoanalytic theorists have focused on differences in preoedipal and oedipal developmental tasks that the two sexes must master (Zetzel 1968). It is my opinion, however, that theories of libidinal development offer only a partial explanation of the sex difference in hysteria and that social and cultural factors play a major role. Although the importance of such extrapsychic factors has not been fully appreciated, neither have these

____________________
The author wishes to thank Dr. Leonard Horwitz and Dr. Paul Pruyser of the Menninger Foundation for their helpful suggestions and criticisms.

-196-

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