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Unraveling the Impact of Hysteria and Female Prejudice in Modern Society

Trigger Warning

Did you know hysteria is the first mental disorder on record for women? It is found in the oldest medical document, Eber Papyrus, by the Ancient Egyptians in 1600 B.C.E.. (Tasca, 2012) The ancient Greek scrolls also contain records from second millennium B.C.E.. (Harrison, 2021) Originally, The Greek’s“ [Argonaut] Melampus spoke of the women’s madness as derived from their uterus being poisoned by venomous humors, due to a lack of orgasms and “uterine melancholy”. (Tasca, 2012) In current records, it is defined as fibromyalgia, which is considered widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body. (Lev-Wiesel, 2018) Unfortunately, it took thousands of years to get this acknowledgement. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders did not remove the uterus theory until 1980. (Harrison, 2021) Once it began to be noticed in male soldiers during the World Wars, the physicians were forced to realize it was not just females; and it is more painful than anticipated.


To begin, the definition of hysteria provided by The Britannica Dictionary shows the prejudice that women overstate their pain. Within the definition, it has the description of it including  “a situation in which many people behave or react in an extreme or uncontrolled way“. (2024 Encyclpedia Britannica, Inc., 2024) The new Tel Aviv University study states fibromyalgia ”…may be a consequence of post-traumatic physical and psychological distress associated with childhood sexual abuse.” (Lev-Wiesel, 2018) In Frontiers of Psychology’s article, Prof. Shai Efrati of TAU's Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience states that “we now know that severe emotional stress, such as that caused by sexual abuse, can induce chronic brain injury,” and it may explain fibromyalgia. (Lev-Wiesel, 2018)


It is still difficult to get a true cause-and-effect because trauma can cause a psychogenic amnesia to promote survival. (Freyd, 1994) Trauma also causes “tremendous feelings of uncertainty, anxiousness, and self-doubt.” (Harber, 2014) Statistics found in ScienceDirect’s article shows ”66% of patients [had] traumatic life events and PTSD symptoms preced[ing] the onset of chronic widespread pain. (Hauser, 2013) Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. has been helping prove this theory further by conducting a study with Positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showing brain waves actively going to the pain source, so it is creating the process of being more visibly proven. (van der Kolk, 2015)


Focusing on the concept of trauma being the origin, it becomes more disturbing to learn of the Greek’s remedy for the so-called 'uterine melancholy'.  Their solution was wine and orgies. (Tasca, 2012) This theory was picked up by Claudius Galen’s (2nd century AD), Persian Avicenna (980-1037) and Giovan Battista Codronchi (1547-1628) who believed that women needed sexual pleasure applied manually by their physician. It was not until Thomas Willis (1621-1675) introduced “a new etiology of hysteria, no longer attached to the central role of the uterus but rather related to the brain and to the nervous system” (Tasca, 2012)  I have not researched it further, but I think it is safe to assume that sexual assaults did not help cure these trauma-related conditions.


At least, those women were in a better position than Christian Europeans of the middle ages. The Christian’s believed hysteria to be sorcery with needed punishment of an exorcism. These ideas advanced during the era of the woman-witch. “[U]ntil the eighteenth century, thousands of innocent women were put to death on the basis of “evidence” or “confessions” obtained through torture.” (Tasca, 2012) This idea is most famous in connection to the Salem Witch Trials.


These prejudice ideas of female’s exaggerating their pain is not gone within our medical system or culture.  Women comprise 70 percent of Americans suffering from chronic pain. But research has shown that the pain women experience is often taken less seriously than the pain of men. (Harrison, 2021) This reality worsens according to your race. 

Across seven experiments, [they] repeatedly observed that White participants showed more stringent thresholds for perceiving pain on Black faces, compared to White faces. (Mende-Siedlecki, 2019)


I began this self-portrait with T.B.D. to show my frustrations due to the lack of answers within the medical system. I have seen countless indifferent faces for pain I have been experiencing since my teens.  After reading the historical significance of our medical system failing females for centuries, I wanted to finish my self-portrait in honor of my predecessors whom experienced much worse.  I am using religious iconography from the Renaissance era called the pieta. It was used to create a moment of pity for Christ. I originally used it because many have said we are just pitying ourselves. Now, I reference Carravagio’s pieta pose to emulate the women that suffered and died for others’ sins. The additional figure is to represent the females you likely know that are likely currently being ignored. 



-Painting coming soon-


2024 Encyclpedia Britannica, Inc. The Britannica Dictionary. (2024), Retrieved from Britannica:

Tasca, Cecilia, et al. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2012, 10 19), Retrieved from PubMed Central:

Freyd, Jennifer J.. University of Oregon. (1994)Retrieved from Ethics & Behavior:

Harber, Kent D., and James W. Pennebaker. “15: Overcoming Traumatic Memories.” The Handbook of Emotion and Memory, Christianson - Psychology Press , Hillsdale, N.J., 2014, pp. 359–387. 

Harrison, Rick. Yale School of Medicine. (2021, 9 13), Retrieved from Yale School of Medicine:

Mende-Siedlecki, Peter, et al.. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2019, 5), Retrieved from PubMed:

Lev-Wiesel, Rachel, et al. (2018, 12 13). Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from Frontiers:

van der Kolk, B. M. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, New York: Penguin Books.

Hauser, Winifred, et al.. “Postraumatic stress disorder in fibromyalgia syndrome: Prevalence, temporal relationship between postraumatic stress and fibromyalgia symptoms, and impact on clinical outcome.” ScienceDirect, vol. 154, no. 8, Aug. 2013, pp. 1216–1223:


1 Comment

Eye opening!! Thanks for sharing ❤️😘

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