In spite of the large number of works dealing with the subject of hysteria, there is a great divergence of opinion concerning the nature of this neurosis. Babinski attributes this to the lack of a good definition. In the search for some characters which are common to all hysterical manifestations, and yet confined to hysteria, he draws special attention to these: the possibility of their being reproduced by suggestion with exactness in certain subjects, and that of their disappearance through the exclusive influence of persuasion. The word suggestion here used itself needs accurate definition. It must imply that the idea which one tries to insinuate to the hysterical patient is unreasonable, and should not be used in the sense of being synonymous with persuasion. The typical manifestations of hysteria major, the varieties of paralyses, contractures, anæsthesias, etc., are all of this kind; they can be exactly created by experimental suggestion. In addition they are all susceptible of disappearing under the exclusive influence of persuasion. On the other hand, the latter characteristic is not met with in other conditions. There is not another nervous affection, well defined and outside the limits of hysteria, which psychotherapy alone will cure; it may be of use, but not all-sufficient; the proof is that in cases of this kind persuasion does not lead to an immediate cure. The above relates to what Babinski calls primitive symptoms, which may occur without being preceded by other manifestations of hysteria. But he holds it legitimate to call also hysterical those disorders which, without exhibiting the characters of primitive symptoms, are yet closely allied to, and subordinate to them; but one must add to these the epithet secondary. The muscular atrophy of hysteria is a type of this kind. The definition proposed is—Hysteria is a psychical condition which renders the subject of it prone to auto-suggestion; it manifests itself principally by primitive symptoms and accessorily by certain secondary symptoms. That which characterises the primary symptoms is that it is possible to reproduce them in certain subjects by suggestion with rigorous exactitude, and to cause them to disappear by the exclusive influence of persuasion. That which characterises secondary symptoms is that they are closely subordinate to the primary symptoms.
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