The Menstrual Cycle and the Historical Specter of Hysteria

Menstrual Cycle

Your menstrual cycle, a natural and vital aspect of women’s reproductive health, has a historical shadow cast upon it by the perplexing notion of hysteria. Throughout time, misconceptions and myths have intertwined the monthly rhythm of your body with an outdated belief that emotional and physical disturbances, known as hysteria, are linked to the uterus. This article delves into the intriguing history of hysteria, its historical connection with the menstrual cycle, and the transformative journey from Freudian psychoanalysis to contemporary perspectives. 

1. What is Hysteria and its Background?

Hysteria is rooted in ancient Greek beliefs about disturbances in the uterus. It gained prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the advent of Freudian psychoanalysis.

A renowned psychologist, Sigmund Freud, put forth a theory about hysteria during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Freud, hysteria was thought to be a manifestation of unresolved psychological conflicts. Particularly those related to repressed sexual desires. Freud proposed that these unresolved conflicts could cause emotional and physical symptoms. The uterus, he theorized, played a central role in these disturbances, leading to the term “hysteria.”

Freud’s theory suggested that individuals might experience symptoms, such as anxiety, physical pain, or other distressing issues due to their unconscious mind trying to cope with hidden or suppressed thoughts and emotions. Freud believed that understanding and addressing these hidden conflicts through a process called psychoanalysis could reduce the symptoms of hysteria.

Interestingly, Freud attributed a central role to the uterus in his theory. he theorized that disturbances in this reproductive organ played a significant part in the development of hysteria. This perspective, while influential in the history of psychology, has been criticized and is not accepted in modern psychological and medical understanding. Today, terror is no longer considered a valid diagnosis, and Freud’s theories have been replaced by more evidence-based approaches in psychology and psychiatry.

Freud’s concept of hysteria faced several criticisms, and over time, his theories have been subject to scrutiny and reevaluation by scholars and practitioners in psychology. Some of the critical arguments against Freud’s concept of hysteria include:

Lack of Empirical Evidence: Critics argue that Freud’s theories lacked empirical evidence to support his claims. Many of his ideas were based on clinical observations and case studies. They are considered less reliable than experimental research.

Sexism and Gender Bias: Freud’s theories have been criticized for their gender bias. His emphasis on repressed sexual desires and the centrality of the uterus in hysteria reinforced stereotypes about women and their mental health. Critics argue that this perspective contributed to the stigmatization of women and their experiences.

Cultural and Historical Bias: Freud’s theories were developed within a specific cultural and historical context. Critics argue that these ideas may only be applicable sometimes. They might reflect the societal norms and biases prevalent during Freud’s time rather than provide a comprehensive understanding of human behavior.

Unfalsifiability: Some critics point out that Freud’s theories were often formulated in a way that made them difficult to test or falsify. This lack of falsifiability can be seen as a limitation in the scientific rigor of his ideas.

Overemphasis on Sexuality: Freud’s focus on sexuality as a primary driver of psychological issues has been criticized for oversimplifying the complexity of human behavior and emotions. Critics argue that attributing a wide range of psychological phenomena to sexual conflicts may have limited the scope of understanding mental health.

Therapeutic Techniques: The efficacy of Freud’s psychoanalytic therapeutic techniques has been questioned. Some critics argue that the prolonged and intensive nature of psychoanalysis, as advocated by Freud, may not be practical or beneficial for all individuals seeking mental health treatment.

Evolution of Psychological Science: As psychology has evolved, more contemporary and evidence-based approaches have supplanted Freud’s theories. Advances in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and other disciplines have provided alternative explanations for human behavior and mental health.

While Freud’s contributions to the field of psychology are acknowledged, and some elements of his theories still influence psychotherapy, the criticisms against his concept of hysteria have led to a more diversified and nuanced understanding of mental health in contemporary psychology.

2. Modern Understanding of the Menstrual Cycle and Related Mood Swings:

The connection between the menstrual cycle and mood swings is associated with hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the different phases of the menstrual cycle. 

Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5):

Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest.

Mood Impact: Lower hormone levels may contribute to a more neutral emotional state, but some women might experience mood changes.

Follicular Phase (Days 6-14):

Hormones: Estrogen gradually rises.

Mood Impact: Increasing estrogen levels can positively affect mood, energy, and well-being. Many women experience improved mood and heightened emotional well-being during this phase.

Ovulatory Phase (Days 15-17):

Hormones: Estrogen peaks, and there’s a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH).

Mood Impact: Higher estrogen levels are associated with enhanced mood and cognitive function. Some women may also experience increased emotional sensitivity during the LH surge.

Luteal Phase (Days 18-28):

Hormones: Estrogen starts to decline while progesterone rises and peaks.

Mood Impact: The rise in progesterone can increase calmness for some women. However, declining estrogen levels may contribute to mood changes. Some women may experience premenstrual symptoms (PMS) during this phase. It can include mood swings, irritability, and emotional sensitivity.

Menstruation (Days 1-5, Overlapping with the Luteal Phase):

Hormones: Both estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest.

Mood Impact: Lower hormone levels during menstruation can contribute to mood swings, irritability, or sadness for some women.

It’s essential to recognize that individual responses vary, and not all women experience significant mood swings across the menstrual cycle. External factors such as stress, lifestyle, and personal experiences also play a role in influencing mood. Some women may be more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations, while others may not notice much mood changes.

3. How Were Hysteria and the Menstrual Cycle Related in History?

In the past, people believed something that we now know isn’t true — they thought there was a connection between your menstrual cycle and something called “hysteria.” This term comes from an old Greek word, “hystera,” which means uterus. They used “hysteria” to describe various emotional and physical symptoms they thought were linked to women. They believed these symptoms happened because something was wrong with the uterus.

Now, we’ve learned that this belief was wrong. Hysteria is not considered a valid medical term anymore. Our understanding of women’s health and feelings has grown a lot over the years. We now know that connecting emotional or mental health issues only to the menstrual cycle is too simple and not accurate.

Even though hormones during your menstrual cycle can affect how you feel, it’s essential to know that these effects differ for each person. Not every woman goes through significant mood changes during her period. Also, saying that mental health problems or behaviors are only because of the menstrual cycle is not right and adds to stereotypes about women.

Today, in modern medicine and psychology, we see mental health as a complicated thing. It’s influenced by many factors, like your genes, the world around you, and your personal experiences. Looking at this topic with a more detailed and fact-based understanding is crucial. If you’re facing mental health challenges, it’s a good idea to talk to professionals who can provide the proper guidance and support.

4. Are Hysteria and the Menstrual Cycle Still Related in the Present Date?

Nowadays, doctors and psychologists don’t connect hysteria and the menstrual cycle anymore. While some women might feel different moods during their periods, saying mental health problems come from the uterus is old-fashioned and incorrect. This change in thinking shows our ongoing efforts to understand and talk about women’s mental health better.

Our understanding has changed because of better scientific research and new studying methods. We now see mental health as something complex, with many factors influencing it. As society started to trust more in evidence-based ideas, the old link between hysteria and the menstrual cycle slowly disappeared. People have worked hard to spread awareness, educate others, and advocate for a better understanding of women’s mental health. This shift in thinking is a sign of progress and a step towards breaking the old myths about women’s emotions.


As we reflect on the historical intertwining of hysteria and the menstrual cycle, it becomes evident that progress has been made in dismantling unfounded beliefs. The modern understanding of menstruation and mental health recognizes the complexity of women’s experiences and encourages a more nuanced, evidence-based approach. By embracing this evolution, we contribute to a society that prioritizes accurate information, destigmatizes women’s mental health, and fosters a supportive environment for all.

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