On the early history of male hysteria and psychic trauma. Charcot's influence on Freudian thought

J Hist Behav Sci. 1995 Oct;31(4):370-84. doi: 10.1002/1520-6696(199510)31:4<370::aid-jhbs2300310404>3.0.co;2-6.


This paper discusses the influence of Jean-Martin Charcot's views on Sigmund Freud's early theory of hysteria and the notion of psychical trauma. We consider the early history of both psychical trauma and male hysteria, for in Charcot's view traumatic hysteria and male hysteria are identical. Freud's two 1886 lectures on male hysteria, delivered after his return from Paris, are crucial to the subject because they present Freud's first impressions of Charcot and his teaching. Some of the ideas presented in the two lectures foreshadow Freud's later generalization of the etiological role of trauma and his theory of the role of psychical trauma in the genesis of hysteria; that is, each hysterical symptom is due to a psychical trauma reviving an earlier traumatic event--the so-called principle of deferred action (Nachträglichkeit). Several arguments substantiate the thesis that Freud's notion of psychical (sexual) trauma was developed in reference to Charcot's notion of traumatic hysteria, and that the early psychoanalytic theory of psychical trauma is clearly indebted to Freud's encounter with Charcot's male traumatic hysterical patients. The discussed Freudian development points out the major role of (physical) traumata in eliciting psychopathological pictures and in this way is of definite historical relevance for the present-day discussion on the traumatic nature of the so-called multiple personality syndrome and other dissociative disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • France
  • Freudian Theory / history*
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Hysteria / history*
  • Hysteria / psychology
  • Male
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / history*
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / psychology
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / history*
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / psychology

Personal name as subject

  • J M Charcot
  • S Freud