Hypnoid States

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The notion of hypnoid states appeared in section 3 of "On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena: Preliminary Communication," published in January 1893 under the joint authorship of Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer in preparation for their Studies on Hysteria of 1895. Hypnoid states involve a "splitting of consciousness" or "double conscience" (1893a, p. 12), in which ideas and affects are fragmented and then cut off from normal waking consciousness, but which, owing to what Freud a short time later called "false connections" (1895d, p. 302), can give way to new, pathogenic associations that engender hysterical symptoms.

The notion of hypnoid states originated from Freud and Breuer's interest in hypnosis. Freud and Breuer wrote that they wanted to replace "the familiar thesis that hypnosis is an artificial hysteria by anotherthe basis and sine qua non of hysteria is the existence of hypnoid states" (1893a, p. 12). In themselves, such hypnoid states are not abnormal (as witness the daydreams "to which needlework and similar occupations render women especially prone" [p. 13]), but the hysteric is especially predisposed to them.

In fact, the notion of hypnoid states came from Breuer, who used it in a major explanatory principle in his account of the case of Anna O. and developed it in the fourth paragraph of the chapter on "theoretical considerations" that he wrote for Studies on Hysteria. By the time of that work, it is clear that Freud was only paying lip service to this idea as a concession to Breuer to obtain joint publication of their work. To be sure, Freud agreed that hysterical phenomena should be explained in terms of "dissociation" and a faulty recomposition, but unlike Breuer (who in this regard held views similar to those of Pierre Janet), he did not see in these phenomena a weakening of psychic functioning. On the contrary, he saw them as the mark of the active work of the defenses, above all repression. Freud later explained his stance on these issues, notably in "On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement" (1914d) and in "An Autobiographical Study" (1925d [1924]). Indeed, the notion of hypnoid states seems so contrary to metapsychology as a whole that it cannot be accepted as being a part of psychoanalysis.

Roger Perron

See also: Amnesia; Anna O., case of; Breuer, Josef; Dream; Studies on Hysteria ; Hypnosis; Primary process/secondary process.


Freud, Sigmund. (1914d). On the history of the psychoanalytic movement. SE, 14: 1-66.

. (1925d [1924]). An autobiographical study. SE, 20: 1-74.

Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1893a). On the psychical mechanism of hysterical phenomena: preliminary communication. SE, 2: 1-17.

. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.