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NERVOUS ILLS
THEIR CAUSE AND CURE

Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

1922

CHAPTER XXI

FEAR TRANCE APPARITIONS

        The following study of a psychopathic case brings out the character of the fear trance dream.

        Mrs. A. is twenty-two years old; Russian; married. She suffers periodically from attacks of violent headaches, lasting several days. Family history is good. The patient was brought up in the fear of ghosts, evil spirits, magical influences, and diabolical agencies. Mrs. A. is easily frightened, and has suffered from headaches and pressure on the head for quite a long time, but the pain became exacerbated some five years ago. The attack is sudden, without any premonitory feelings, and lasts from eight hours to two days. The headache often sets in at night, when she is asleep, and she wakes up with frightful pain.

        At the time of the first attack she was much run down. Otherwise the patient is in good condition, but complains that her memory is getting bad. Patellar reflex is exaggerated. Field of vision is normal. The eyes show slight strabismus and astigmatism, corrected by glasses which did not in the least diminish the intensity as well as the frequency of the headaches.

        Mrs. A. suffers from bad dreams and distressing nightmares, the content of which she cannot recall in her waking state. She also often has hallucinations, visions of two women wrapped in white, pointing their fingers at her running after her. She never had any fall, nor any special worry or anxiety, never suffered from any infectious diseases.

        After a persistent inquiry, however, she gave an account of an accident she met with when a child of eight. Opposite her house there lived an insane woman of whom she was mortally afraid. Once when the parents happened to be away, the insane woman entered the house, caught the child, and greatly frightened her. Another time she was sent out by her parents to buy something in a grocery store. It was night and very dark. She bought the things and on the way back she saw two women in white with hands stretched out running after her. She screamed from great fright and ran home.

        Mrs. A. is afraid to remain alone, and especially in the dark. She is not so much afraid in the street as in the house. The two women appear to her now and then, and she is mortally afraid of them.

        The patient was put into hypnotic state. There was marked catalepsy; the eyes were firmly closed, and she could not open them when challenged. Suggestion of general well-being was given and she was awakened. On awakening, she could not remember what had taken place in the hypnotic state.

        Next day she was again put into hypnosis and went into a deeper state than the day before. She was asked whether she thought of the crazy woman occasionally, she replied in the negative. The patient spoke in a low, suppressed voice, the words coming out slowly, as if with effort and with fear. It was then insisted that she should tell one of her recent dreams. After some pause, she said: "Last night I had a bad dream; I dreamt that I stood near a window and a cat came up to the same window. I saw it was crazy. I ran away, the cat ran after me and scratched me. Then I knew that I was crazy. My friends said there was no help for me.

        "I dropped the baby, ran, and jumped down stairs. I remember now that when I fell asleep I saw a woman, maybe the crazy woman. I covered myself; I knew I was only afraid, and that she was not real. Six weeks ago I saw the same woman, when falling asleep or when asleep. I ran away, and she ran after me."

        Mrs. A. in relating these dreams, shivered all over and was afraid, as if actually living the dream experience over again. "It was this woman who caught me in her arms, kissed me, and embraced me, and did not let me go, until my screams brought friends and my father; they took me away from her by force."

        Gradually some more dreams emerged. "I dreamt some time ago that the woman came to me and spilled hot water on me. Another time I dreamed that I was in the insane asylum; she came out, told me she was well; I was greatly frightened and ran away."

        Mrs. A. then became quiet. After a while she began to relate a series of dreams. Some time ago she dreamed that the woman entered the room where her father was and ran up to him, evidently with the intention of hurting him. Her father ran away, and she hid herself in a closet in the next room. "I also dreamt that the woman was shadowing me in an alley. She wanted to get hold of me, while I was trying to get away from her. I turned round, and she gave me such a fierce look. I ran and she could not catch me. I should die, if she catches me. In one of my dreams about her, I saw people putting cold water on her, and I could hear her scream. It was awful. I dreamt I went upstairs, opened the door and met her. I was badly frightened. I jumped out of the window."

        This is an extract from a letter sent to me by the patient's husband: ". . . She had another attack. It did not last long, and it was not severe. She dreamt several times a week. I shall try to relate them as accurately as possible. She dreamt that I left the room for a while. Our baby was asleep in the next room. All of a sudden she heard baby cry out: 'Mamma, I am afraid.' She told the baby to come to her as she herself was afraid to leave the bed. Baby came to her. The child looked frightened, her face pale with fear, exclaiming 'Mamma, a devil.' As the child cried out, my wife heard a noise in the room, something moved close by. She became scared. It seemed to her that something terrible and unknown was after her. She wanted to scream for help, but could not. A hand was stretched out after her to catch her. She woke up in great terror. Another time she dreamt that she was in a hall way. She saw a woman and became frightened. It was the same crazy woman. My wife is exceedingly nervous, and is in fear that something awful is going to happen to her or to the family."

        A rich subconscious dream-life of agonizing fears was thus revealed, a life of terrors of which the patient was unaware in her waking state. The dreams referred to the same central nucleus, the shock and fears of her early childhood. Worries about the self and family kept up and intensified the present fear states.

        Her selfishness has no bounds, her fears have no limits. The symptoms of the "fear set," as in all other psychopathic cases, took their origin in the impulse of self-preservation with its accompanying fundamental fear instinct.

        This patient was cured after a long course of hypnotic treatment.

 

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