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What Is Conversion Disorder

What is Conversion DisorderIf you search around the internet and in the medical dictionaries, you will often see various definitions of what is conversion disorder.  There are many differing opinions on what the definition really is.  I’m not going to just repeat the same things over and over that everyone else does on the internet, because if you do a search you can easily and quickly see those at any time.

In the Mosby’s Medical, Nursing And Allied Health Dictionary (Sixth Edition, 2002), it talks about conversion disorder as being an abnormality.  This abnormality essentially is where emotional conflicts in the person’s life is changed or converted into symptoms that show up in the body.  It is important to note, that there is no physical or organic cause for these symptoms.  In essence, the person has various symptoms appear, but there is no biological cause which makes them appear.  Equally important, these symptoms are not ones that the patient is causing to happen, but they are occurring involuntarily.  The patient is not intentionally producing the symptoms that are showing up.

Some of the symptoms of conversion disorder can include the following list.  If I am missing any or have incorrectly stated something here, please feel free to share this with me.

  1. Anesthesia or the loss of feeling and sensation in the body.
  2. Hypesthesia or when someone is touched and they hardly feel it as in a decreased sensitivity.
  3. Hyperesthesia – when the person is extremely sensitive to something such as touch.
  4. Paralysis – partial or complete paralysis of limbs or different parts of the body.
  5. Muscle trembling, shaking and movements that are involuntary.
  6. Difficulty speaking or choking sensations.
  7. Difficulty in breathing
  8. Pseudo seizure type symptoms
  9. Lethargic and getting tired easily
  10. Loss of interest in life and feeling like every moment is a struggle


Generally speaking there is something that is happening in the patient’s life or has happened to manifest a conversion disorder.  Often, patients discount events in their life or they just don’t remember moments that would lead up to this condition.  It is always important to look at events in the patient’s life and moments leading up to the onset of symptoms.

Conversion disorder is essentially a somatoform disorder.  Somatoform disorders are basically somatization of the body, or where events that happen to the person are converted in some physical way that shows up as a biological symptom.  We often unconsciously take in stress and traumatic moments of our life, burying them from our consciousness and storing them as potential energy within our muscles, cells and biological systems.  It is not until our system becomes overloaded with these things, that a switch is flipped and our body begins to react in ways that make little sense to our conscious minds.

One way that I often try to explain it is by referencing an electrical circuit in a house.  Usually an electrical circuit is designed to handle a certain amount of appliances.  However, if you keep adding appliance after appliance to the circuit, at some point the breaker in your electrical box is going to trip.  Of course, you may look at each small appliance and think, that isn’t enough to trip the breaker.  If it was the only one on the circuit, most likely that would be correct.  However, this small and insignificant appliance that was added last, was just enough to overload the circuit.

In much the same way, conversion disorder affects the electrical circuit or nervous system in our body.  Our nervous systems are designed to take on stress and traumatic moments throughout our life.  However, if we do not discharge these things, they begin to build up in our cells over time.  Our nervous system then becomes overloaded and so, all it requires to trip the breaker is an event that would seem insignificant to most people.

If you take the example in my own life, I had been severely abused as a child.  Please do not think that I am saying everyone that has been abused will suffer from conversion disorder.  This is only the example of my own life.  I went for years, with nothing bad happening to me except the occasional trip to an emergency room for a stiff neck or muscles that would not move.  I had frequent headaches, a nervous stomach, difficulty breathing, allergies along with anxiety and depression.  However, I functioned well and no one including myself could tell that I had anything that ever bothered me.  In fact, most of my friends thought I had life together and nothing really ever bothered me.  I was so adept at hiding what was going on inside of me, that I was not even conscious of all that my body was dealing with on a day to day basis.

In a period of a year, I moved and changed jobs twice, I had a relationship that meant so much to me start and break up, and I was given a territory to manage in which I was not ready or prepared while working for a company,  The stress of this job was enormous with long hours, but since I never let anyone see me sweat, I took it like a man and just did what was expected of me.  I was a perfectionist and would never fail anyone which added to the stress I placed upon myself.  Little did I realize, that any of this was creating enormous stress upon my body.  It was not until I had to deal with a fire on one of the hog farms that I managed that I was pushed over the top in my life.  It seemed like another event that I had to deal with that day and not one that would take me down.  However, this was the beginning of the end for my life.

You see, all these little stressors took place over many months and none of them seemed like they were that big of a deal in my life.  Who hasn’t worked long hours or switched jobs or dealt with the stresses of being given enormous responsibility.  The thing was, my nervous system was already pushed to the limits from events in my past that I did not even consciously think about in the moment.  They were the farthest thing from my mind.  The events that most people would take in stride were those final additions to my nervous system that were just too much to handle.

The point I am trying to make is that a conversion disorder is not always something you can connect the dots in your life at that moment.  It may seem like this event has nothing to do with what you may consciously recall, actually transpired in your life at some other time.  The events do not need to be as dramatic as what I went through, but again, if they are not discharged and dealt with, they accumulate in the body and the nervous system.

While psychotherapy is often a very good start for an individual who has suffered through a conversion disorder, often medications are used to help bring some sense of balance and normalcy to the patient.  Unfortunately, the understanding and research is not being done in a great amount for the medical profession to adequately treat this condition.  So often, conversion disorder patients are looked upon as if they are faking the symptoms when most of the time they are not.  It is not uncommon for medical professionals to tell the patients that it is all in their head.

More importantly, it appears to be common for conversion disorder patients to not even be aware of the a potential diagnosis.  Many medical providers feel that if they share this information with the patient, it may push them further into a place where they have no tools to support them, and so it is easier to just avoid the diagnosis all together.  The same thing happened to me and while I didn’t fully understand what was going on with my body, I wish that I would have been told.

The first thing that a conversion disorder patient needs to realize is that there is nothing wrong with them.  Yes, there are physical symptoms showing up, but this is not because of something that is irreversible.  It is energy stored and trapped within the body and the nervous system that needs to find a way to exit.  If we don’t find the healthy way for it to exit, it will find a way on its own.  Healing needs to involve the patient being guided by a trained individual that can take them into the felt sense of their body and experience it without being re-traumatized or dissociating.  The more you can get an individual into their body in a safe way, the more they can begin to discharge the stored energy and realize that they have the power to change their body from the  inside out.

It took me a long time to begin learning what this meant and how to go into my own body without freezing up, minimizing it, numbing it or just wanting to escape from those things that were painful.  It was a process that did not happen all at once, but each moment built up to the next and made me stronger as I realized more and more the power I held within my own mind and body.

I do realize that while the people who truly understand how the body deals with stress are few and far between, there is help and hope for people.  It does require the individual to be open to this awareness and consciousness even if it does not make complete sense at this time.  Conversion disorder takes place in the body and while the mind needs to heal as much as the body, the physical body needs to be able to have a way to release and heal itself.  This is a process that I have gone through and I can say without a doubt, that you can heal.

Healing is a process and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but in order to heal, one needs to address the physical component.  Until the energy is released from the body, it will continue to impact the nervous system and all the systems of the body.


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2 Responses to "What Is Conversion Disorder"

  1. Tammie Rose says:

    I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy for 10 years; I would have seizures that ygmanifested like grandma seizures. I would seize for hours at a time. I went to the Albany Medical Hospital in Albany NY. At that point I was told I have the worst convention disorder they had ever diagnosed. Now in Ohio; I can’t find a doctor to help me. Can you recommended how I can get some help?

  2. Tammie Rose says:

    Every day I’m in massive pain. The doctors look at me like I’m crazy. I can’t get out of bed most days & I can’t be touched at all. Living is like living in hell. No one understands.

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