Conversion Disorder in Children | Result of Suppressing Emotions

by Mladen

More and more children in modern world develop conversion disorder as consequence of suppressing their emotions (good or bad).

Conversion disorder is psychiatric disorder caused by suppressing emotions, which lead to anxiety, and the anxiety results in this condition. It is defined as anxiety converted into physical symptom or sign. Conversion disorder is product of inner psychiatric distress. It is very important to understand that this condition is result of subconscious defense mechanisms against suppressed emotions trying to come on the surface.

Meeting Patient With Conversion Disorder

He was 14 years old boy, with sad background story inside his family.

Two weeks ago I had a 14 years old patient with signs of right hemiplegia. For those who don't know what hemiplegia mean, it is motor dysfunction of one half of the body (right arm and right leg, or left arm and left leg). He was brought to me by his granddad saying it suddenly happened during the breakfast 3 hours ago. 

It came across my mind it could be some damage of spine, but boy was just sitting, and eating breakfast. It happened suddenly. I though it could be tumor. That was the thought I approached my young patient with. 

His right arm and leg were paralyzed. But he didn't seem worried about it. Actually he was smiling. He was accepting my little jokes. I thought: "Hmmm, this is strange."

I made simple neurological examination, and there was no neurological deficits. If someone looses ability to move arm or leg, you would expect to find no reflexes, or at least something more vivid reflexes. But, I didn't find anything. No signs of articular anomalies, either. Both arm and leg were passively movable in every direction.

I asked him to stand on one leg, while I hold him, and to try to reach his feet. And then it came to me...

Definition of Conversion Disorder

Symptoms of conversion disorder are real. This is not it-is-in-your-head scenario!

Conversion disorder is neurosis presented in the way of motor paralyzis, sensor deficit, or convulsions. The father of this term was Freud. Previous name for this condition was hysteric neurosis, or hysteria. Freud defined it as anxiety in conversion to physical symptom. 

So, the main cause of this disorder is anxiety. Anxiety is free floating fear inside the person. That fear is not related to anything material, or real. It is fear of fear in basic. Difference between anxiety and fear is that in second case person is afraid of something real (frightened of death, animals, high places, something that represents real danger to one's existence). If person is anxious, that means s/he is in constant fear of something s/he can not identify. Freud gave his explanation of anxiety. He said that we constantly keep suppressing our inner conflicts, emotions, impulses... Suppressed part of us is not dead, it is very much alive. And it is constantly trying to get out from our subconsciousness. This creates tension and frustration within us. This tension, free energy, is fear of suppressed things coming out. Suppression is subconscious defense mechanism against things we run from. And that is why one can't identify object of fear in anxiety. 

This free energy, and tension inside patient, can suddenly burst, and convert to physical symptom. Aside from this cause, some acute neurological conflicts can lead to conversion disorder (something we are forced to do in affect, but our ego is not able to do that). Check what happened with my young patient: Child with Conversion Disorder.

Physical symptoms in conversion disorder, often symbolize inner conflicts:

paralysis of arm triggered by masturbation conflict, or by affect in which patient planned to hit person he cares about a lot. Blindness can be triggered by conflict created during watching unpleasant scene (murder, rape, sex act of their parents...) 

Physical symptom can represent:

way to block the fight with unacceptable inner impulse, 

way to prevent suppressed impulse to brake into the conscious part of the mind, 

to arrange unconscious compromise with inner conflict. 

Conversive Disorder Is Caused By Suppressed Emotions
Conversive Disorder Is Caused By Supp...
Talk to your children! 
Steaming ears can be painful!

Conversion Disorder in Children: Symptoms

In conversion disorder, symptoms are real, and not feigned!

There are three groups of symptoms in this mental condition:

Sensory symptoms: area of anesthesia (not following the innervation- it is random), blindness, deafness, hallucinations.

Paralyzes: mutism, hemiparesis, paralyzes of any group of muscles, urinary retention, pain (strong immobilizing pain- headaches, abdominal pain, lumbo-sacral pain...). 

Dyskinesia: pseudoconvulsions, all sorts of bizarre gestures. 

NOTE: Any physical symptom can be sign of conversive disorder if there is no physical cause of it. Never take symptoms in childred for faking. Most of the times they do fake, but sometimes it can be something more serious.

Characteristic Behavior in Conversion Disorder

These patients aren't worried about their condition. They resolved their inner conflict, and they are happy!

Physical disability and expression "la belle indifferance" = physical symptom causes disability, and resolution of inner conflict manifests with indifference, smiling, and happy expression.

Denial of symptoms= patient, often denies his arm is paralyzed. 

Patient is trying to attract attention of other people. 

Suggestibility is one of characteristic signs of this disorder.

My Patient Had Conversion Disorder

Real-life story, diagnosis, treatment!

When I asked my patient to try and reach his feet, he wasn't able. But the thing that caught my attention was him holding his "sick" arm next to his body. It wasn't falling down under the influence of gravitation, as it should be if arm was out of the function.

Then I assumed it could be CD or hysteric neurosis.

My next step was to check if there is no organic cause of the disease. And there wasn't any.

My next step was to talk to this boy and try to find out his story. Every psychiatric disorder has its story. This boy was suppressing something.

Story: Young S. was living with his mother, stepfather and 2 brothers until he was 8. When his granddad found at the time S. was victim of child abuse by child's stepfather, grandpa took the boy to live with him. But the boy loved his brothers, and the mother despite her being indifferent in this situation. After 6 years S. heard he is going to see his brothers on aunt's wedding, and S. was thrilled about it! But few days before the wedding, his grandpa used breakfast time to tell him his mother gave birth to a child, and she wasn't able to come. Young S. was so angry. He was in affect, wanting to hit his granddad for telling him bad news. But he was always good child, and his ego couldn't stand the idea of hitting loving granddad. This was the conflict that ended up in hemiplegia to stop his arm and leg to hit loving figure of father. 

Treatment: Conversion disorder is going to be spontaneously resolved within few days or weeks. It is important to establish good and stable contact with child. It is crucial child trusts you!

Conversion Disorder as Call for Help

This disorder is an alarming sign of child being in trouble. React fast, or it can least to something much more serious.

Child experiencing conversion disorder is subconsciously sending message to the people around him to help him. He is not aware of the fact this is just a consequence of deep inner troubles he was experiencing for long time. 

Was it child molesting? Was it love crisis of young teenage girl? Was it school bullying?

There are many situations in child's life that s/he is taking for huge and insuperable problems. In this age of confusion, and finding self in the world, finding the purpose of self in society, adolescent is under huge pressure, and s/he can easily become victim.

Suicides are quite common in the age of 14 to 18 years. Most of the reasons for this are love failures, sexual abuse, school bullying, depression...

Wizzley author Katiem2, has published an article about suicide. In this article Katie explains the most common reasons for suicides; she is writing about what happens to force someone to think about it and what are the signs suicidal person sends to us. How to discover someone is suicidal early enough to help him?

I strongly recommend to read it as addition to this article about conversion disorder:

Kate's excellent article on very important topic in this modern world:

Read About Other Psychiatric Disorders:

Updated: 04/08/2012, Mladen
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Holistic_Health on 09/02/2013

This sounds similar to 'fight or flight'. You can't do what you want to release stress, so you internalize it and make yourself sick.

Roohi on 06/05/2012

A very exciting read of a disorder which not many people understand or know about. Thanks for writing this article!

Mladen on 04/08/2012

Sheri, when I was learning about this disorder, I wasn't able to get into it. I saw it as something abstract, and thought it doesn't exist in such form described in books.
I was quite surprized to see it in person, whn my forst patient told his story to me.
The subject is important for the very possibility that lots of our strange pains and unexplained health issues can actually represent conversion disorder. We all have some problems we try to repress.

Sheri_Oz on 04/08/2012

It was fascinating here to follow your story and to have conversion disorder explained through your personal experience with this patient. Important article!

katiem2 on 03/21/2012

I think I get it, being present and attentive to the child's subtle or not so subtle changes. We allow ourselves to be so busy we often don't notice the world crumbing around us. Great thought provoking and informative piece I've given careful thought to plus came back to review.

Mladen on 03/20/2012

It is never up to kids, I think. Them talking to you just tells you you are great parent. That is all I can tell.

katiem2 on 03/20/2012

Good advice to remember, I will maintain a line of communication between my kids and I. Their lives are so fast paced. Luckily they do talk to me unloading their minds, I'm so thankful.

Mladen on 03/16/2012

@sheilamarie: Mind is one labirynth! Thank you for you comment!

@Angel: It is always good to see your comment, Angel! Now I know my article is doing good thing: teaching other people about this very important condition. Condition itself is not something serious, but its trigger.

Mladen on 03/16/2012

@Katie: It is fascinationg how benign sign of CD can be. Child can only have a headache, or stomach cramps. When it is about children, the best thing parent can do it to talk to them. Resolving themain problem, will make most of child disorders go away. Children must trust parents (or caretakers) and share their fears with them.

Mladen on 03/16/2012

In medicine nothing is 100%. Every single person is individual. If you have signs of this, you should see your doctor. But also you can send me message or mail and maybe I can advise you. I am here for you, if you need me.

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