Susto: When The Spirit Leaves The Body

Feelings of loss, abandonment, and lack of love from family members characterize interpersonal susto.
Susto: When the spirit leaves the body

If we ask someone what susto is, they will most likely say that it is what we know as fright, equivalent to shock. So when something scares us, it can shock us and make us jump because of fear. We are talking about a feeling born out of the perception of a threat.

If we consult Wikipedia, we find the following definition: “Frightening is a largely unconscious defensive response to sudden or threatening stimuli, such as sudden noise or sharp movements, and is associated with a negative effect”.

When it comes to humans, the reaction includes a physical movement away from the stimulus, a contraction of the arm and leg muscles as well as the blinking.

But it is not this type of susto that we are talking about in this article. There are disorders or cultural concepts of discomfort that are specific to particular cultures or societies. This is the type of susto we are referring to.

Susto as a cultural concept of discomfort

Culture-bound syndromes refer to “patterns of deviant behavior and disruptive experiences that are recurring and specific to a particular place.”

The natives regard some of these patterns as diseases or as causes of suffering. Native Americans know most of them by everyday names, just like susto in this case.

These syndromes are categorized as diseases that are limited to particular communities or cultures. There is, for example, a widespread knowledge of a certain disease within the culture, but not outside it. This provides a coherent meaning for certain sets of experiences and observations.

A woman with susto

Susto is a cultural explanation for the discomfort and unhappiness that occurs among Hispanics in the United States. It also happens to people from Mexico, Central America and South America. In the Andes, the natives know susto as espanto .

Caribbean Latin Americans, on the other hand, do not recognize this concept as a form of disease. So what is susto ? It is a disease attributed to a frightening event that causes the spirit to leave the body.

This incident occurs as a result of accident and illness, or in connection with the difficulties of playing central roles in society. Symptoms can appear at any time, and can last from days to years, after suffering during the frightening event. In extreme cases, it can lead to death.

We can define susto as a ‘psychological effect’ of varying intensity due to various factors. Among these we can find those of a supernatural nature, and those caused by natural phenomena and personal experiences that result in unexpected events.

As we can see, is susto a classification of disease with a traditional connection. Its characteristics, symptoms, propensity and treatments have special connotations in different geographical areas.

What are the symptoms?

There are no specific symptoms that define this condition. However, the symptoms that people with susto usually mention are lack of appetite, inadequacy, interrupted sleep, feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, interpersonal sensitivity and apathy.

The physical symptoms that accompany susto can be discomfort and muscle pain, cold hands and feet, pallor, headache, abdominal pain and diarrhea. The events that cause it are different. These events include natural phenomena, animals, interpersonal situations, supernatural beings, among others.

Somatic diseases are usually chronic and very different. Intense feelings of fear, which can often seem supernatural, can cause a “loss of spirit,” which can cause this illness. In some cases, the people who suffer from susto do not experience the traumatic events personally.

Patients are affected when others (usually family members) are affected by susto. Other symptoms include agitation, anorexia, insomnia, fever, diarrhea, confusion or lethargy. Various studies attribute some cases to hypoglycemia and unspecified diseases of the organs.

Specialists also attribute it to generalized anxiety disorders or stress, caused by social conflicts or low self-esteem.

man performs ritual concerning susto

Types of susto

So far, we have identified three types of susto (called cibih in the local Zapotec language). Each of them has different connections to psychiatric diagnoses.

Feelings of loss, abandonment, and lack of love from family members characterize interpersonal susto . The symptoms that accompany this are sadness, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. This type of susto is very similar to a severe depressive disorder.

Susto can also be the result of a traumatic event. This event plays a crucial role in the cause of the symptoms, and in the emotional handling of the experience. In this case, the diagnosis is very similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder.

On the other hand, there are also forms of susto , whose properties include several repeated somatic symptoms. For example, the person seeks professional help from several doctors because of what they are experiencing. This case is similar to what is called somatic symptom disorder.

As we have seen,  susto can  be divided into different classifications and treatments where specific elements are recognizable. Although there is no exact equivalent to this disease, it is a condition that is sometimes confused with others due to the complexity of the various forms of diagnosis.

Thus, it could even hide various organic diseases.

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