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The Walking Dead & PTSD

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posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 12:33 AM
The most recent season of 'The Walking Dead' has orbited around the topic of the groups various difficulties in adjusting to a world that is too like the world that came before the Zombie Apocalypse. From Rick Grimes to Carol to Shimone, were given different portraits of how human beings can approach overcoming the emotional traumas they have gone through.

One could at times be convinced that the show's creators would actually want to normalize the psychology that Rick and Carol, for example, have demonstrated, by having them reason along lines we could call "survival of the fittest", where a masculine psychology and way of being takes precedence to the softer and more vulnerable feminine experiences of intersubjective closeness, for example, to care about what other minds feel and experience in the context of a mind aware of the strangeness - and beauty - in being aware of the world around them.

I've been very entertained, and at other times annoyed, at how the Walking Dead has handled the subject of human psychological trauma. The Shows writers have done a good job pitting the communities leader Deanna against Rick and Carol. The contrast is stark, with Deanna representing an enlightened humanism attuned to the emotional realities that determine human behavior, while Rick and Carol are much more rugged, much more convinced that their practicalism, and in-group priorities, should be forced on the community as a matter of "survival of the fittest".

Encapsulated in these two views are two ways of seeing the world, reminiscent of George Lakoffs political metaphors of the "nurturing parent" and the "strict father". These two views, really, represent a more feminine approach and a more masculine approach to the subject of how to live. The metaphor itself - like all metaphor more generally - captivates the minds of people when the brains emotional patterns persist along certain behavioral-adaptationist lines.

As a student of the human mind, I know a lot about the subject of trauma, which is why - as much as I enjoy this show - I have been bothered by how Deanna discusses the groups trauma history (such as not naming it as such!) as well as how Carol, in her utter insanity, is somehow able to convince Rick that they should plot to take over the community, a veritable coup-d'etat. The bizareness goes on as Shimone whacks Rick over the head to only go on to support Rick's possible - or even imaginable - eventual desire to take over the community. It's as if were seeing the various shades of cookoo. Carol, at the farthest end, terrorizes little boys with threats to kill them. The cookooness is subtly sanctioned when the topic is broached openly, with Rick and others, and Maggy and her once Pastor father and deceased sister. Trauma underlies all these morbidities of thought, but the group, living in and through the scope of a psycho-neurobiological scarring, can not disassociate from the picture being framed by their brain-stems: the world is scary, we need to be tough.

Thought is crossing and people aren't talking rationally in the absence of a useful psychological language. Alas, as intelligent and wise as Deanna is, she doesn't know how to describe what she's seeing, and so therefore, cannot construct a cogent enough argument around the subject of the groups psychological trauma

Rick and Carol, and all the others, are to varying degrees admitting "yeah, were more important than you are". Deanna argues strongly - and rationally - how a community needs to be about a certain trust, a certain sanity: Deanna, being 'insulated' from the world outside her, as so imagined by the minds of Rick and Carol, is naive, unable to deal with the world. Notice the emphasis? The world is bad! Scary! Loss! Death! Horror! The emphasis is emotional. The human mind, exposed to certain bloody - and terrifying images - finds it difficult to disengage from the memory of it. It clings in the nervous system, held in place by what is now called the "polyvagal theory of psychosocial functioning" - where when a brain experiences too much cortisol - too much emotional arousal - that the shock forces a 'switch', apparently structured into the history of our mammalian biology, from a state of "relaxed, focused arousal of social engagement" and past a state of sympathetic HPA axis secetion, into a state of parasympathetic, dorsal vagal mediated chronic dissociation. The issue is relatively benign sounding: homeostasis. A stressed mind is not good for survival, so the brain automatically triggers state changes through the release of endogenous opiates like Dynorphin and Endorphins which 'release' frontal lobe attention to the world 'outside'.

PTSD necessarily leaves a person a little bit autistic. The philosopher Ernest Schachtel described the two ways the human mind can self-organize as "autocentric" and "allocentric". the psychologist Alan Fogel describes these two states as 'subjective emotional present' and 'conceptual self-awareness. PTSD doesn't allow the forebrain thinking needed for allcentric focus. "Allo" means 'other'. This, in contrast to "autocentric", which means 'automatic'. Human beings can be aware of how we we feel (autocentric) - in what we can call that "consciousness of emotion" - or, we can "think about" our own feelings or thinking (allocentric). In the 'allo' sense, we've turned our own experiences into 'objects' to be reflected and considered.

In PTSD, the metabolics demands of biological homeostasis override the intentions of the conscious mind. Metabolically speaking - and this biological focus is scientist fact - you need to be relaxed in order to sustain allocentric focus. The brain cannot support and does not possess the energetic resources for both the muscular tension and high emotional arousal characteristic of an 'anxious defensive focus' and the rational focus of self reflection. As subjects, we obviously overlook how our biology is subverting our perception and so take the reality presented as realist in fact. The psychoanalyst Donnel Stern would describe this dynamic as "dissociation" in the "strong sense", where the traumatic shocks to the nervous system (FEAR, ANXIETY, SHAME) bias attentional processes to emotionally 'controllable' states of awareness. Expressing ones toughness and strength, as we see in Rick, but especially Carol, is a result of a nervous system trying to 'reorganize' itself and finding a new equilibrium - a painful, too painful equilibrium to upstet, to throw off kilter with self-reflection on what one has lost. Mourning - as PTSD teaches us, is basic and fundamental to the human nervous system. When we lose a love one, or a cherished relationship, we feel exactly opposite feeling of loss. With loss comes depression, but, with suitable resources, one can learn to extract from the loss a pearl of wisdom. Trauma, when it strikes, forces upon us a period of self-reflection: what is the state of your emotional life - your one chance at living? How do you feel and what are you trying to hide from yourself? Questions like these require an inspired courage to understand - and to grow - past the trauma. But the trauma - and the mark it has left on your biology - snaps back again and again.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 12:33 AM
Mind you, without knowledge, the human being seems incapacitated. Any type of knowledge - or belief - may help to focus attention on a good state - and the good state, like a genie, satisfies the needs of an organism. But in the terrifying world of The Walking Dead, there seem to be no psychologists left. Here and there we encounter people with 'self awareness' - a skill and virtue abandoned by many in the shock of living in a world with so much horror. Thinking, when it does occur, will be steered away from feelings of loss and pain. Practicalities in the 'outside world', paradoxically, will make them less attuned to how they treat other people. In the Walking Dead, In-Group/Out-group distinctions - borne of a traumatized social mind - are reified to a point where Rick and "the group" speak of themselves and their own welfare as being of greater importance to the people of the community.

The Other - Deanna and all of them - have exhibited quite clearly a rationality and empathy that they have not been used to; perhaps, to an earlier self, the idea of civilization made sense to them. But the traumas they have lived through - and experienced again, and again, etc - has left them unresponsive - unable to experience the emotions, the soft, vulnerable, reflective sensitivity required to understand abstract concepts like the value of empathy, community, good will, trust and care.

In an ideal community, Deanna would have had a psychologist friend who knew how to name and make sense of what he was seeing: and he wouldn't shy away from putting a maginfying glass upon it. For this man, Rick, Carol, all of them, have suffered horrible traumas. But however bad it was, this is still the fact: we can create for ourselves a "world away". Just because trouble exists at the borders doesn't mean we should assume that we have to live 'on the edge'. Expecting around every corner for something to go wrong.

The rules on the outside, behind the fence, are different from the rules on the inside. The "fence", and the fortress that it is, essentially allows them to live without constant worry and stress to their bodies. If we were to think - and dare to "philosophize" - we would know that a happy, trusting community built on mindfulness consideration of the other is preferable to succumbing to the whims of a nervous system that pre-sets my brain to 'trauma mode' when too much cortisol disrupts synaptic connections.

However irritating the shows conclusion was for me, what Deanna represented - and what would and should have been hoped for by those aware of how their body is screwing them - is exactly what would be threatened if the world were ever to one-day fall into disorder.

Masculine machismo is a deadly force hard to hold back. It has taken civilization 2 centuries of order-making and 'working through' ourselves and the world for us to appreciate certain dynamics about human behavior. Gradually, this has convinced most philosophers and scientists that the "more rational sex" is the female. Though, as in it's delicate features, helping females into power and fostering empatheric relatedness is a subtle, easily overwhelmed ability. Trauma 'shocks' through it and blocks consciousness from 'tuning in'. Tuning in, ultimately, is about the self as aware of it's subjectivity. Tuning out, ultimately, is about surviving "just because".

The deeper lesson that Deana teaches is that it is far better consciously striving for good than to waste your-life mindlessly enacting survival scripts.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 12:39 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

i really love where you're going with this. my parents watch this show--i do not. it seems stupid to me because the answer is so obvious and yet it takes so, so very long.

plus, the violence seems excessive and it looks fake (to me, but i am a great lover of very scary movies so--) and it merely disgusts me and doesn't really excite me. Moreso it makes me feel uneasy because like, I don't want to think about this ish unless I HAVE to think about it--which hopefully will be never lol I already have a zombie plan. And a plan for just about everything else: winging it as usual lol

but back to the seriousness of the topic, I think you're really on to something. my parents have been acting weird for about 2 or 3 years now. and I have a feeling stuff like this is probably contributing to it. but who knows. interesting tho.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 12:49 AM
I watched the first 10 minutes of the first episode... I suppose I'm in the minority of people who don't care much for the zombie genre. Can you tell me what it is about this particular series that has made it so popular and how much does one have to suspend their belief system to enjoy it? I am interested in PTSD, however, but not sure I want to invest my time with WD unless it has qualities that set it aside from what I consider to be typical zombie flicks... Thanks

edit on 482015 by seattlerat because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 01:03 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

I happen to think you are way off the mark and just don't get the show(many don't) but in all honesty I stopped reading at Shimone.

It's Michonne.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 01:48 AM


posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 02:06 AM
a reply to: seattlerat

The show is much more than a 'Zombie Flick",really its about how and what people will do to survive if everything we now take for granted should one day be gone. People see in the characters themselves,and what they would do,how they would act,if stuck in such a situation. Or at least how they 'think' they'll act anyway.

These people aren't just fighting zombies,they have to think about how and where to get food,water,medical care,etc. Stephen King touched on this with The Stand. Some people would just look at the world around them,and decide to check out.They would just kill themselves and get it over with. Others would fight tooth and nail to try to survive anyway they could.

According to our DNA,there has been at least 2 times in our past where we 'bottle necked', humans were almost wiped out. Those that were left,had to scrape by and do whatever it took for survival.On top of all this,this group of people has now found that the biggest danger they really face,is other people.

Those people will use subterfuge to get them where they want them,then kill them or take advantage of them. As you go through the series,there are different points in the show where you will see they have to make decisions,decisions that normally a human would never have to make.Yet they have to make them for their survival now.

The loss of certain characters is painful due to what those people bring to the groups survival. Yet after the loss,they must find a way of carrying on. The more you watch it,the more complex it is. It makes you think about things you would never think about while using your cell phone,ipad,or laptop.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 03:52 AM
I like the show too, precisely because of it’s accuracy concerning the human psyche. I don’t like Zombie movies (and it took me a few seasons to even consider watching it for the first time), but I think you are correct in your observations.

I am not sure there is a moral attached, on whether the PTSD-like mentality is “good” or better – that is not clear to me. Except in that we know these traumatized characters better than those of the new group, so at this point, we might find ourselves identifying or understanding them better.

On the other hand, I think there are some concepts illustrated- that the relation-focused more civilized behaviour has some weaknesses in a context of life threatening danger. Not only less ability to respond quickly to direct threat, but also, passive aggressiveness.
The lack of recognition of innate aggressive or hostile drives, which, nonetheless, are active in denied states.

Like the man beating his wife regularly in the community, but that everyone has just sort of denied acknowledging for a long time. They’ve preferred to cling to the image of themselves as non-violent, kind and loving above all. They allow a subversive occult action to be going on underneath the appearences.

If you want to liken these opposing attitudes to masculine or feminine ways of being, this is a realistic observation. As is being vulnerable in a context of danger- the community let these people in, which as we’re seeing, opens them to being taken over, to being attacked by them. You could say, they should not have trusted, that was an error on their part.

I do not see the more relational, vulnerable mentality as “superior” to the more (trauma induced) ouvert aggressivity. What I see, is that like the masculine and feminine ways of thought, the two do best when they appreciate each other. When they join in a interdependence and influence each other. Yin and Yang, they can compliment each other, making relation and object, self and other, constructive both mentally and physically.

We’ll see where the show takes us. For the moment they are antagonistic, which is pretty common and expected. The “superior” state (if there is one) in my mind, would be that they learn to appreciate the gifts of each other, and form a community both strong and loving.

PTSD is a coping mechanism, and is only a problem outside of dangerous contexts. It is not “bad” in any universal sense. Same with being vulnerable and open to others- that only becomes bad when outside it’s context of safety and intimacy.

That said, I sometimes get the feeling that it has become a current cultural movement to favour the traumatized aggressive focus in America as superior. Even our young people are being taught this- look at all the literature for the young…. The biggest sellers are post apocalyptic fictions in which ones ability to anticipate and react to threats is highlighted. (Divergent, Hunger Games…). My husband and I both have to hear the constant jokes about the French from our American friends on a daily basis, how they are weak and easily dominated. We see the American and French cultures much like the clash of these two groups in Walking Dead. They fail to understand each others value. The French are naïve, and see goodness in the Americans, and adore them, while I wonder if I should speak up and tear apart their illusions- the americans do nothing but badmouth you, they have no respect for you, and they are quick to jump ahead to attack just for the sake of proving they are tough- or to take what you’ve got. That is their “thing”.

I don’t though, I think their naivité gives them other gifts and value that I wouldn’t want to screw up. But between my hubby and I, we try to create a circle of relation in which we appreciate and compliment each others way of being, and in doing so, can have a context for creating such a balance in ourselves as individuals.

I wonder if the writers of the show can get to such a relation? Or if they’ll swing into the current culture of traumatized competition for survival as being the highest state of being?

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 05:52 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

You nailed it ! Very good reflection on the current turn of events and on the psychological nuances that are occurring amongst the various groupings.

One way I've always looked at the show is that the very people fighting for survival on the show are in fact "The Walkers". Aren't we are all "Walkers" in various aspects of our lives in one way or another. Oblivious to the truth of some of our own life situations because they may or may not be out of our control or because we just do not have time for them. I joke about this all the time, there are so many categories of people that can be considered "Walkers".

Now on to the subject matter of your thread:
On the merge of the two groups, I see those living behind the wall of protection subconsciously and consciously pulling in these new groups of people to use as their work-dogs and protectors while they live the lush lifestyle that they are to afraid to give up. They are so afraid of whats on the outside and have not come to terms with or faced the reality of the situation their world is in. They are having others do the dirty work for them while they live it up easily. In relation to PTSD, they are having the flight reaction, they are running.

Ric's group are also experiencing PTSD, but they are in fight mode, they are facing it head on. They stay in fight mode because at every corner there is danger waiting to kill them. They seem to never get a break so they pretty much stay in fight mode. Occasionally and it is rare we see them run/flight because they are overcome and can no longer fight in that particular situation. They are not balanced though, as they have had to fight most of the time.

So in regards to PTSD we see both sides of it being played out among the two groups. Fight & Flight

Very interesting thoughts and considerations that you have put into the show. I enjoyed reading about it.


posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 06:37 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

I have to say, your idea of insanity and irrational behaviour is markedly different to mine.

You see 'cookooness', i see learned survival and group harm reduction strategies.

Take Carol, seemingly your main protagonist for the loon farm...back in the 'old world', she was a terrorised, regularly beaten and abused, timid wife of a deranged bullying husband, she learned that in order to survive, she had to disallow this abuse and confront her tormentor..her POS husband...she quickly discovered that in this new world of despair, or indeed the old world, one had to take the mental and emotional leap of consciously deciding to cease being a victim...which she did.

Learning from this valuable lesson, and applying it's principle to the terrifying new world of death and constant danger she finds herself immersed in daily, she has become 'hardened' to the finer points of decorum, dismisses perceived weakness out of hand, and rightly or wrongly, instinctively acts on her belief that in order to survive and not become a victim, petty Human frailties and previous societal norms, have to be pushed to the back of her mind.

In short...she has learnt to toughen up. She's traumatised of course, but she's not bonkers, she has simply decided to survive in a way that has and is still working for her and she can manage to deal with effectively if not comfortably.

Of course, there's a battle to subdue her normal emotional responses, empathy, compassion have both been relegated to the recesses of her psyche, but do bubble to the surface despite her best efforts to ignore them...she's still human after all even if she's trying desperately to bury those humanist aspects to get by in one piece.

Rick is another kettle of fish altogether...his trauma stems from the inevitable personal losses he has endured, the loss of loved ones and those close to him. But more than that, Rick is mostly affected by a deep seated and borderline manic need to protect the group and for the group to survive.

He is playing the Father figure and the authority figure and saviour all in one...that is going to create some personal stress and emotional quirks at the very least!

But, in the new world there is one thing and one thing only for the group to achieve...and that is to survive, at any cost.

To do that, one has to let go of previous paradigms and niceties that used to be part and parcel of successful integration into working and stable, and largely law-abiding societal structures of the old world...because they all know that world is long gone, and will never be coming back.

To face that realism, one has to change deep inside and that is what the characters are showing, this change...not madness.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 06:50 AM
I am horrified by the OP's attempt to explain PTSD.

"PTSD leaves a person slightly autistic"

For the record the most common personality type for people with ASD is INTJ. The most common personality type for people with PTSD is INFP

originally posted by: MensaIT3
a reply to: Astrocyte

The best way to avoid PTSD is to refuse to fight for Washington war machine based on lies

My 2 cents

If only that were true. If only that were true.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 09:53 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

Masculine machismo is a deadly force hard to hold back. It has taken civilization 2 centuries of order-making and 'working through' ourselves and the world for us to appreciate certain dynamics about human behavior. Gradually, this has convinced most philosophers and scientists that the "more rational sex" is the female.

I wonder if you care to cite some names of these philosophers and scientists who think the more rational sex is female. I'm interested to see their data and how they've interpreted it.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 09:58 AM
Just wanted to chime in since I watch TWD...

I love how canned food is still good and safe to eat!

Oh, I'll be following this thread!

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 10:05 AM

originally posted by: MystikMushroom
Just wanted to chime in since I watch TWD...

I love how canned food is still good and safe to eat!

Oh, I'll be following this thread!

I saw an episode of 'Ray Mears' some time ago, where he was in a Vietnamese jungle and joined by an American Army survival expert who saw action there decades ago...the American still had Vietnam era ration packs, which had canned meats and foodstuff...he opened one of the cans and ate it, proclaiming it to 'still be good'.

That was after decades.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 11:41 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

Wanna know what really grinds my gears...The fact theirs university courses...on Zombies. Like WTF is that...

School for idiots these days.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 12:12 PM
The whole zombie thing has reached maximum saturation IMO. Just like the bacon thing.

Yes, bacon is good. But ranting and raving over everything bacon including band aids and air fresheners is just plain stupid.

Yes, zombies are fun and neat for stories. But ranting and raving over anything zombie-related just because it has zombies is stupid.

I hate fads, and the extremes people go to with fads.

I'm also getting weary of TWD. I mean, I still watch it and for the most part it's enjoyable. I just feel like it's not going anywhere, considering there's no real "cure" and they're all going to turn zombie if they die anyway. What's the point? They can't rebuild civilization back again without any kind of cure. There's really no hope for any of them?

The spin off looks like a way to make more money off of the franchise while they can. Zombies in it.

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 07:14 PM
a reply to: Astrocyte

It's more than PTSD.
Remember what happend to Terminus?

posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 10:27 PM
I had pointed out that the more peaceful "civilized" group showed signs of underlying repressed violent drives (in the wife beating husband) but you can see that the "violent" or tough group also shows signs of drives for relational bonding and affection that have been repressed- like Ricks attraction to the beaten wife, amongst others.

I don't feel it is just that the soft ones wanted to benefit from the skills and courage of the tough ones. (though that is a common American theme, hahaha! 'everyone wants us to save them')

From what i see, they both hold something the other needs. This can be a fair exchange, if the tough ones can accept their repressed needs for affection and social bonding, and the soft can accept their repressed need for violence.

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