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
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
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.