Walking Zombie Syndrome

Trevor Modlin, Ph.D

One of the greatest contributions that medical hypno-analysis offers the therapeutic community is the concept of the Walking Zombie Syndrome. Some find the name to be a bit gruesome, though most people find it to be such an excellent description of their condition that the name does not detract from the diagnosis.

The so-called Walking Zombie Syndrome is described as a condition in which depression and withdrawal led individuals to unconsciously believe that they were dead. Illness, coma, high fever, operations performed under anaesthesia, and bereavements were just some of the situations through which a ‘death suggestion’ could be unwittingly assimilated.

In hypno-analysis we have found over and over again that most emotional problems and psychosomatic problems stem from the same cause. Whether due to accident, injury, surgery, illness or powerful loss, an individual has often been known to accept an overwhelming negative suggestion. These tragic circumstances establish a natural hypnotic environment. Because of the perceived threat, our mind becomes very focused. And in this very focused state any belief that we accept has lasting ramifications. The belief that is most often accepted is a very harmful suggestion that involves some question about our ability to keep on living. We often do not notice such a suggestion occurring because the threat to our life may not be perceived by our conscious, reasoning mind. The Walking Zombie Syndrome can develop after a near death experience, like unconsciousness after an accident, etc. For example, if we go into the hospital to have an operation we are not surprised at being anaesthetised. Our logical mind knows that we must be placed into a state of unconsciousness to avoid being aware of the work of the surgeon. Our emotional sensory mind focused on our current awareness of comfort and the hope of increased comfort as a result of the surgery; but there is another kind of thinking that we have. It is our life support thinking.

This occurs in a very simple part of our brain that has little ability to reason. It thinks more in black and white, dead or alive terms. To this part of our thinking is very distant from our logic and our emotions, though our logic understands anaesthesia and our feelings feel good about it, our life support system feels that death is imminent, especially if a mask is placed over one’s nose and mouth inhibiting breathing. It records the event as dying, and responds accordingly. Several different conclusions can be reached when this part of your thinking believes that you are dying; and each has powerful ramifications. If we believe that we are about to die and then we lose consciousness by any means, that part of our thinking will believe that we have died. When this belief is accepted, it will change us to some degree. When I tell a client about the Walking Zombie Syndrome, clients often say, “but I wasn’t thinking about dying or living”. Some, clients, even in a fairly deep hypnotic state will have difficulty tuning in to this kind of reasoning. I believe this thinking to be located in the old brain or limbic system. It certainly makes mapping sense that the structures related to autonomic control would also be responsible for collection and storing this kind of information.

When one dies resulting from an image in their mind, they believe they are dead. Once we accept this belief, we work to conform the rest of our understandings, even our very being or lack of being, to it. If you believe that you are dead, you tend to act dead. You may act listless and tired, lack energy, or be completely emotionless. You may require some regular proof that you are alive, some part of pain, difficulty or stimulation that confirms that you are still here. Typical proof of life examples are self mutilation (too see blood flowing, to feel the pain and even to taste the blood is a proof of life). Smoking is another example. The only way you can see your breath is when you exhale the smoke. When God created man, He breathed His own breath into man and he was alive. Other examples are pulling hair and watching is growing back. In any case you would not be able to simply live and breathe and have your being enjoying the challenges, conquering the difficulties in life. You stop living, as you have known it. You do not take the interest in things that you did before. You may not complete your task, lack enjoyment in anything that you do. We often feel that we just exist; because we don’t get any thrill or satisfaction or sense of accomplishment out of life anymore. So even life itself becomes a problem and depression may enter the picture. You don’t feel that you are getting better or that your pain is going away.

Now for want of a better name, we in hypno-analysis have called this kind of experience The Walking Zombie Syndrome.

All of those tired feelings, the depression, the listlessness, the pain and the withdrawal from life, the fear and the anxiety, in short, all of those dead feelings now fade away. To be replaced by life. These feelings of life have always been there. But they have been suppressed. Your ability to live has been crippled with death-like suggestions. Indeed life is the solution for the walking zombie syndrome.