I’ve been watching people turn into zombies all week in couples therapy. One woman said, I shut myself down so I won’t have to strangle him! Trance-induction is complicated. It robs us of moments, but it helps us avoid feelings we don’t want to have. And sometimes it keeps us from committing homicide.
Why do we turn into zombies?
I take the issue back to my favorite consultant, Dr. Joe Hulgus, for some help with the words.
Me: It’s the zombie apocalypse. And I’m starting to suspect that all the zombies I’ve seen lately feel confused by their partners. Like they feel themselves being turned from a person to an IT. So they become less human. Does that make sense? How can I explain this?
Joe: It’s an emotional shift. Maybe we start feeling like a child as our partner talks down to us. Maybe we feel like we’re just the housekeeper or the employee or the paycheck or the person who raises the kids. Maybe we feel like a pair of boobs or a walking erection – like we have no other value. It’s like someone building an imaginary wall between them and us and we can’t reach them anymore.
Me: Or if I say, It’s all in your imagination…I’m not upset…or You know I love you…
Joe: Yes, at that moment, we’re no longer relating as two equal people. You’re trying to hide yourself from me. You’re treating me like an It. Like I’m not capable of perceiving reality on my own.
Me: I may be treating myself like an It too. Like, I don’t feel anything, so you shouldn’t either.
Joe: And I stand there confused, lonely, and desperate. I get two messages that don’t match, like I love you but don’t touch me. It makes me feel crazy.
Me: And you go into trance.
Joe: Yes, I become dissociated, without realizing I’ve slipped away. All of this happens unconsciously for all concerned. It’s under the surface of things, which is why it’s so powerful.
Me: If we can call it out, we stop ourselves from zombification?
Joe: I think so. But imagine the energy it takes to see what’s happening in your close relationship and then having the courage to say, Wait! Something doesn’t make sense. Something doesn’t feel right.
Me: It takes anger.
Me: No, really. The deep, inner anger at being gas-lighted.
Joe: Our parents or partners probably had no idea they were gas-lighting us.
Me: I know! It doesn’t matter. The effects are still there and I have to go WTF!!! I don’t understand because you’re not letting me!
Joe: Okay. Can you do that without being angry?
Me: I can’t. Without access to my anger, I’m a zombie.
Joe: I will try to remember that.
I-It or the It-It relationships allow all kinds of bad things to happen. This is where abuse happens. This is where relationships fall apart. This is where we get depressed. This is where we get distracted and have accidents and crave ice cream and pie and get locked in self-destructive cycles and feel all alone in the world. This is where we take it out on someone innocent. This is where we lose our humanity.
This is where wars and genocides begin.
But we can do something different. Let’s just start here. The antidote to zombification = the identification of our feelings. Especially anger. Emotion is the music of our attachment to each other.
Try this exercise and let me know how it works for you.
- Get a pen and notebook.Write a short scene where you turn into an emotional zombie, zoned-out, tranced-out, numb. You can make this up or write something completely factual.
- Describe everything going on around you. What do you notice?
- Add cartoon thought-bubbles and insert words (e.g., Does she think I’m a complete idiot?).
- In the scene, who would you most like to strangle? Why?
- Add dialogue (e.g., I would like to strangle you right now because…).