The power of the mind over our body is very high: The first is able to affect the functioning of the body. Our heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, level of muscle tension, pupil dilation or contraction, sweating, blood flow, bowel movement and many other similar processes are greatly affected by our mental and emotional content.
There are known cases of people who lose their memory of traumatic events due to their minds trying to block out certain memories, or others who have suffered from medical illnesses, seizures, paralysis or speech problems. due to causes related to “ mental suffering ”.
However, this relationship can go even beyond what most people usually think: our own mind can even cause death. This type of death is known as psychogenic death., And it is of her that we will speak next.
What is psychogenic death?
We’ve probably heard of someone who died of grief soon after the death of a loved one, or who was allowed to die because they didn’t want to live. While in some cases this is an interpretation of what happened to the deceased, these expressions contain a truth to be kept in mind: it is possible to die for mental and emotional causes.
It receives the name of psychogenic death the death or suffering which takes place in the absence of a pathology or a physical state of health which explains the death, and which has as main cause the influence of the psyche on the functioning of the body and the energy necessary to live.
This type of death is usually related to the extreme experience of emotions such as sadness, fear or shame usually related to suffering from some type of traumatic experience with great impact on the person.
In many cases the subject loses his motivation to live and in fact, after a while, he may end up dying. It is not, however, a phenomenon derived from depression or other psychiatric conditions, but simply and although not something intentional and pretentious (it would not be a form of suicide), the subject surrenders to death to lose the will to inhabit.
What are the causes?
Traditionally, psychogenic death has been thought to be caused by some type of heart damage caused by the experience of trauma, Like a heart attack or stroke triggered by emotional stress. This is the case in many cases.
However, it has also been discovered that many of these deaths, especially those that are not related to fear or shame but to sadness, may have a different cause: cessation of motivation to live.
In physiological terms, the existence of an alteration in the anterior cingulate, One of the main areas which govern motivation at the behavioral level and allow the person to orient his action towards specific objectives, including the orientation towards survival. Experiencing certain traumatic events can cause this area to shut down, leading to a gradual loss of motivation and energy that can lead to death.
5 stages of abandonment
So-called psychogenic death does not occur suddenly and suddenly (except in cases where the emotion generates a physiological response such as a heart attack), but it is usually possible to observe how these deaths occur throughout a process it can be relatively quick, lasting from a few days to a few months or years. In this process a number of stages or phases can be observed that little by little they will approach the subject at their end.
1. Social withdrawal phase
During this first phase, the person begins to blame themselves, to isolate themselves and to move away from their environment. There is a tendency towards a certain egocentricity and separation from the world, as well as a progressive passivity and emotional indifference.
Usually this first phase usually occurs after some kind of emotional trauma, And some authors interpret it as an attempt to move away in order to rebuild. It is in the event of this reconstruction not being carried out that the process is followed.
2. Apathy phase
A second phase, more dangerous than the first, occurs when the subject begins to notice a total lack of energy accompanied by a feeling of strong disconnection from reality. At this point, the subject may lose their self-preservation instinct and stop struggling to develop and continue to live.
3. Abulia phase
Not only did the energy disappear, but in this third phase the motivation and the ability to make decisions also disappeared. There is a kind of mental numbness and a lack of mental and conscious content.
It is common for an extreme retreat to likewise this can lead to forgetting the basic needs how to eat, but even if the subject does not have the capacity to self-motivate, it is still possible to motivate from the outside (however in the absence of this external motivation the subject will return to the situation of apathy intense and abandonment).
4. Psychic akinesia
This fourth phase is one of the most serious, increasing the previous symptoms so that despite the awareness there is a complete lack of sensitivity. On the contrary, although they may feel unable to respond to stimuli. Even if they feel pain or discomfort, people in this state will not react nor will they prevent harmful stimulation.
5. Psychogenic death
The last phase of the process is that which leads to the actual death of the person, after a stage in which no stimulation will make the subject react. There is no motivation to live and the subject lets go which will eventually lead to death.
Types of psychogenic death
Although in general psychogenic death is the product of the experience of a traumatic event or of the intense experience of emotions such as pain or shame, the truth is that we can find different types of psychogenic death. Below we will see some variations of this type of death depending on what generates the lack of desire to live or the self-suggestion that they will die soon.
Among them we can find death by place, born from suggestion and conditioning to assume that death itself has come when it is of a particular condition. The high level of emotional tension this causes will eventually cause the subject’s own psyche to generate actual death. There are many historical documents of people who died in the same way.
Among the psychogenic deaths are also voodoo deaths, which also arise from the belief and suggestion of those who suffer that being enchanted or breaking a sacred taboo will cause death. It is one of the most common causes for people who believe in voodoo they really end up dying after being cursed, Or what causes people who play with ouija to suffer the same fate (reasons why these acts only affect if the person believes in them).
A third type of psychogenic death is found in what is called hospitalization. Hospitalism is a concept that refers to the separation of a child and its mother or hung figure for an extended period of time. This separation generates great anxiety and distress in the little one, who can eventually lose his appetite and eventually die. This is the case, for example, with many children abandoned or separated at an early age from their parents, who end up dying without a clear organic cause due to the deprivation of affection.
Some sort of preventable death
Psychogenic death is not an inevitable process, but it is possible to reverse the process. We must work above all on increasing the activity of the person, as well as his perception of control over one’s own life and the restructuring of maladaptive and dysfunctional beliefs, regardless of those exposed.
He will have to deal with the traumatic situation that may have given rise to the start of the process, as well as stimulate personal commitment and the reestablishment of healthy habits to gradually add work on socialization and community participation. It may also be relevant to help find vital milestones to submit, Reasons for living and towards which to orient.
Additionally, psychopharmacology can help encourage an increased desire to live, through the use of stimulants and substances such as antidepressants to encourage activity and reduce passivity.
- Beebe Tarantelli, C. (2008). Life in death: towards a metapsychology of catastrophic psychic trauma. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 84 (4): 915-928
- Institute of the Royal National Academy of Medicine of Spain (1974). The meaning of pain. Speech for the public reception of the elected academician Excm. Sr. Dr. D. Pedro Piulachs Oliva read on June 4, 1974 and responded by Full Academic Excm. Sr. Dr. M. Rafael Vara López. Madrid, Spain.
- Leach, J. (2018) Revisited give-up-itis. Extreme neuropathology, medical hypotheses.