Though widely believed to be merely a folklore belief of primitive societies, psychogenic death or "voodoo death," a physically healthy person's demise solely because of their belief, has been well documented. In these cases people found themselves in an impossible situation, unable to struggle, to flee or to fight. This giving-up is often complemented by a rejection of their critically important nurturing figures. During psychotherapy this can be an ending of the intense emotional attachment of patient to therapist, resurrecting the early childhood fear of rejection by their mother, akin to cutting the umbilical cord too soon. But this belief of inescapable death may be reversed, stopping the person's deterioration by introducing a powerful figure, a family member (particularly their mother) or a more flexible therapist.
A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life
Psychogenic ("Voodoo") Death
Psychosomatic Disorders and Anxiety
The human organism was once an undifferentiated mass from which subsystems developed: the enzymatic (hormone) system; the nervous system; the psychological system; and the organ system. Their boundaries are imprecise with activity in one being continuously communicated to others. A change in one that is caused by stress causes changes in others with their normal smooth integration being affected. Stress initially arouses helpful body defenses but too great stress causes a breakdown between system boundaries, a de-differentiation in which energy is discharged through violent fighting activity or running movements.
Mild anxiety is experienced as a signal of danger and can result in more efficient action or thought. But if the anxiety is too intense, with psychological means or behavior being unable to reduce it, primitive psychosomatic defenses attempt to replace the unsuccessful psychological maneuvers, stirring up harmful organ or system effects that can persist after the anxiety disappears.
The Havana Syndrome and the Power of the Unconscious Mind
There has been much publicity about what has been termed the Havana Syndrome: debilitating physical and cognitive symptoms allegedly caused by an unknown foreign government. So certain is this origin that doctors relating these symptoms to psychological causation are ridiculed though experts insist that no evidence of such weapon has been found nor are they conceptually possible.
I have no special knowledge of the Havana Syndrome nor do I wish to minimize the symptoms or pain of its sufferers though the power of the unconscious generally tends to be ignored or minimized. All would prefer to believe they have ultimate power over their behavior. Which is true except when stress or emotions overpower it. Then physical symptoms can occur. Forty-to-sixty percent of those rushing to an Emergency Room, fearful that they are suffering a heart attack, are really suffering the extreme anxiety of Panic Attack during which the normal symptoms of anxiety are misinterpreted as a deadly medical event.
Anxiety symptoms can mimic virtually every physical disorder, even causing visual symptoms when stress causes an optical migraine. Nature behaves economically, having adapted systems to multiple uses with a large gland like the liver performing hundreds of tasks from processing glucose to generating hemoglobin.
A hospital coworker suffered recurring nightmares from which she awoke screaming with marks on her wrists, these being identical to those occurring when she had been repeatedly held down and sexually abused as a child.
The unconscious is very powerful and one must respect its power.