Carol Peletier’s cave claustrophobia is a common fear for starting spelunkers and potentially a leftover of past emotional scars.
This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10B Premiere (“Squeeze”).
The combination of tears and sweat painted Carol’s face, body frozen in-place, allowing only a shriek of terror into the vast abyss that greeted her. It became clear on The Walking Dead’s latest episode that Carol’s achilles heel is being trapped in a confined space, the question is… What are the origins of the phobia? Scientifically speaking, there was an April 2013 study published on PubMed.gov (U.S. National Library of Medicine) linking a single gene defect to claustrophobia. A quick overview of the study’s abstract on the connection between ‘GPM6A’ gene expression and its connection to panic disorders:
“Gpm6a-deficient mice develop normally and lack obvious behavioral abnormalities. However, when mildly stressed by single-housing, these mice develop a striking claustrophobia-like phenotype, which is not inducible in wild-type controls, even by severe stress.
The human GPM6A gene is located on chromosome 4q32-q34, a region linked to panic disorder. We suggest that loosing dynamic regulation of neuronal GPM6A expression poses a genetic risk for claustrophobia.”
Theoretically, Carol’s claustrophobia might be hard-wired, programmed right into her very DNA. GPM6A-deficient mice in the study above went against their nature of preferring enclosed spaces to open areas. Typically, a mouse’s instinct is to hide at a sign of danger or stress. Instead, these GPM6A-deficient mice felt stress when forced into an enclosed space. KnowingNeurons.com‘s Anita Ram created an easy to follow visual illustration of the experiment and detailed analysis for those who wish to learn more about the study’s breakdown.
Thus, despite a valiant record of taking 1000s of walkers out of commission, experience in countless do-or-die situations, and even Daryl Dixon by her side… Carol’s troubles coping with a claustrophobic environment could be innate, genetic, rather than an emotionally born phobia.
Repeated Exposure as a ‘cure’ for Carol’s Claustrophobia
According to NHS UK (National Health Service UK), gradual repeated exposure is a successful treatment for claustrophobia.
Claustrophobia can be successfully treated and cured by gradually being exposed to the situation that causes your fear. This is known as desensitization or self-exposure therapy.
Daryl encouraging Carol to advance forward and face her fear was actually the right move. Whether it was the only move Carol could do in reality or not. Staying in-place and waiting for external help to assist her would be a reach under normal, non-apocalyptic circumstances. Forget being caught with Alpha’s Horde at bay. Even though Carol verbally stated that she couldn’t go through the cave, Daryl’s encouraging words made her escape possible. StartCaving.com recommends “focusing on your breathing” and “challenging the feeling”, which is just what Carol did.
The argument for Past Induced Trauma as cause
According to WebMD, the fear of enclosed spaces typically begins as a result of a traumatic childhood event including, “Bullying, Abuse, Being stuck in a tight place like an elevator.” Now, in Carol’s case the first thing that comes to mind is her poor treatment at Ed’s side. Could her fear of enclosed spaces have originated over the course of their marriage? It’s certainly possible.
However, it cannot be ignored that a traumatic event did befall Carol in her youth either. Perhaps, there’s still much more Walking Dead viewers don’t know about Carol. Just as Daryl has to piece together some of her unspoken background together, so does the audience.
It would be an excellent use of a flashback to showcase Carol’s past before Ed on The Walking Dead. Something that lends definite credibility to the emotionally charged phobia theory. Nevertheless, whatever the true reason is, Carol made it out of that cave in one piece. Yet, forced exposure of her fear by way of Alpha did not seem to cure her ailment in the least. Carol appeared to be on the verge of complete mental breakdown upon daylight bracing her shoulders.
Note: The lead photo of this article (Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick/AMC) has had its contrast/brightness adjusted from the original for clearer site viewing.