Do you know someone who struggles with delusional beliefs? What about your own experiences? Do you find some of your thoughts and beliefs odd and potentially delusional? If so, you are not alone. Many people have delusional thoughts and beliefs. For example, there are multiple theories on how the World Trade Center fell on September 11th. Conspiracy theories are all around us. So you may be asking: “what makes delusional beliefs any different from conspiracy theories or firmly held beliefs that have no proof?” Severity and duration. If the delusional beliefs are so firmly held that it becomes difficult to tease apart reality from fiction, this is a problem. If the duration of the delusional beliefs are long-term or “chronic,” this is a problem.
This article will explore delusional beliefs. In next week’s article I will provide tips on how to challenge inaccurate or delusional beliefs. I will also mention a few common delusions that some of my former clients, in hospital settings, experienced.
The #1 complaint I hear from adult clients and families is that the person with delusional beliefs seem “normal” or well-adjusted with other things in life such as holding and maintaining a job, speaking with strangers on the phone or in public, maintaining appropriate social and cultural norms, paying bills and paying them on time, eating right, and tending to activities of daily living (i.e., hygiene, washing clothing or bedding, etc). What makes delusional disorder or psychosis difficult to identify is the fact that unstable or disturbed beliefs may not appear “disturbed” or “odd” to others. The delusional beliefs may only be recognizeable to close family or friends. This is, at least in my experience, a common theme. As a therapist who has worked with multiple cases of psychosis, I have found that the best way to communicate with someone with psychotic symptoms or delusional beliefs is to not challenge the delusion. In other words, shy away from trying to change the person’s delusional or disturbing beliefs.
Below are tips on how to effectively communicate or cope with someone who has delusional beliefs:
- Do not challenge the person’s belief: The minute you sound as if you are judging the person or asking questions because you think their belief(s) are “crazy” you lose the person’s trust. The key to communicating with someone who has delusional beliefs is to treat them as you would someone who has quirky behaviors or “interesting beliefs.” Basically you want the person to perceive that you accept them while not accepting the beliefs.
- Ask questions with a compassionate (not condescending) tone of voice: It is important that you understand how severe delusional beliefs can be so that you can effectively deal with them. The goal with a person with delusional thoughts is to get them to feel comfortable enough with you to share their “mental world.” You’ll want to get a “feel” for how severe the person’s delusions are by asking questions such as:
- “What do other people think about this?”
- “What has caused you to draw that conclusion?”
- Don’t condone or support the belief: It is one thing to be compassionate and open, but it is another to support the delusional belief. Delusional beliefs are so firmly held that the person may look to you for confirmation of their belief. You don’t want to engage the person in a way that seems supportive of the delusion. The best approach is to use “I messages” in conversations and put everything back on the other person’s beliefs. For example, you can say something like: “I don’t believe that but I see you certainly do,” “I don’t have proof for that so I’m not going to draw that conclusion yet,” or “I see that this is your belief but…..”
- Avoid arguments and challenges to your intelligence: A person with delusional beliefs may attempt to challenge you in many ways, especially if the person feels threatened or unsupported by you. It will be very clear, from conversations and behaviors, that the person is unstable and unable to accept or consider reality. The best approach is to back out of arguments with the person. You will get nowhere as the individual will always believe their firmly held delusion. Nothing you say or do will change that.
- Stay factual: Everything you say and do should be based on clear facts or evidence. The individual with delusional beliefs will most likely look for ways to confirm beliefs such as relying subjective beliefs or opinions about something, Googling things that to us do not make sense but to them it does, and/or asking others to consider the delusional belief while intently searching for any ounce of information to confirm the delusion.
What has been your experience with delusional thoughts or beliefs? In what capacity have you experienced them (i.e., friend, self, family member, co-worker, neighbor, etc)?
As always, looking forward to your comments.
All the best