Last week I discussed ways to communicate with someone who displays delusional beliefs. This week I would like to discuss the types of delusions that can be experienced. It is important for me to mention that not all delusions will be bizarre and odd (i.e., out of the ordinary and obviously absurd). Some delusions (firmly held beliefs despite evidence to the contrary) are very realistic and can be possible in today’s world. For example, a husband may believe that his wife is cheating on him (despite evidence to the contrary) and begin stalking her on a daily basis. A grandmother may believe her daughter is keeping the grandchildren away brainwashing them to dislike her, despite the fact that she sees her grandchildren every month. Delusions are complicated and that’s why so many mental health professionals struggle to treat individuals with psychotic symptoms such as delusions.
This article will focus on different types of delusions and how they erupt in the lives of typically developing individuals, relationships, and families who least except it.
When you hear the term “delusion” what comes to mind for you? Is it “crazy?” “Is it interesting?” Is it “odd and eccentric?” Individuals with delusional beliefs can come across as unstable, disturbed, psychotic, or frightening. Why? Because delusional beliefs are rarely discussed in our world and many people have a preconceived idea that delusions are simply strong beliefs that can be changed or altered when the person is faced with reality, fact, or logic. The reality is that no delusional belief can be easily changed. That’s why mental health professionals have studied delusions and psychotic symptoms for decades.
It is important to understand that not all individuals with delusions come across as psychotic or “disturbed.” Some individuals are very well groomed, present positively to others in the community, and may even have credentials such as degrees, a license, or certification. This makes the identification, by mental health professionals and the rest of society, of delusional disorder quite difficult.
There are a few types of delusions, that I will discuss here, that tend to creep up in families and relationships when least expected. Some of these delusions include but are not limited to:
- Delusions of para-si-tosis: This is a rare delusion but includes the firmly held belief (despite evidence that one’s body is healthy) that the body is infested with parasites. We all know that parasites can live in the body and gastrointestinal tract. It is a natural occurrence after death. This is not a “bizarre” or odd delusion because it can, in fact, happen. However, what makes this delusion a delusion is that the individual believes the body is infested despite multiple abrasive testing showing the contrary.
- Clinical Lycanthropy: There has always been great speculation about this “clinical disorder” but the field of psychology has found consensus on the definition as it stands which is that clinical lycanthropy is the delusion of being transformed or meta-morphed into an animal. A very interesting account of this can be found in the King James Bible in the book of Daniel chapter 4. Secular theoryis that this process is a delusional state of mind and nothing more.
- Delusions of control: Delusions of control include firmly held beliefs that a person is being controlled (behaviorally and cognitively) by someone else. Individuals with delusions of control may believe they have absolutely no control over their own behaviors and thoughts and that someone else is externally controlling them. Someone once used the analogy of a remote control car when referring to delusions of control. Delusions of control can include thought broadcasting (the delusion that others can hear your thoughts), thought insertion (the delusion that others are inserting their own thoughts into your head), thought withdrawal (the delusion that others are able to remove your thoughts).
- Delusion of immorality: This delusion is the firmly held belief that a person is immortal. Individuals suffering from this delusion believe that they cannot be harmed and cannot possibly die. I once had a young adolescent describe some the symptoms. Although some of my colleagues believed he was oppositional and arrogant, I always suspected that a potential psychotic disorder was the foundation of his unwavering arrogance. I have not, however, actually witnessed this delusional state of mind in my career so far.
- Delusional Jealousy and Erotomania: Delusions involving feelings of jealousy may include a husband believing his wife is cheating on him, despite the fact that his wife goes to work, goes grocery shopping, and returns home every single week. For example, a young man (prone to delusions of jealousy) may believe that a woman from the show Survivor loves him and should not be speaking with other men on the show. This individual may become so obsessed with the woman that he begins to demonstrate physiological responses (i.e., increased heart rate, anger, rage, etc.) while watching the show. His feelings may become so intense that he books a flight to the location of where Survivor is being broadcasted in order to meet with his love interest. In addition, delusions of erotomania were first described by Sir Alexander Morrison in 1848. He noted that individuals with symptoms characteristic of erotomania were far beyond obsessed with their love interest. The individual may believe, even if the individual has never met the object of their adoration, that he/she is in love with and will marry the object of adoration. About 4 years ago I counseled a young man who stayed up all night to wait to turn 21 so that he could purchase alcoholic beverages and meet his love interest (who was a News Reporter) when she got off work at 11pm.
- Delusions of grandeur: Sometimes strong arrogance and self-confidence can come across as delusions of grandeur because the individual seems overly confident and sometimes even unbearable to be around. But delusions of grandeur may include odd or bizarre delusions such as of being the Son of God, having a family connection to Satan himself, or of being able to fly. Some people refer to these delusions as delusions of religion. Delusions of religion can be very difficult to understand because it can be so very closely related to someone who has a strong faith system or belief and love for God. The Christian Faith operates on the premise that total and absolute love for Jesus Christ and His Father God is the only answer to mankind’s problems with pain, sin, and defeat. Sadly, a person who is struggling with delusions of religion may take this belief system way too far and actually begin to believe they are more spiritually intuitive than they really are. We must be careful with how we, as a society, prejudge individuals who discuss religion and faith because we want to avoid categorizing everyone, with a strong faith system, as delusional.
- Delusion(s) of persecution: Delusions of persecution include feelings and thoughts of others persecuting them. For example, a woman may believe that staying home is a perfect remedy to leaving the house to shop only to run into people whom she believes will treat her harshly or prejudge her. Delusions of persecution may include auditory or visual hallucinations of people doing things they are not (e.g., pointing at the person, being laughed at, etc). It is very normal for humans to have feelings of being persecuted and thoughts of being disliked. But delusions are far more complicated because they are unwarranted, complex, and firmly believed despite concrete evidence.
- Delusions of religion: As one who follows and was raised in a family who follows the Christian faith, I must mention that almost every single thing we believe has something to do with intuition, faith, and spiritual trust. There are not “absolutes” and things can become confusing for some individuals, especially those who are not under the right teaching. But there are some individuals who experience delusions of religion which include firmly held, but incorrect beliefs about religion such as that they are the Virgin Mary or are genealogically connected to Jesus. Sadly, some individuals can experience both delusions of religion and delusions of grandeur concurrently.
What has been your experience with this topic? Have you ever heard of these delusions before? Do you believe they exist?
Looking forward to your experiences and thoughts.
All the best
Kiran, C., & Chaudhury, S. (2009). Understanding delusions. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 18(1), 3–18. http://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.57851