Have you ever spoken to someone with delusions? Would you know a delusion if you encountered one? What about a person experiencing a hallucination? If you found yourself shaking your head “no” to these questions, that’s okay because your are not alone. This and next week’s article will attempt to thoroughly explain them.
Can you imagine being told that what you firmly believe is your reality is not true? Can you imagine being told that you are not a female or male (even though you were raised that gender and live your life based on that gender)? Despite you being firmly planted in your gender, everyone around you is saying you are not what you think you are. This can be conceptualized as the experience of one with delusions.
This article will engage you in exploring the experience of those who struggle with delusions. Next week’s article will include tips on how to cope with people who have delusions.
The study of delusions has occurred for decades and although many fields of study (e.g., philosophy, psychology, counseling, psychiatry, neurology, neuroscience, phenomenology, sociology, and even the medical field) have attempted to better understand delusions, we remain sorely behind in our understanding. As far as the study of hallucinations, research has been able to better understand them and why they happen using neuroscience and neurology. Thankfully we have researchers who are continuing to study and evaluate delusions so that we can better understand them and learn to live with those who suffer from them.
A delusion is a firmly held thought or conviction that is incorrigibly held despite evidence to the contrary. Karl Jaspers (1959), a German Swiss Psychiatrist and Philosopher described delusions as having 3 major components:
- “They are held with unusual conviction”
- “They are not amendable to logic”
- “The absurdity or erroneous-ness of their content is manifest to other people”
It doesn’t matter how unnatural, bizarre, or strange the delusion may sound the individual having the delusion is likely to believe the delusion. Any argument attempting to discredit the delusion will result in anger and possibly even aggressive behavior. For a lot of people struggling with delusions, there is a “splitting off” from reality that seems to occur, primarily in my experience as a clinician. At one point the individual can function very well in society and may even be able to hold a job, maintain home-life, and refrain from sharing delusional patterns of thought in social settings. But in times where there is an increase in stress or the person becomes more comfortable and trusting of someone, the delusions are likely to peak their ugly head. The delusion never really “dies” but is capable of “disappearing” when necessary. In other cases, especially in severe cases where there may be other psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or disorganized thought patterns, the person lacks the control necessary to hide delusional thought patterns and may begin to appear “psychologically unstable” to others.
But unless this happens in the majority of cases, delusional thought patterns are likely to remain hidden from society. As a result, people with delusions rarely pursue treatment. Why pursue treatment if nothing is wrong with you? Why pursue treatment if you are firmly attached to the idea that you are right about what you think? As a woman who has lived her life as a woman, would you pursue treatment because someone else tells you that you are a man instead? Of course not. Delusional thoughts often take this form.
For “higher functioning” individuals with delusional thought patterns it is likely that the sensory input is correct but the interpretation of the delusion is false. For example, say you are looking at the sky and notice the sun is bright yellow with an orange ring around it (i.e., sensory input that is correct). You put your shades on and stare at the beauty of the sun. But then in the flash of a moment you begin to believe that the odd shape and color means the world is ending (i.e., false interpretation of the delusion). Another example could include a husband who sees his wife talking to their male neighbor who is also married. The sensory input is correct (i.e., seeing his wife talk to the neighbor) but the interpretation of the delusion is incorrect (i.e., she is having an affair with him). This is a very common delusion in relationships. Intense emotions from the person having the delusion can fuel their anger even more. Sadly, delusions can make those on “the outside” feel very persecuted, misunderstood, unloved, and confused.
Sensory input is was occurs with hallucinations. The hallucination is strictly a sensory experience. It occurs with the nose (olfactory), the mouth (gustatory), touch (tactile), sight (visual), and hearing (auditory). If you combine hallucinations with delusions you will get a very complicated picture. A husband who has the delusion that his wife is having an affair but also claims he is smelling a man’s body spray on her clothing is an example of olfactory hallucinations and erotomanic delusions combined. No evidence to the contrary, no facts, no argument of how strange the delusion is will change the delusion or the hallucination. In fact, some people don’t even respond to medication management or therapy. The majority of people with delusions never seek treatment because “nothing is wrong with me!” The only time a person may pursue treatment is if they are experiencing hallucinations or delusions that interfere with their daily lives.
Did you know there are various delusions that a person could have? I have listed some of them below:
- Delusion of persecution: The strong conviction that what they feel or think is truly happening such as being intentionally run off the road or being targeted by TV news anchors for some purpose often only understandable by them alone.
- Delusion of infidelity: The strong conviction that one’s husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend is cheating.
- Delusions of love (or erotomania): The strong conviction that he/she has a loving relationship with someone else, primarily someone they have never met or do not know. It is a preoccupation with an object of interest/love. This delusion can occur when a fan begins to like a “celebrity” so much that they believe that celebrity is sending messages to them.
- Delusion of grandeur: This is the strong conviction that the person has supernatural or powerful gifts they do not have (i.e., being able to foretell the future, fly, etc). This delusion can become confused with delusions of religion in which a religious person becomes so psychologically ill that they embellish their spiritual experiences so much that they become unnatural, unreal, or even supernatural.
- Delusional memory: This may occur when an individual recalls events that have never happened. It is very difficult to determine, outside of a clinical environment, if the person is engaging in pathological lying or is delusional. Only an experienced clinician can decipher this. Delusional memory may include a person stating that they grew up in Hollywood when in fact they grew up in a rural and modest neighborhood.
- Delusional perception: This occurs when abnormal significance is placed on a normal or natural situation.
If you would like to read about my clinical experience with Olfactory Reference Syndrome, a somatic delusion or condition I struggled with for a year with a client, visit my website by clicking here: AnchoredInKnowledge.com.
What has been your experience with this topic? Looking forward to interacting with you.
All the best
Stay tuned for next week’s article about coping with someone who has delusions.
Kiran, C., & Chaudhury, S. (2009). Understanding delusions. Industrial Psychiatry journal, 18(1): 3-18.