BELIEVE IT OR NOT! TRUTH OR DELUSION? FACT OR FICTION? DEALING WITH DELUSIONS
A delusion is believing something most in your culture do not believe. The men and women of Salem once believed in witches. Those who did not share such a belief would have been called delusional by any psychiatrists who practiced within the dictates of that culture and shared its believes.
Times and cultural beliefs change. In today’s Western World someone who believed in witches would be seen as delusional by some of today’s psychiatrists.
Some delusions pose few problems–such as: thinking a certain hair style looks great, when most around you shake their heads in dismay. Rarely are matters of style life threatening. Sadly, some delusions almost always threaten life and limb. Believing you are Superman and won’t get hurt if you run in front of a speeding car and get hit is that type of dangerous delusion.
The first steps in dealing with delusions involves keeping the following in mind:
- Some things are more true than others.
- Everyone is delusional at one time or another, no one is immune. Humans are created delusional and in many respects that is a useful trait. After all, if no one questioned the danger of fire, we might not have learned to use fire for humankind;s benefit.
- Opinions, yours and others, are not facts or are rarely based on facts. What forms ideas about an attractive hair style is opinion, not truth; running in front of a speeding car that cannot stop before hitting you will most likely injure or kill you; that is what many call a brute fact. One of the opinions threatening humankind’s survival is religion. Faith is opinion based on hope that what has not yet been proved by science may yet go our way. Thinking any God wants war because s/he needs worshippers is a dangerous opinion.
Why do we become delusional? Delusions begin in our programming about the world Babies and children are programmed to take in the world, but cannot think much about what is real and what is false. Think of the three-year old who believes a green alligator hides under his bed at night waiting to eat him. Part of growing up involves thinking more realistically. Four things influence our efforts to program the world and each is a source of delusional thinking :
- Our personal experiences–what we feel, see, smell, taste, hear, and feel. This includes instincts that create good or bad feelings. Think of instincts as nature’s programming. A baby has an instinctive want to suck and that can lead to comfort if connected to a source of food when hungry. A baby who is teething often has an instinctive want to bite; that can lead to a loss of nourishment or the good feeling of sucking on mother’s breast. At about bout six months, baby’s become afraid of strangers. Fear of the unknown is a universal, instinctual fear and leads to prejudices which are delusions that too often feel fact supported.
- Our behavior and the responses to our behavior. A baby who bites mother’s breast and has it pulled out of his mouth learns to believe biting you mother is not a good idea. The 12 step programs suggest addicts “Fake it to make it.” This recognizes a well documented fact that behavior shapes belief. That includes the behaviors we do in our heads—our imaginings, visions and self-talk.
- What others tell us. As a child this means our parents, as we grow teachers and preachers enter the picture, as adults the circle of influence widens to include those who govern and their agents, but also those who “spread the word” personally or through the media. Much of what others present as facts are opinions or half-truths. When all voices seem to tell us the same thing, delusional thinking often becomes a deeply held belief and if what we are told is false. we have become delusional. Societies as well as people can become delusional. Those who practiced slavery believed people who didn’t speak their language or had a different skin color were not human–delusional.
- What our personal experiences affirm as true. If our personal experience conflict with the voices of authority uncertainty grows. For example many newcomers to American believed it was a land of opportunity and freedom. Not always true and a societal myth. Someone risking life and limb to come to America and then meeting with failure is facing mega dozes of uncertainty, a very painful emotion. Blame is one way to escape uncertainty and many people blame themselves, but others can blame all Americans. Both are delusional stances. Denial of the unpleasant is another response to uncertainty.
The Game Plan for dealing with delusions–yours or someone else’s. To simplify decisions about how to act in the face in what you consider yours or another’s delusion, do so only when safety issues are involved. A child thinks he is superman and can bounce through walls, you need to act to prevent injury. If you have had some bad luck and begin thinking life is not worth living, start planning how to kill yourself, you need protecting, you need an added care team. Preserving life is key.
When safety or health are not immediately threatened by delusional thinking, make a conscious decision about when to argue and when ignore; as the gamblers suggest, know when to fold. Religion is a good example. To people with a strong faith, their beliefs are facts; to people with no faith or a different faith, the same beliefs are not facts. Best not to argue if there are not issues of safety. Thinking you have the right to kill others for not believing as you do threatens life and and needs arguing against.
Staying Strong Tips for dealing with another person’s delusional thinking:
- Agree with what you can agree with
- Ignore what you cannot agree with
- Agree to disagree. Most useful in arguments about religion, sports, fashion or politics.
- Use minimal response if asked to engage aguing, This means making non-verbal neutral gestures, saying things like “I hear you.” “Hmmmm.” “Insteresting.”
- If long-term but not immediate financial, emotional or health harm exists try gentle persuasion first, then increase your persuasive efforts. If you are dealing with a minor child, as an adult you are responsible for keeping children safe and this may involve using no abusive physical power.
- Increase the level of persuasion judicially and carefully.
- Not arguing at all by remaining silent, keeping your facial expressions neutral and deciding to agree even if you don’t agree. That is when saying something like “I hear you” or “I understand what you are saying” Are useful comments.
- If someone is becoming increasingly agitated and the not arguing strategy does not work then try asking “What do you need from me now ?” If you can do what the person wants do so. If you cannot do what the person wants say< “I can’t do that, what else might help?” Do this calmly and with concern and you should find something the other person wants from you that you can do.
- If the above strategies do not work, find a way to exit the situation and think about getting some professional help for yourself. Anyone dealing with another person who is consistently and possibly dangerously delusional needs support.
Always keep safety in mind. Don’t Give into destructive delusions, yours or another’s.