“Delusions are defined as fixed, false beliefs that conflict with reality. Despite contrary evidence, a person in a delusional state can’t let go of their convictions.”Very Well Mind
Delusion is a term that has left its clinical origins and entered the general conversation. The oft-repeated phrase “delusions of grandeur” from the Star Wars movies has undoubtedly influenced its use. I suspect that most people understand from the context that delusions have to do with distorted thinking but fail to appreciate the complexity or pain of delusional thinking.
As a neuropsychologist, delusions are among the most fascinating things I have encountered and some of the most troubling. Some delusions are considered “bizarre” because they cannot happen in real life. My patients with schizophrenia have shared a variety of these. One person believed he was Napoleon’s bodyguard. Another indicated she had been murdered several dozen times. In a condition called Capgras syndrome, people think that an identical replica has replaced a loved one. Sadly, no evidence will convince them otherwise.
People can also have non-bizarre delusions, which could happen in real life, even though there is no evidence to support them. As a psychologist, these are particularly tricky. Over the years, several dementia patients have believed their spouses have been cheating on them, again without proof. I remember consoling an older woman whose husband of six decades was utterly convinced that she was having an affair with a repairman in his twenties.
I also met a middle-aged gentleman following a brain injury who shared tales that seemed plausible but unlikely. He told me how he had built considerable wealth and that his children were now trying to steal it from him. I have seen children taking advantage of parents often enough to know this was possible. However, as he continued talking, his stories felt less and less grounded in reality, but again, they were difficult to prove. Ultimately, he told me that he had developed a close friendship with his attending neurosurgeon. I was able to confirm my suspicion that the gentleman had a delusional disorder.
The malleability of delusions is also incredibly challenging. When presented with objective evidence of their false beliefs, delusions adapt to incorporate the new information. These misconceptions do not arise from willful ignorance but an inability to think otherwise.
I feel powerless and frustrated when I encounter such distorted thinking, especially when it comes to people I know. No matter how much objective proof is provided, the delusional thought system either rejects it or reinterprets it. For the person suffering delusions, they consider those who challenge them to be deluded, misinformed, or even enemies. Why does this happen? Because they cannot think otherwise.
I suspect we are witnessing mass delusion right now. For four years, there has been insurmountable evidence that our president has been routinely deceptive and divisive. Over time, more and more people have come to understand the dangers associated with Trump’s presidency. Yet, the beliefs of many have become more deeply entrenched. In the past four years, their thinking has devolved from “never Trump” to “we will hold our noses and vote for him” to “he is the greatest Christian president in history.” Despite overwhelming evidence that no election fraud occurred, some continue to believe it. As former Trump allies have publicly disagreed with the president, some have taken their dissent as evidence of the “deep state” rather than accepting what is plain to most of us, Trump is wrong. Some public figures have even expressed their willingness to fight and die for him, and to oppose him is Satanic.
I pray that the truth is revealed. I hope that people will be able to honestly ask, “Is it possible I am wrong?” Yet from what I know about delusional thinking, it will take a miracle.