The second most alarming of the symptoms associated with schizophrenia, along with hallucinations, are the schizophrenia delusions. Delusions are a misinterpretation of reality. They are often brought on during periods of physical or emotional stress, such as a lack of sleep or a disruption in relationships or occupation. Delusions are a large portion of paranoid schizophrenia that inspire fear of being persecuted by some larger faction, such as the government, extraterrestrials, supernatural beings, or other similar groups. So what are delusions and the various types, how do they affect the individual suffering with schizophrenia, and what can be done to interfere with their intensity?
What are Schizophrenia Delusions?
As the person with schizophrenia goes throughout his or her daily life, situations and events will be encountered that are available for misinterpretation. Their significance can be extremely exaggerated, intentions and actions surrounding them misunderstood, and paranoia risen to unmanageable levels. A natural tendency for anyone is to initially personalize events before realizing the ridiculousness of the situation.
Take, for example, the common situation of walking through a shopping mall, and as you pass by a group of people they begin laughing. We all have moments of insecurity and will consider the possibility that they were laughing at us, but then we realize that is silly and we should have better self-esteem. But a person suffering with schizophrenic delusions may believe that the people were laughing at him personally. The level of the delusion can rise to seemingly improbable heights, such as these people being sent by the government to psychically torment him, because when they began laughing his auditory hallucinations began flaring up and he heard voices of ridicule.
The problem with delusions is that they become very complex and are substantiated by what seems to be a legit web of supportive evidence. Any attempt to refute or dissuade the believer can land the healthy helper into a role in the sinister plot. The convictions are strong and can lead to desperate acts of behavior that can be dangerous. Let’s now take the time to look into the various types of delusions that can occur.
Delusions of Persecution
Persecutory delusions follow a theme of paranoia surrounding being the target or victim of someone’s negative attention. This could involve being under the surveillance of a secret military group, or as simple as society having agreed to ridicule and laugh at them. When regular misfortunes occur, such as spilling one’s drink of water, the person may think a cosmic trickster has chosen them as the butt of the joke. These delusions of persecution can be frightening and cause an individual to react to them in a paranoid style that includes defending themselves from perceived threats.
Delusions of Grandeur
Grandiose delusions involve viewing oneself with an inflated value or worth. A person may come to believe they have very strong psychic powers, is the reincarnation of an important and powerful person, or even that they are the messiah sent to save the universe. Messianic delusions are quite common. A person may hatch a very ambitious plan with the belief that it will be easily executed and other damaging possibilities to safety, finance, and social standing.
Delusions of Reference
Referential delusions are very confusing. It can appear as if some hidden order to reality is in place and that the perceiver has figured it out. If combined with paranoia, it can take on a twist similar to the persecutory delusions. Examples of delusions of reference could be that the government is hiding secret messages to the individual in the newspaper, or that god is aligning events in a certain manner to pass hidden knowledge, or that aliens are transmitting secrets through what appears to be meaningless radio and television signals.
Schizophrenia Delusions of Lesser Prevalence
There are many more types of subcategories of delusions that can occur. These happen with a lesser frequency than the main ones discussed above, but let’s take a quick look at them for the sake of completion.
Somatic delusions involve the body of the individual as a hypochondriac. A person may begin to believe they have a specific illness or an unknown disease when this isn’t the case. It is also possible that a person dealing with somatic delusions who is also paranoid may think aliens or the government have implanted devices in their brains or body, or that they are pregnant, or are host to parasites, etc.
Erotomanic delusions are strange and cruel because they make the individual suffering with schizophrenic delusions the object of desire, lust, and love, usually from someone who is unattainable. The unattainable may be a celebrity, a spirit, or any other bizarre possibility.
These delusions or very philosophical in nature. They may remind someone of solipsism, the theory that only the individual’s consciousness exists and that all external perceptions are illusions. Many religions and spiritualities have toyed with these ideas, but the delusional person may believe that they themselves are dead. They are deceased, or do not exist, or are zombies.
Why Do Delusions Happen?
People can become very paranoid. Their family wants to poison them. Their family has been replaced by perfect cyborg replacements. They can feel very worthless or guilty and believe the police or their boss is after them. Impending doom or death may be imminent in particularly nihilistic individuals. Extreme jealousy can occur, such as believing one’s partner is cheating on them, and everyone else knows it. A person can become caught in a celestial battle of good and evil. All of these possibilities have happened in one individual or another, but why do these themes arise, and why do delusions in general occur?
Simple erroneous beliefs can start with a simple misperception of an event. The problem is, with schizophrenia delusions, the delusional disorder involved causes the individual to continue updating and reinforcing the delusion rather than dismiss it. Instead of assimilating the misperceived event into a category of thought that already exists, they continue to accommodate them, creating new realities and opening possibilities that are very improbable. The complexity climbs and the random, interconnected web of support for the belief begins to make more and more sense until it all finally “clicks.”
Many of times these delusions arise due to an either extremely deflated or inflated self-esteem, and then persist on the basis of the paradoxical uncertainty and certainty of paranoia. They persist due to memory reconsolidation, the constant process of updating and revising the conspiracy to support it’s truths. They become so strong that they are impervious to ever being contradicted or proven wrong.
How Can Delusions Be Treated?
As with other forms of illness associated with schizophrenia, the main ways of treating delusions are with medication, psychotherapy, and social support. Medication can remove the emotional stressors, including unstable emotions, depression, and anxiety that are often precursors for these delusions. Psychotherapy can help the individual gain insight into the errors of their thought and help recognize red flags in thought and perception that help them keep from ‘buying into’ the delusional beliefs. Finally, social support such as support groups and solid friendships and family relationships can help the individual focused on recovery and from losing faith. Having a constant reminder to remain in reality not fall into lure of the delusion is important.
Please remember that if you begin having thoughts that seem bizarre to others but not to yourself, and you have other symptoms related to schizophrenia, there is a possibility that they are delusional in nature, no matter how well-supported they seem. Always be aware of the possibility. If you suspect this may be the case, tell a family member, friend, or doctor.