Delusions are a set of serious misunderstandings that cannot be corrected by ordinary argument. The boundary between me and my surroundings has also blurred, making it difficult to tell what pertains to me from what pertains to others.
When people experience thought disturbances over time or have a peculiar perception of themselves or their surroundings over time, some will develop what we call delusions. These are not always incorrect ideas about the world or oneself, but more “twisted” ways of understanding things and events. They often have a “logic” of their own that can be difficult to argue against. The most important criterion to be met to allow us to call other peoples’ ideas delusions is that they lead to diminished social coping. In principle we must accept that many people have ideas about the world that we do not understand, but as soon as such notions result in people not bearing to be with others, not managing to go to work or functioning in their families, getting into arguments or conflicts with others, etc., psychiatry has a responsibility to help.
A delusion is a distorted perception in a person that is not shared by others of the same cultural background. The person is so convinced of his delusion that the most logical counterarguments are useless. For example, the way the cars are parked outside the house can convince the person in question that he is under CIA surveillance. A person can sit on the train and see another person fold a newspaper – she will suddenly, and with complete conviction, believe that this is a sign that she has been chosen to give birth to a new Christ.
We see that the person concerned misinterprets events in his or her surroundings and believe that they have something to do with him or her. Perhaps the best example is when people feel that they are being talked about on TV, that what is happening on the screen has something to do with them in particular.
Delusions come in several forms
Paranoid delusion: A perception that one is being watched or persecuted.
Delusions of grandeur: Belief that one has special abilities – that one, for example, is an important religious leader, politician or scientist.
Depressive delusions: Belief that one is guilty of a terrible crime or responsible for horrible events in the world.
Delusions can lead to unusual and “strange” behaviour. Someone who quite seriously believes that he is being watched by strangers can sit up all night and become very secretive. Another may be convinced that she has received a calling from God to lead humanity into the promised land and may thus stop passers-by to recruit them. This can represent a serious risk to her.
For some people, delusions may be quite harmless, and even a source of consolation. For others, they can be serious and create dangerous situations. Someone who constantly feels that he is being punished, for example, may develop suicidal thoughts.