Love Can Fuel the Deep Empathy Needed to Understand Psychosis


From Psyche: “In a sense, by looking beyond the surface level of what their loved ones said or did, our interviewees had been practising hermeneutics – the art of interpretation – the ability to take something and look beyond it, within it, behind it, in order to understand it more fully. This is in noticeable contrast with dominant medical approaches to psychosis, which have dismissed the voices people hear, their visions, or sensing something that isn’t there, as all meaningless, while ignoring the content of any unusual beliefs, such as believing you are being persecuted or watched, and the related feelings of distrust.

Unfortunately, this view of psychosis as meaningless has filtered into popular consciousness through media representations of madness, where the person is seen to have lost touch with reality. Thankfully, the psychiatric survivor movement has done much to challenge this view through first-person testimonies that describe the meaning and significance of unusual perceptions and beliefs for people who experience them. Contemporary support groups such as the Hearing Voices movement argue that these experiences are meaningful, if we can see symptoms as symbolic representations of the person’s life experiences.

Our interviewees engaged in what’s called ‘hermeneutic labour’, which provided them opportunities to contact and ‘meet’ their loved ones in ways that felt shared. Understanding, being understood and sharing a meaningful life are central to feelings of belonging. In turn, belonging is fundamental to wellbeing and recovery from mental health problems.”

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  1. 14 years ago my wife’s childhood trauma and dissociation exploded into our 20-year marriage. She is the only woman to whom I have said, ‘I love you” and the only woman with whom I’ve been, and we both say we ‘grew up together’ because we got married when I was barely 21 and she was 22. How do you abandon that?

    So I fought for ‘us’ and a win/win solution despite all the adversity her trauma and dissociation brought us. Fortunately, she asked me NOT to read the popular literature out there when we started our healing journey, and so I really didn’t even know what ‘psychosis’ was until much later in our healing journey when I had already found meaning in most things she was experiencing, and so I never saw her as ‘psychotic’ or ‘delusional.’

    But one thing I might add from our experience is trauma and dissociation adds the ‘Rip Van Winkle effect’ as I call it to the mix, if you are familiar with that story. All the trauma-fueled dissociation my wife experienced as a child 40-50 years ago, kind of put those parts of her brain/personality ‘asleep’ and as we woke them during the healing process there was a lot of ‘disorientation’ as well as ‘overlapping’ of past experiences with present realities…and it was very disorienting to her (flashbacks, panic attacks, extreme anxiety, etc, etc, etc). We used a lot of attachment concepts, and so I provided her a ‘safe haven’ and ‘affect regulation’ as I helped her sort all those confusing and conflicting things out. I didn’t demand that she work from the present, but instead, I entered into her confusion and provided her a steady, safe person as we came to a healthier place…together.

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