The Protective Power of Delusions


From Psychology Today/Justin Garson, PhD: “Do delusions ever benefit those who suffer from them?

Consider what’s known as Reverse Othello Syndrome. This is the delusional belief that one’s partner is sexually faithful, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Why would someone ever form this idea?

The discoverer of Reverse Othello thought he had the answer. He wrote that the delusion is ‘an active attempt… to confer meaning on otherwise catastrophic loss or emptiness.’ The delusion might buffer our minds from an unbearable truth.

Philosopher Lisa Bortolotti calls such delusions ‘motivated delusions.’ Along similar lines, psychologist Ryan McKay and philosopher Daniel Dennett describe the ‘shear pin‘ theory of delusion. Like a shear pin, a delusion might act as a little breakdown that stops a big breakdown from happening . . .

The German psychiatrist Johann Christian August Heinroth . . . describes how patients can enter a dream-like state in order to protect themselves from a traumatic experience . . .

Heinroth saw profound implications for healing. If the delusions are playing a protective role, you don’t want to target them as if they’re the disease itself. By attacking the delusions, you might cause even more harm.

The pessimistic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, around the same time, wrote that delusions were nature’s way of protecting the mind from a reality too horrible to bear. Freud, an admirer of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, took it for granted that delusions protect us from otherwise devastating truths.”

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  1. So after looking around at what delusions are defined as, I’m noticing it’s a term applied to someone who typically has mental health issues or diagnosis.
    I have heard the word- delusional- thrown around sometimes, inappropriately and overused.
    Hey if it’s my reality, my experience, my truth; then it is to be challenged because I may or may not have a MH diagnosis?
    It could just be another perception of life, a point of view, that was not in agreement with any other. Doesn’t make it wrong or needing fixing.

    I’m all for healing and working through trauma.
    As far as I understand traumatic memories are stored in a different place than other memories.
    If I had a better understanding of the human brain I might be able to make a conclusion.

    It’s the article where it said “…urges us to see purpose in mental illness rather than pathology.” That really got to me.
    Because, to me, there is no illness or disease of the mind. This idea that mental illness exists, nah. We’re just people. And we can’t accept each other or ourselves the way we are. So we need fake labels to feel better.

    I don’t mean to invalidate or assume anyone else’s opinion here.

    Ah well I really appreciate MIA allowing me to comment.


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    • To Anna…

      I do not want a reply but just want to chip in with my truth. My diagnosis is not fake since I gave it to myself before I met a psychiatrist. Since then all my psychiatrists agree with me.

      To the article writer…

      I like your approach. I have often come accross it. It is fabulous that people take a respectful interest in delusions. But I am not for tightening a “consensus opinion” on delusions. As if we “have to” now regard the often hellish experiences of delusions as if a great LSD trip. Try tripping for twenty four hours a day for ten years and you really won’t see the joy in delusions.

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  2. “Consider what’s known as Reverse Othello Syndrome. This is the delusional belief that one’s partner is sexually faithful, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Why would someone ever form this idea?”

    I would love to see more context for this type of thought experiments acting like real life experience. Anyone who is in “denial” not in delusion in situation as explained before may have other reasons that are not visible or known to the experimenter.
    So I would not call it delusion in this case, but I would observe it as a person who sees the reality of their relationship but for reasons unknown to me or the experimenter; this person decides not to act as expected. That would be my conclusion rather than saying they are delusional!

    Everything in the mind is separate in degrees so what is the normal things about “delusion” that people do or do not do that may look like “delusion” in someone considered ill. Just curious.

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    • I think you hit the crucial point here: the person has REASONS they choose to ignore the evidence, and WE DON’T KNNOW WHAT THEY ARE! Calling something “delusional” is a judgment placed on them by the “experimenter,” and as soon as that is done, we stop being scientific.

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