Archive for delusions

The compulsion to entertain false beliefs

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by theweirdphilosopher

If I have any aim in my personal development (which is far from linear), it is achieving what I would call one possible definition of sanity: The absence of any internal psychological compulsion to believe something radically false.

In my view, such a compulsion would not so much stem from genuinely unconscious motives, memories and impulses, but rather from cognitive dissonance. I have had my fair share of experience with false beliefs and delusions based on cognitive dissonance, and maybe even more than my fair share. While someone who clings to an obviously deluded opinion which is completely out of line with his original ideas and his very own interests might not technically be psychotic, his reality testing is obviously impaired. Not by any traceable illness, but, as it seems, by his foolish attempts at avoiding an injury to his self-esteem. And that, for anyone with intellectual standards, is a humiliating place to be in.

It is a situation that shows me my personal limits like no other. Right from the start, there have always been times when I tried to believe the opposite of beliefs I knew to be false, and yet as soon as I stopped intentionally agonizing over how wrong I was, the false beliefs would slip back in place. Not completely, more in the sense of double bookkeeping. My previous realization that specific beliefs of mine were false would remain without consequence. I would, for example, acknowledge that my family was not actually abusive, and yet still perceive and treat them as hostile. When noticing my behavior, I would seek rationalizations for it which relied on very sinister interpretations of events that, other than my original stories, had actually taken place, thus making my explanations seemingly conform to reality as I knew it while still having the necessary exonerating effect.

From what I´ve gathered, some studies on cognitive dissonance show that people who are faced with contrary arguments or even evidence tend to cling to their opinions even more fiercely. If that is the case, then telling myself how wrong I am and agonizing over my foolishness and the embarrassment of it is actually going to predispose me for another relapse! And yet this is precisely the “cure” I´ve been administering whenever I came close enough to even seeing in which way I was ill.

The motive behind that line of action was my idea that in order to cleanse or rid myself of the past, I had to suffer for it. I still sort of sympathize with this view, but I might be overlooking the price I already payed. Fact is, most of the things I agonize over happened 10+ years ago, so my whole occupation with them doesn´t seem quite adequate in the first place. But that aside, those are 10 years which could have been productive. Productive, happy, adventurous. They were so to some extent, and I wouldn´t want to miss most of them, but there was always an element of gloom and self-loathing which wouldn´t have needed to be there.

I do need to sort out my belief system. But I´m doing myself and my connection to reality a great disservice if I try to make it intentionally painful. It is my good days, not my bad days that brought me to the point of even recognizing my errors. I said before that depression is an enemy of the truth. You have a much greater chance of looking at things objectively if you decrease the need to interpret everything in your favour. Depression, however, only makes you more sensitive towards anything that could be seen as failure.

I fear that I cannot muster up the mental strength to reality-test my beliefs. Some people in my past have hurt me a great deal with what they said, and I don´t know if I could stand coming to the conclusion that they were justified in doing so. The thought evokes a sense of despair, like: Was I right in absolutely nothing? Can´t I even rely on the notion that what hurts me cannot be alright? Unfortunately, that is pretty much what going crazy does to you.

Already we are back in the realm of self-punishment. Torturing myself with such ideas gives me a certain sense of satisfaction, at least as long as I can stand them even though I initially thought I couldn´t. It might actually be useful of sorts, but, like I said: Only if I can stand it. If I realize I can´t and stop, I have renewed the cognitive dissonance and in turn my need to entertain false beliefs.

Maybe this phenomenon can be compared to exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorder. It is only effective if the patient makes the experience that he can stand the situation he was scared of. If he ends it prematurely, he makes the opposite experience. Today anxiety patients frequently receive drug treatment, too, so they have to work through less fear during the exposure in the first place, rendering success more likely. Similarly, if I was less depressed, I would probably be more tolerant towards the idea that I was wrong and that others were right telling me so and reacting negatively to it even though it was torture for me at the time. By accepting this idea, I could free myself from the need for it to not be true, which would open up the possibility of looking at the whole thing with fresh eyes.

There are still some therapists, however, who believe that drug treatment takes away from the effectiveness of exposure therapy because the patient isn´t forced to confront the real extent of his anxiety. Likewise, some have the idea that those who take antidepressants don´t want to face themselves. I´m inclined to believe, though, that a stable mood actually facilitates this task.

 

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What are The Voices?

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , on April 25, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

What are The Voices?

I don´t know. Right now, all I can feel about them is a presence. An inner (or invisible, god-like outer) observer who sometimes approves of, sometimes condemns me. Right now there is approval, inner peace, a warm little glow. I feel it where, on other days, I feel the tension.

With The Voices, I never feel alone – for better and for worse. Their approval gives me a sense of security, like: My cause is righteous, so nothing can happen to me! I feel like The Voices can protect me, they can shield me from danger, they can carry me away if they must. Well, those are visions I have when I get scared of something. At other times, it feels like I´m blessed with such protective powers myself, like I´m projecting those shields, or like I can influence things (traffic lights switching, goals being scored) myself. Like I can use such powers for my own benefit. That only works, though, if I am deserving of such privileges. I must be a particularly good person in order to earn it, and I must not have any petty feelings.

In those situations its mostly me who does the talking. I address the voices, I get confirmation or reprimand, and I accept both mostly unflinchingly, only sometimes I try to negotiate. I guess it´s a bit like constant prayer. In those moments The Voices feel like some outer entities who are above all mankind and judge from afar, and I´m very lucky for having such a close connection towards them. It separates me from other people, since they are unaware The Voices even exist. I sometimes feel like I represent all of mankind to them, like I have to speak for everyone.

***

So, here´s the thing: The Voices have been with me for at least 15 years. And while I didn´t always believe in the explanations I found for their existence, I always believed in them. Those states of mind – being the chosen one versus being everything I hate – have always been there. I think to some extent it were The Voices themselves who socialized me, who were responsible for how I saw myself. Maybe they filled a void which my parents had left, I don´t know. Maybe, also, I never even listened to anyone else because I had the voices. Those two interpretations are good representations of the two different states of mind.

The terrifying thing is that I feel like without them I´m nothing. I feel like I have no character strength of my own, it all comes from The Voices and the discipline they subject me to. It all comes from the feeling of being chosen of sorts. Without that, why would I hold myself to any standards at all? When I´m not under that spell, then what do I think and how do I behave?

Funny. I was starting to think on my own after the break in this post, instead of harmonizing with The Voices, and suddenly I´m back to condemnation. Damn, I don´t want to make this any more real by saying “they punish me, they don´t want me to be independent”. “They” do and want nothing, if anything I am delusional.

But why “if anything”? Because I have a nasty feeling that my interaction with these voices is a little too active in order to pose as a victim here. A part of me cooperates with them, in some kind of twilight zone between “in my head” and “for real”. I grew up in that twilight zone. I feel like I was raised more by The Voices than by real people. I feel like I´ve passed the point of no return. I cannot become sane and return to reality. I cannot live without those voices, as it would mean that the last 25 years of my life have been worthless and nonsensical.

I wonder to what extent The Voices are an explanation themselves. I sometimes have moments in which it feels like I´m thinking up their responses myself. It is still very important to me, though, that most of the time I´m not doing this myself, that they are real.

I think The Voices are a strong reason why I do not really live my life. They keep me out of this world, make it seem unnecessary to strive for anything, they make me feel like I´m completely different from everybody else. It´s not anything anyone did. I can accuse my parents of many things, but The Voices are not their fault. They are my very own craziness, and they are the greatest part of my inner history, of my identity even, since I always failed at finding an identity in outer roles.

Sometimes I think that most of my life has been madness and I want to resign. Then I turn it around and say that madness has been a great part of my life – and suddenly I have a story. An identity, possibly.