Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Delusion of Life: An Abnormally Normal Psychology

What kinds of reality testing, or behavioral experiments, would you suggest for a client that believed he was Jesus Christ? How might you go about weakening his delusions?

If I were working with a client who believed he was Jesus Christ, I would try to go into it without immediately labeling his state of mind as being delusional. If millions of people believe that there will be a second coming of Christ, then is it all that abnormal for someone to think that they might be it? If the second coming of Christ is viable, then someone's gotta be her/him/it. Consider the first discussion question this week (about insanity): Is it any more or less delusional for a mass of people to believe in Christ than it is for an individual to believe he is the second coming of Christ? I wouldn’t buy it (believe in the claim) but I also would not see the person’s belief/claim to be any more delusional than the belief in God or the belief in an idea (or any other unscientific, unverifiable belief). And I would not find the individual any more or less acceptable because of their unfounded belief than I would an individual who believes in God.

Is it fair or accurate to discriminate between two unprovable suppositions on the basis that one has social affirmation and the other does not? In order to differentiate and evaluate the individual, I would be interested in his beliefs about a WIDE range of other areas of life. If a delusional pattern emerged across all areas, then the delusional quality would be more evident. If I were working with a client who believed in God or who believed he was God but whose beliefs across all or most other areas and subjects were not abnormal or delusional, I would not immediately put the label of delusional on him. Instead, I would try to delve deeper into the contents and origins of his belief in order to understand how it formed and how it functions in his mind and life. I would be interested in knowing what kind of reactions the man gets (if and) when he tells people he is Jesus and how he feels about those reactions.

If his social and emotional life were deteriorating because of the belief, then I would focus on that as reason for using cognitive-behavioral methods to handle the abnormal belief. I would not refute the belief itself, but rather I would focus on ways that he could manage the belief so that it would not have such a negative effect on his social life and mental well-being. Through that approach, the individual might be interested in and willing to try a biochemical treatment option (an antipsychotic medication, for instance, if his beliefs/delusions posed a threat to the safety of others) to deal with the repercussions of the belief because he would not feel I was a threat to him or his belief. By not fearing that I am trying to cure him of his identity, he might be more willing to consider medication and psychotherapy. In the process and with the medication working, his belief (delusion) might subside or he might be able to see his belief in a different way.

I have thought about this kind of subject before, and I feel quite conflicted about it. I have actually met a few people in my life who have either directly stated or insinuated that they believed they were the second coming and/or an important prophet with a message for the people or that they believed I was. I think there might be something (delusional?) about me that draws this sort of thing to me. Dear Lord, what can it be? I played Jesus Christ in my high school musical, “Godspell,” but I never had any delusion that I might be the second coming. I suppose being told you are the second coming of Christ is the greatest form of flattery that any person could receive. I am more than susceptible to flattery, but I take it for what it’s worth: flattery is just flattery – it’s always manipulative, even when it’s sincere. 

Jesus Christ thought he was the Son of God and he was met with contention. How can so many people believe in the existence of the religious and/or historical and/or mythical Jesus Christ as a divine savior and deny another person who claims that he is Jesus Christ (or that he is the “second coming”)? Why is it so implausible given that belief in Jesus # 1 is so common? How can someone believe in one Christ and not another, especially if both proclaim, teach and enact the same values and principles? If I believe in one Christ, how can I deny another? It seems much easier to believe in a Christ that is not a sentient living being than it is to believe in a Christ that is living today. If I recall correctly, one of the stories of Christ suggests that he was a human being who was crucified and resurrected to save mankind from original sin. He was a HUMAN being, and yet his connection to “God” gives him divine status in the minds of religiously and spiritually devout followers today. If there were a second coming, then the second coming would also be human. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone who claims to be Christ being believed or being believable today. But why not? I wonder if the brain scans of the original Jesus Christ would be similar to or different than the brain scans of the Christs of today.


Anonymous said...

I like (and agree with) your take on this. Some delusions are more harmful/helpful than others...which do we try to eliminate, and which do we cultivate? Why "pick on" a Jesus delusion over a delusion of being God's gift to women, or the delusion of being good at something that objectively you are not, or....
Some delusions are apparently helpful, and others are not helpful. Why jump at a "I'm Jesus" delusion automatically as a harmful one that must be eliminated? There's more to the story, and I think you've touched on several important points related to that.

btw, someone thought I was Jesus once too...haha

Jess Mason McFadden said...

Yes, we have similar understandings and misunderstandings of life and human behavior, my Anonymous.

Thank you for providing feedback. I hope to give you some feedback when I return...

There's always more to the story, it seems.

There's more to our story, too.

Is it a delusion for Jesus and Jesus, or for two delusions of Jesus, to love one another? I think such a delusion is the most beautiful delusion of all.

Jess Mason McFadden said...
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