Do You Know What Delirium Really Is?

Do you know what delirium really is?

During the 17th century, the concept of madness was based on delusions more than anything else. Thus, “crazy man” meant the same thing as “delusional man” and vice versa. Today, if someone describes “crazy,” he might say someone who thinks he is Napoleon or who claims to be persecuted by the Martians. Such a person suffers from delirium.

In other words, although we have a broader view of mental problems, delirium is still part of the stereotype. It also retains its position as one of the diagnostic criteria that receives the most attention. Etymologically, the word delirium comes from the Latin term “delirare,” which means starting from an already engraved slit. Thoughtfully, then, it could mean something like “thinking outside of a normal career”.

In layman’s terms, delirium means “foaming, disturbed reasoning”. In everyday language, delirium is practically synonymous with madness, blame, or lack of reality.

The best known definition of delirium is that made by Jaspers in General Psychopathology (1975). According to Jaspers, misconceptions are false judgments. They occur because the individual believes in them with great conviction, so they are not affected by the undisputed experiences or evidence available to most of us.

To identify delusion, we should consider the extent to which experience encounters the following:

  • The individual maintains his or her beliefs with complete conviction.
  • The patient experiences them as self-evident truths and personal universalism.
  • An individual does not allow his beliefs to become shaped by causes or experiences.
  • Beliefs are strange or at least inherently unlikely.
  • Other members of a social or cultural group do not share the same beliefs.
  • The individual is completely in the power of faith and finds it difficult to avoid thinking about or talking about it.
  • Belief is a source of subjective discomfort or interferes with a person’s social functioning.

In short, delusions are conceptually perceived as very complex. That is why they may be so difficult to define.

delirium - a work of art

What kind of delirium is there?

One of the points of view to which researchers have spent the most work is the classification of delusions. They have therefore classified them on the basis of the form they require and the content they contain.

1. Types of delusions according to form

The distinction made from the point of view of form divides misconceptions into primary or “real” delusions and secondary delusions.

2. Primary biases

Primary or true delusions have no origin in similar previous experience. Their origin cannot therefore be clearly indicated. They are important because they penetrate the consciousness of the individual and it explains much of everything that has happened to him since the beginning of the delusion.

A person is often disturbingly aware that there has been a change in the purpose of his or her world. Everything seems to have changed, different. Such a translation leads to terrible emotions that are hard to describe and even harder to explain. The explanation is usually not comprehensible to the average person.

Four conjectured primary delusion types (Jaspers, 1975):

  • Misleading intuition. For example, the patient realizes that his name, Emilio Albeniz de Darco, an acronym means “you are the murderer of God” (Eres el Asesino de Dios) in Spanish.
  • A misconception. For example, a patient “realizes” when he sees his name written in the mailbox of his home that the secret police have defined him as the public main enemy.
  • Misleading environment. This is about believing that the world has changed in a delicate but gloomy, annoying, and difficult-to-define way.
  • A delusional memory. This is about the delusional reconstruction of real memory or when a patient suddenly “remembers” something that is clearly an illusion. For example, if he “remembers” that he is a son of God.

3. Secondary biases

Secondary delusions are psychologically understandable. They are results that emerge from an attempt to explain a patient’s abnormal experience.

For example, the patient had just experienced hallucinations (he said he had heard a really low voice speaking to him just as if it were his father). Such an experience is quite strange and exceptional. It is also very likely that no one will be surprised if the explanation given to them by the patient is also strange and exceptional. For example, he might say that this voice means that God has chosen him to save the world.

one went crazy

4. Types of delusions based on content

The content of biases can be quite variable and there are a large number of different categories in this type of classification. Here are all the most used ratings compiled, as the DSM classification suggests:

  1. The illusion of being in control. The subject believes that his feelings, whims, thoughts, and actions are not his own. They are the product of some strange and irresistible force. For example, a person feels that they are receiving control messages through television.
  2. Body delusions. This category refers to an individual’s bodily function. For example, a patient may believe that her brain has rotted, or a woman may believe she is pregnant despite clear tests that prove that this is not the case, and so on.
  3. Jealousy hallucinations. A patient with such an illusion is convinced that his partner is unfaithful, despite the fact that he has no evidence of such behavior.
  4. The illusions of greatness. These delusions suggest an exaggerated assessment of personal importance, power, knowledge, or identity. It can be religious, bodily, or otherwise. An example is an individual who thinks he is Napoleon Bonaparte.
  5. The illusions of poverty. The target believes that it has lost or will lose all or almost all of its tangible assets.
  6. Misleading references. The subject believes that events, goals, or people close to him or her have a special or unusual sense, usually negative and derogatory. For example, a woman is convinced that radio programs are targeted at her.
  7. Exaggerated delusions. False beliefs, the content of which is clearly absurd and in which there is no real possibility to establish. The man, for example, believes that when his pharynx was removed as a child, he was placed with a device in his head through which he could hear the voice of the president.
  8. Nihilistic heresies or Cotard syndrome. Here the focus is on the existence of oneself, others, and the world. For example, “this is the end of the world,” “I will never have a brain again,” or “I don’t have to eat because I’m empty”.
  9. Paranoia. The central theme of these delusions is that the target has been attacked, harassed, deceived, persecuted, or a conspiracy victim. For example, a patient believes he is being chased by the FBI.
  10. Misconceptions of guilt. The patient feels guilt and responsibility for all kinds of misery. For example, he strongly believes he is responsible for world hunger.
  11. Capgras syndrome. The patient believes that the important people in his life have been captured by the scammer who represents them, even though they look the same as always.
  12. Erotomania or de Clerembault’s syndrome. The patient believes that someone is madly in love with him. A person, for example, strongly believes that the Prince of Spain is in love with him.
the boy's room has an aquarium

Some interesting cases of delusions

Misconceptions are the subject of quite awesome and infamous. Because of their eye-catching nature, they don’t usually go unnoticed. There are also some cases that have become national or global news. Here are some examples:

The case of “Little Nicolas”

Young Francisco Nicolas Gomez Iglesias is on temporary leave after pretending to be an adviser to the Spanish government and the National Intelligence Service (NIC) using forged papers. A forensic medical report ordered by the judge states that he has a “ richly decorated, delusional image of greatness”.

Attempted murder of Ronald Reagan

Some believe that John Hinckley Jr.’s attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan was due to an erotic imagination or delusion of love. Hinckley believed that the death of the president would cause actress Jodie Foster to publicly declare her love for Hinckley.

The film world also uses the misconceptions that appear in many films. Here are two of them:

Take Shelter (2011)

In this film, an ordinary father begins to succumb to the fear of a possible end of the world  without any reasonable explanation for his fear.

film Take Shelter

The witch (2015)

This film is about the life of a North American family who settles in an isolated place in the woods where they start a new life. The collision between the presence of a witch close to a settlement and the strong religiosity of the family creates misconceptions.

As we have noticed with this article, delusions are complex mental interpretations that can include several shared qualities. On the other hand, delusions show the power of the creativity of the mind and its need to give consistency to the reality it perceives. Many misconceptions are the most convincing explanations people can find for their hallucinations.

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