The Gentle Craft of Delusion and its Dénouement

By George A. Boyd © 1996

Sweet Siren Song

Oh, I have listened to sweet Siren song
Lulled into inebriation by their melody;
I have forgotten myself too long in some fond reverie
In which the substance of my dreams seems so real.

Sober reason’s insistence, now a distant voice
Can no longer deter me from my ruminations.
My revelations have now become conviction
And my faith possesses me in a waking trance.

Alas, a madman now is at the tiller of this barque
The sails unfurled, lashed helplessly by the merciless winds,
Eddies o’er, into the maelstrom she passes;
Lost the ship, my life and sanity, on the hidden reef below.

There are few people who are so highly rational that they do not entertain some personal superstitions or areas of denial. The ability to test reality is not a seamless web; it may in certain situations be more or less effective. Most of us have temporarily hallucinated when extremely tired or when we have had a high fever, or we might have been fooled by a magician’s slight-of-hand illusions.

Where this process of fooling your self becomes problematical is where your denial increases about certain aspects of your behavior, so that your no longer are aware of its consequences or its impact on your self and others.

Worse, you may begin to attribute your own motivations to others, a psychological defense called projection. When this continues, you begin to lose the ability to take responsibility for your actions. Instead, it seems you are victimized by a hostile and uncaring world. You may come to rationalize your lack of self-care, and even migrate into self-destructive behavior such as addictions.

If you do not obtain realistic feedback at this point, you may drift further into troubled waters. You may begin to weave a fantastic web of delusion, from which you find it increasingly difficult to extricate your self.

Indicators of deepening delusion are the initiation of what I call the active jamming process, mediated through “affirmation, psychological process, and visualization.” The net result of continued self-programming is the creation of a trance state in which you walk about in a state of hypnosis, believing the fabrications of your own wishful thinking.

We note there is legitimate use of these techniques to work on psychological issues and to facilitate integration. When these are misused, however, they are employed to keep you identified with an altered state of consciousness, so you never come back to the grounded state.

When reality does not rudely awaken you at this step, the delusional syndrome makes further inroads into your personality. This is a shift from actively trying to convince your self by active jamming into a state of conviction that what you experience in your fantasy life is real. Now delusion becomes incorporated into your character.

If this process is not interrupted, at some point this delusional system may fall apart, and a person becomes actively psychotic. The dénouement of following the Siren Song of delusion is insanity. We see then, a progression of delusion from innocuous symptoms to a life-consuming obsession that finally destroys the person. This progression is summarized below:

Step One – Symptoms of a deeper problem

  1. Hallucination – temporary breakdown of the filtering system of the central nervous system at the level of the midbrain, allowing stimuli normally shut out to reach consciousness. Can be temporarily stimulated by lack of sleep, sensory deprivation, fasting, too much stress, or psychoactive drug use.
  2. Misperception or illusion – faulty interpretation of sensory stimuli by incorrect completion of the perceptual gestalt, or incorrect interpretation of the sensory cues presented.
  3. Denial – the tenacious adherence to a false belief or interpretation of a situation despite significant evidence to the contrary

Step Two – The active jamming system

  1. Affirmation – the active attempts to reprogram beliefs to fit a desired outcome or state of affairs, by changing the cognitive component of belief.
  2. Process – the active attempts to defuse the emotional component of belief by returning in memory to the origin of a particular issue and releasing its affective energy.
  3. Visualization – the creation of an imaginary image of the desired outcome, in reverie, hypnosis, active imagination, or meditation.

Step Three – Delusions become incorporated into character

  1. Conviction or faith – the adherence to a belief based upon an inner assurance that it is true, based upon the testimonials of the experience of others, miraculous or un-explained personal experience or interpretation of religious doctrine based on a book or books held to be sacred or scriptural revelation.
  2. Revelation or inspiration – intuitive information received as visions, voices, or feelings believed to come from extra-terrestrials, inner guides, spirits, angels, gods or other agencies of the Divine that is believed to be unquestionably true.
  3. Archetypal identification or Gnostic conviction – at this deepest level, you become identified with the inner forms of spiritual noumena, and may come to believe that you are a messenger or child of God, or even the embodiment of the Divine.

Step Four – Unraveling

  1. Panic – great energy must be invested to keep this delusional system alive, by active jamming methods and by remaining in trance states, which confirm the delusions, which has been incorporated into character. At some point this delusional system begins to break down and the reaction is panic, overwhelming anxiety, and great desperation.
  2. Disorganization and disintegration – the systematized delusion system can no longer be maintained. The entire cognitive and affective systems are thrown into disorder, disrupting normal patterns of behavior. This is the decompensation phase, which marks the beginning of psychotic illness. At this stage, hallucination may become nearly continuous.
  3. Reorganization or further deterioration – with assistance from others through psychotherapy, the reality testing mechanism may be reconstructed, returning the individual to more normalized functioning, rational and coherent belief and consonant affect. If successful intervention is not made, the individual may deteriorate further.

It concerns me that many of the New Thought, New Age and conventional religious practices incorporate elements of the active jamming phase and characterological phase of the delusional cycle.

The question that suggests itself: is reality so painful that we must hypnotize and numb ourselves to cope with it? The more frightening question is, does entertaining deeper levels of delusion run the risk of turning our mass movements into mass insanity? Let us hope we do not make it so.

The critical thing you must determine is, are you changing self-limiting belief and unproductive behavior through these attempts at self-help, or are you trying to desperately convince your self of something that isn’t and cannot be true:

  • The first will turn you into a more effective human being.
  • The second will sink you deeper into the quick sands of delusion.

It is important that you take stock of these efforts at self-remediation, and ask your self the very difficult questions that are required by rigorous honesty. If you do not ask these questions, the Sirens will be soon at your door.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.