Five Tips for Dealing with Delusional People

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It’s not very often you encounter a delusional person unless you’re  already a loved one or care giver of someone with a mental illness. While talking with my mother last weekend, she recounted the onset on my psychosis – a week of tumultuous delusions so compelling even my family became engaged.

Someone had broken into my apartment, multiple times. I was not mistaken about the break-ins, but was delusional about the reason for the break-ins. My mom said to me, “Why would someone be doing this?” To which I replied, “To mess with my mind.” My mother quipped, in her usual fast-response humor “And they have.” Remembering back, I can make a few suggestions to keeping everyone even-keel when delusions appear.

Don’t criticize–Criticism is disapproval based on perceived faults or mistakes. By launching into this conversation, one can automatically place the person in a position to protect him or herself. Face it — no one likes to be told they are making a mistake, and a major mistake of misperceiving all of reality is not common. For those first experiencing delusions, this will only drive the person silent, leaving her to her own devices and isolating her from the sound reasoning of others.

Don’t judge–Judgement is when condemnation from someone who takes a position of superiority, or one assumes the other is not wise or sensible. For those of us who suffer with thought disorders, our reactions to delusions is much the same to our reactions to ‘reality’ (except when there is a break from reality altogether).

When I thought someone was breaking into my apartment, I felt violated, unsafe, uncertain of my surroundings. When it continued to happen, I was alarmed, hyper-vigilant, and terrified. My delusions that a team of people were working in a clandestine fashion to drive me mad and my immediately family were not acting as though this was an urgent matter, as I had, I started acting irrationally. The non-spoken judgement that this was not a matter of safety drove me to ever increasing reckless behavior.

NOTE: You should make judgements calls, which are empowered actions to stave off reckless behavior.

Don’t argue–Both criticism and judgment can elicit strong reactions for one justifying him or herself, pushing that person toward expansive explanations, perceived evidence, and rationalism and persuasion. Arguing with me drew out the details and depths of my delusions, where I had constructed detailed accounts of the who, what, when, where and why of the events and also served to send me inward, ever seeking greater justification for what was happening, cementing my perceptions.

Emphasize doubt–Uncertainty, mistrust or distrust of what one is thinking can provide the demarcation point between suspicion and certainty. It is our nature act on hunches, regardless of our mental health status. Though those of us with thought disorders may spend an inordinate time contemplating the nature of our delusions, we also certainly grasp a thin line of doubt. For me, doubt persisted where the multiple breaks-ins seemed surreal. One step-beyond that however, and I was in the deep-end of delusion. Don’t press for stacked instances of uncertainty, but do emphasize the improbability of events (while also deferring to good judgement).

Nurture sanity–Encourage the investment of self-care aspects the person has; emphasize that one needn’t act recklessly or too quickly, and most certainly without consulting others. Suggest a doctor’s visit, offer support and even going with your loved one to a doctor jointly.

All of this could have prevented the fear, uneasiness, and disquietude I felt when delusional. Approach the personal calmly, listen, observe, and when needed, intervene to assist the person who is struggling. Though it appears we are willingly engaging in delusional thoughts, keep in mind that these thoughts can’t be turned off or ignored and are part and parcel for schizophrenia and psychosis.

14 thoughts on “Five Tips for Dealing with Delusional People

  1. Quidnunc July 28, 2012 / 6:15 pm

    Very well stated!

    Like

  2. Don December 31, 2012 / 9:57 pm

    I’m about at my wits’ end and I’m not sure what to do. This seems like very good advice though. My wife is currently experiencing delusions. Do you think it would help if I asked her to read your post? Thank you.

    Like

    • K.Arment January 4, 2013 / 12:28 pm

      I don’t think it could hurt and she might be able to give you some insight into what she is feeling. The feeling here is important, since being delusional isnt grounded in in reality. If she seems to have no awareness of her medical condition, you might need to intervene, since true delusion indicates a break from reality and reason. It’s not a comfortable place to be even if she seems to be “content” to be in that place.

      Like

  3. amber September 3, 2013 / 10:27 am

    Hi, I’m 15 and my mam is suffering from delusions. She has grudges against family members and keeps accusing people of things they didn’t do. Shes actually quite nasty at times.

    Its been happening for years now but shes been on tablets which kept her fine. However shes being slowly taken off them again but as shes doing so shes gradually getting worse.

    What do I do, my family knows about it but nobody’s doing anything really because they dont know how. She won’t accept that there’s anything wrong so won’t tell the doctor. I want to do something about it but I dont know who, it’s really sad that shes taking a step back but we cant really cope with it. Who should I tell?

    Like

    • deasgriff September 9, 2013 / 3:35 am

      Hi, Amber.

      Unfortunately it gets really complicated fast when dealing with adults in this kind of situation. I would say really try approaching your mom and tell her you would like to do a “reality check” with her. Remind her of times past, when she was delusional, and then remind her of times when she is on medication.

      Convincing her is the shortest path, but may not be the easiest. Try to approach her without judgment and with compassion. She’s probably not very comfortable and may listen if you provide gentle grounding.

      Like

      • Anonymous September 9, 2013 / 5:42 pm

        Hey thanks, she’s been pretty quiet lately but I’ll try that next time there’s an issue 🙂 x

        Like

  4. Pam M Mason May 22, 2014 / 12:27 am

    My boyfriend is paranoid, and also grandiose. He has got into a cycle of telling me, again and again, about these “spiritual experiences” he has had – dreams which identified a murderer. He says he told the police, and then he saw the policeman he spoke to socializing with the killer (as identified in his dream). He is obsessed with this – that he knows who the real killer is, and that he’s in danger from the police because of it. He goes on and on, in this dark, morbid way and is angry if I don’t agree. So I listen for a while then say I can’t listen to any more of it.

    He is paranoid about everyone and everything. Every friend he has “betrays” him in the end. He is forever examining their words, even utterly innocent ones, for insults. He believes every conspiracy theory going. He goes on about the end of the world, how the rich will kill off the poor, etc.

    I am so tired of it. I can’t listen any more.

    I keep all my feelings to myself while he is going on and on.

    He has seen a psychiatrist but was only diagnosed with paranoia due to anxiety. I think you have to know him well to see how deep it really runs.

    I am making decisions as I write this.

    Like

    • Molly Kate May 22, 2014 / 12:52 am

      I would say to him, “My experience is not yours, and my experience tells me this may not be true as you suspect.” Sometimes it does take leaving people for them to see things aren’t going well. Since it is the typical response, however, to leave people, maybe you can find a way to be a supportive friend after a while if you decide to leave him. I suggest being repetitive, short, direct, and plain with him if you do break up.

      Like

  5. keat May 6, 2015 / 5:32 am

    Nice & helpful.. Thanks! stay well & happy!

    Like

  6. thinkiamparanoid January 1, 2016 / 9:52 am

    Great article! In my family we all have delussions to some extent, my parents, my sister and me. I just realized that now I can see things clearer after meditation and yoga. I suffer from anxiety and mood swings. My concern is for my sister, she is a drug addict and highly delussional. She is paranoid and keeps fighting with the family, she believes we all hate her and treat her poorly.
    She has four kids, I am not sure how to deal with her without getting into a fight. I am worried about the kids, will they believe her delussions and become delussional too?

    Like

  7. vanessa December 30, 2016 / 7:00 am

    This article is very helpful…. I have been with my husband for 16years and about Two years ago he started making accusations that I was having an affair with his co-worker. He started yelling outside in our backyard yelling that the coworker needed to leave because he was home now. It got so bad that he called the cops saying his coworker was trespassing. When the police got there I tried explaining to the officer something was wrong with my husband and nobody was there this officer didnt listen to my concerms he thought it was just a marraige isdue and that I was having an affair so told my husband to go sleep on couch and leave me alone for the night and left. 20min later my husband is at the bedroom door yelling for his coworker to leave I calmly explained nobody was in the room and let him come and check throughout our bedroom he calmly went to couch and 10min later busted the door down trying to catch the man who was not in bedroom i than called cops back scared to sleep in same house as my husband when the cop came all he did was take my husband to go sleep it off at his moms house. After this episode i got a call from his mom saying he took off very upset cause they too didnt believe him about the supposed affair and told him he needed to seek medical help. We didnt see or hear from my husband for 4days which you can imagine was nerve wrecking during this time knowing this wasnt normal behavior i was worried sick he might hurt someone else or himself. On the 4th day I received call from pchyiatric ward saying he admitted himself and told them the same story about affair and after observation they needed to keep him under close watch for 24hrs afyer that they decided to keep him for about 6days and discharged him diagnosing him with severe depression and anxiety prescribing him citalopram and hydroxine. When I brought him home he began to tell me that this wasnt something that happened suddenley he said he had been hearing voices for months he said he was very paranoid that i was trying to poison his food and that i had house under surveilance. Looking back at it now I didnt watch closely to the signs of him not eating much him not sleeping much and for not noticing these sooner Im wondering could i have prevented it from getting as bad as it did?? Sorry for such the long story but this was two years ago and since than there has been plenty more of these types of episodes even on the medication. Its gotten so bad that we are now seperated going on two weeks of not living together and its so difficult because I love my husband we have a beautiful daughter together and I wish I could help him i wish I could get through to him i wish he knew that Im faithful to him ive always been and I want him to know im here for him and I will do my best to help him overcome this illness. The drs out here are worthless they havent listened to a thing ive told them they dont seem to understand that he needs more than just medication. Ive lost my husband to this illness and I dont know what to do anymore things have only got worse and would love to hear if anyone has ever dealt with similiar issues with a loved one and did they ever overcome this illness or does anyone know of someone who has actually learned how to cope with these delusions cause this has cost my family several homes jobs ect any comments or tips would be appreciated thanks for listening!!

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    • Author January 19, 2017 / 6:31 am

      Hi Vanesa,

      The best luck I’ve had getting a doctor to listen to me, the patient, is to have my mom attend with me. Mind you, I am 46 and my mother is 70, but somehow having that external presence really helps the doctor feel that what we – the patients – are experiencing is legit. If your husband will let you attend sessions, that would be most helpful.

      You have to be patient with medicine, but again if the doctor isn’t picking up on the clues of delusion and paranoia and a possible psychotic break, you won’t get far fast.

      Thanks for sharing and I hope all gets better.

      Like

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