23 June 2011

Y'all know I'm a therapist right? I mean a PSYCHOtherapist? Yep. And you want me to write about delusional stuff? Yep. OK. But instead of my therapy hat (which is a soft grey slouchy thing), I'm going to wear my writer's cap - it is a beret. Orange with a bobble.

Because I'm a writer and my tools are words I want to talk about some that often get mishandled by the ham-fisted among us word wrasslers. Let's look at the first two up for grabs : illusion and delusion.
An illusion is a false mental image produced by misinterpretation of things that actually exist: 'A mirage is an illusion produced by reflection of light against the sky'.... A delusion is a persistent false belief: A' paranoiac has delusions of persecution'.
Random House Dictionary.
An illusion is fleeting, it is ephemeral - a delusion is a persistent false belief. Persistent. No matter how many times I smack my head on the overhead beam in my friend's basement - I still persist in thinking that I'm shorter than I am. As I fall to the cellar floor I see what I believe to be stars sparkling in the firmament. They aren't. They are illusions caused by the whack to my head.

But if I look up the word illusory - it starts to all get very sketchy:

illusory - based on or having the nature of an illusion; "illusive hopes of finding a better job"; "Secret activities offer presidents the alluring but often illusory promise that they can achieve foreign policy goals without the bothersome debate and open decision that are staples of democracy"

Do you see what I mean or is it only me? With this second definition the 'hopes' are illusive. What are they based on that makes them illusive rather than delusional? Is it that it isn't a persistent hope...yet? And with the secret activities statement is the promise really illusory or is it is just nicer to say that than 'offer presidents the alluring but delusional promise that they can achieve foreign policy goals etc...' I mean, surely to goodness, we can see the foregoing is a PERSISTENT delusion, not just a passing whimsy. Come on.
Let's go on to a few other views on this debate: Here is part of an article written by psychology professor, David A. Gershaw, Ph.D.
Just recently in my introductory psychology course, a student did not know the difference between an "illusion" and a "delusion." Since this is a common source of confusion, it is worth explaining.
An illusion is a misleading perception, usually visual. You see something, but you consistently misjudge its length, shape, motion or direction. To avoid further confusion, illusions are distinctly different from hallucinations – which involve sensing something that is not actually present. In contrast, illusions deal with stimuli that are actually present, but they are misinterpreted or hard to interpret.

"An illusion is a perceptual disturbance,
while a delusion is a belief disturbance.

On the other hand, a delusion is a deeply held false belief that is maintained – even when other information contradicts the belief. The contradictory information is either ignored completely or discounted in some way. Many prejudices rely on stereotypes that apply to a small minority in a group, but these stereotypes become delusional when they are used to judge everyone in that group.

Another way to think of this is to remember that magicians perform acts of illusion NOT delusion. We might be delusioned when we realize that there is no magic involved however.

What do you think of this pair of words? Do you have any other pairs of confusing words to share with us today? I mean besides bear and bare, aural and oral, discreet and discrete and amoral and immoral? Just wondering....


writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

I'm interested in psychology (apparently it's in the genes, because my daughter is a psychiatrist)and I sometimes spout my theories. I wrote one or two blog posts on OCD. I'd be interested in your opinion. If you do offer one, please be kind, as I'm just an amateur, at best. If you don't want to bother with it, that's okay.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Those *are* confusing! I sometimes stumble with effect/affect. :)

Jan Morrison said...

Hi Richard - sure I'll have a look and I'm no expert on OCD so no worries about comments!

Elizabeth - I found a list on Oxford site with gazillions of it but everytime I tried to include a link, my whole post would gaaack. It had tonnes of interesting ones - most I get when I look at them but delusional illusional - nah, not so much.