ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Learning to Discard Spurious Thoughts

By Jack Bragen
Thursday February 20, 2014 - 08:55:00 PM

In the mind of any human being, mentally ill or not, the thoughts that carry a strong emotional charge will gain a higher priority. Thus, thoughts that trigger or come from jealousy, fear, anger, and desire, will all have more power over us, and will be harder to disregard compared to thoughts that are more objective. 

(Just as a side comment, television commercials are designed with this in mind, and take leverage of people's fears and desires to sell their products. Politicians play on hope, on hate, on fear, or on greed. A passive mind is directed by outside forces--such a person is prone to being herded.) 

I have had an issue of late in which I get thoughts that are irrational, yet which have an emotionally strong yet false message--and these thoughts try to get into the control seat of my mind. This is in spite of the fact that I am taking a whopping dose of antipsychotics and have been for years. The fact of being medicated doesn’t completely guarantee that you will get rid of all delusions. 

Some of these thoughts, if I were to let them take over, would interfere with getting necessary tasks accomplished. This happens through the fear that something dangerous or something bad is lurking behind every action. Other thoughts, which luckily I don’t get very much on medication, are those that give a bogus instruction which will cause me to create badly mistaken actions or regrettable speech. Either way, the bogus thought needs to be identified and canceled before it causes damage to life circumstances. 

It requires effort and a lot of insight to discard an irrational thought, especially if it is convincing and powerfully felt. There seems to be no perfect rule for knowing when a thought is accurate and when it is a distortion. 

What to do about this? To begin with, one could work to recognize when a thought seems irrational and bring this up in therapy. 

Evaluating a thought is not always easy to do by oneself. I often will ask a friend who knows me very well if they think a particular thought seems to be a delusion. You can also bring up a thought to a mental health professional, and they may be able to help you with their evaluation of your thought. This is called, "reality checking." 

You probably should not bring up unusual thoughts to the wrong person, such as a stranger, a coworker, or someone who might not understand your intentions. People who are uneducated about mental illness do not know how to handle the role of being a reality checker. 

Observing your environment without getting other people's opinions can lead to misinterpretations of your five senses. The five senses can be misinterpreted. It is usually through communication with others that we learn how to interpret our five senses. This is one reason why it is bad to be isolated. 

It helps to stay "grounded." This is a down to earth state of mind in which things are neither twisted nor exaggerated. 

There is more than one version of the idea of being "grounded." To me, being grounded means that you are connected to your body, you are connected to other people, you are not too far into the abstract, and you are not excessively agitated or elated. 

It is important for someone prone to psychosis that they regard it seriously and that they treat it aggressively through medical and psychological remedies. Part of this entails robustly questioning the accuracy of thoughts. The thoughts that have the most emotional charge could be the same ones that, if acted upon, could create the most problems. 

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