Illusion vs. Delusion

I’ve been thinking a lot about “issues” this last week. Personality quirks, and in some cases flaws, that people have. As a human being, the only issues I have the right to judge are my own. By the same token, as a human being I do have the right to make observations about others.

Mental health disorders are something I have studied as well as suffered from, so I think I have a pretty good grasp on the different types of “issues” people sometimes exhibit. Personally, I suffer from severe depression, introversion, and as a result, I am neglectful in the area of friendship correspondence. It doesn’t mean I love my friends less, it means I struggle from day to day with forcing myself not to hide from the world and to interact with my friends and family — even when I don’t feel like I can.

I feel it’s only fair when discussing mental health issues to disclose one’s own problems first. After all, we’re all human and not one person on this planet is perfect. Except, perhaps, Meryl Streep. In disclosing one’s own problems, it shows an understanding that we all have our issues, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, yada yada yada.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about a few things in particular. Two of which being a couple of words. Words that for all intents and purposes seem like the same thing, but when you examine them more closely, you find they are very different. The words are illusion and delusion.

First we have Illusion. Here’s the definition according to Webster:

What I derive from this word and it’s definition as opposed to delusion, which I’ll discuss shortly, is that an illusion is something you think is one thing, when in actuality it’s something else. It’s an unintentional mistake or misconception. It causes confusion, but there is no fault attached. It’s an incorrect assumption or idea that, once realized, is forgiven and/or forgotten. Once the illusion is shattered, the truth remains and the mistake isn’t repeated.

Then there’s Delusion. Webster has this to say:

Note the second line. In this case, the misinterpretation is caused by mental illness. It is something built up in the mind with no foundation in truth. It’s illusion with fault attached. It’s a deception created by one’s own mind that one chooses to believe despite not having a leg to stand on when asked to prove it.

Webster goes a step further:

A persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary. A false idea conjured up by the mind that one refuses to let go of. A misguided belief someone is so attached to, they refuse to give it up no matter what.

While an illusion is often uncomfortable and unfortunate, it’s ultimately harmless once the truth is revealed. Delusion, however, is when one takes illusion a step further into dangerous territory. It’s when deep-seated delusion takes over when trouble starts.

Delusion is often accompanied by something called Psychological Projection. Projection is a type of defense mechanism one utilizes to avoid accepting responsibility for their actions. Check out the definition written by the experts:

When someone utilizes this mechanism, they either can’t mentally handle the responsibility because it’s too painful or they simply refuse to accept they are the problem.

Many times this projection occurs because of the latter. “It isn’t me, it’s you.” Refusing to accept one’s own failings. I get it. Nobody wants to admit they have a problem, but admission is the first step to healing, and when one begins to project their own issues onto someone else, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and evaluate the situation objectively.

Practical application: Imagine you have a group of mutual friends, and one by one they have all done something so terrible you had to cut them out of your life. Yet, somehow, they are all happy and continue to maintain healthy friendships with one another. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all no longer friends with you. This may be a sign that the problem doesn’t lie in these people who hurt you. Perhaps the problem lies within yourself, you just refuse to believe that someone as wonderful as you could possibly be cruel, controlling, prone to anger, etc…so either consciously or unconsciously, you make up your mind that all those terrible accusations you made against them are true, when in reality, they are a reflection of yourself. That’s a really tough pill to swallow, as is any discovery of a shortcoming in your own life. The realization that you may have a problem can hurt, but then it can heal. It doesn’t have to be that way…

The only way to initiate and maintain healthy relationships is to first understand ourselves, because if we don’t understand ourselves, how can we expect someone else to understand us? Once we have a realistic grasp on that, then we can start to understand others, and in turn, they can understand us. If we don’t truly know ourselves — warts and all — healthy relationships will always be just out of our grasp.

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