Types of Delusions

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Delusions are defined as fixed, false beliefs that conflict with reality. With delusions, you cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not real. Despite contrary evidence, a person in a delusional state can’t let go of their convictions.

Delusions often occur as part of psychotic disorders including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. Delusions may also be a symptom of delusional disorder, which is a rare condition when a person has one or more delusional thoughts for one month or more, that has no explanation by another physiological issue, is not substance-induced or part of other mental health condition.

A young woman having a therapeutic session with a psychologist

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If you or a loved one are struggling with delusions, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Delusions are categorized according to different types and often include some common themes. There are several different types of delusions:

Erotomanic

Erotomanic delusions happen when someone is fixated on the idea that another person is intensely in love with them. The other person may be a celebrity, wealthy, or of a high social position.

This fixation on being loved by the other person is considered delusional because it’s not based in reality. In most cases, the person hasn’t even met the person they’re fixated on. Some people with this syndrome may believe that a stranger they’ve just met is in love with them. They may find it impossible to give up their belief that the other person loves them, even when presented with evidence to the contrary.

Grandiose

People experiencing grandiose delusions see themselves as great, highly accomplished, more important than others, or even magical. Also known as a delusion of grandeur, this is a person’s belief that they have special abilities, possessions, or powers, despite a lack of evidence.

For the belief to be a delusion, it must be unreasonable and incorrect. For example, a person who claims to be president of the United States, when they clearly are not, is an example of a delusion of grandeur.

Jealous

Delusional jealous thinking is marked by the constant suspicion that the loved one is guilty of infidelity. This may be accompanied by constantly harassing the loved one with questions and accusations about how they spent the day, where they went, and who they spoke with.

The delusion can be fed by very circumstantial evidence—such as their partner not answering the phone when they call—and they will still hold to the delusion even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The jealous delusional individual will become focused on gathering “proof” and often become increasingly controlling of their partners’ movements and contact with others, often to the point of trying to confine them to the home.

Persecutory

When someone experiences persecutory delusions, they believe a person or group wants to hurt them. They firmly believe this is true, despite a lack of proof.

Whether people with this condition think co-workers are sabotaging their work or they believe the government is trying to kill them, persecutory delusions vary in severity. Some individuals with persecutory delusions believe they have to go to great lengths to stay safe—and consequently, they may struggle to function normally. It is not uncommon for people with this type of delusion to make repeated complaints to legal authorities.

Somatic

Individuals with somatic delusions have a false belief related to one or more bodily organs, such as that organs are functioning improperly or are diseased, injured, or otherwise altered.

It is not uncommon to worry about catching a contagious disease or developing a rare illness. But somatic-type delusions are much more convincing, consistent, and compelling than these fleeting and temporary fears. Most people who experience them find it impossible to acknowledge they are not real and tend to resist any facts that contradict or undermine their delusional belief, even if these facts can be conclusively and scientifically proven.

Mixed or Unspecified

When delusions don’t fall into a single category and no single theme dominates, the delusions are considered “mixed.” Mental health professionals may refer to the disorder as “unspecified" when delusions don’t fall into a specific category or the delusion type can’t be clearly determined.

Different Types of Delusions

Not all delusions are the same. Some might involve non-bizarre beliefs that could theoretically occur in real life. Others may be bizarre, fantastical, or impossible such as having your thoughts broadcast on television or being abducted by aliens.

Themes

In addition to these categories, delusions can often manifest according to a consistent theme. Although delusions can have any theme, certain themes are more common. These include:

  • Influence: The false belief that other people or external agents are covertly exerting powers over oneself.
  • Love: A person has delusions that someone else is in love with them. The person continues to hold this belief despite having little contact with the other person and no reciprocation of feelings.
  • Guilt and unworthiness: When an individual believes that they are bad or evil and have ruined their family, despite no evidence to support this. This is commonly seen in those with depressive illness.
  • Grandiose/Religion: This delusional ideation frequently includes beliefs that the individual is the embodiment of a notable religious figure, such as a messiah or prophet, and that he or she possesses special powers.
  • Paranoia: Any of a variety of beliefs around being threatened, tenaciously sustained even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.
  • Negation/Nihilistic: The delusion of nonexistence: a fixed belief that the mind, body, or the world at large—or parts thereof—no longer exists.
  • Somatic: A false belief related to one or more bodily organs, such as that organs are functioning improperly or are diseased, injured, or otherwise altered.

What Causes Delusions?

Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes delusional states. It appears a variety of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors are involved.

Psychotic disorders seem to run in families, so researchers suspect there is a genetic component to delusions. Children born to a parent with schizophrenia, for example, may be at a higher risk of developing delusions.

A Word From Verywell

Evidence suggests that delusions can be triggered by a significant life event, stressful situations, drug and alcohol use, and sleep disturbance. Taking steps to reduce stress or remove yourself from stressful situations may reduce instances of delusions.

It's important to speak to a medical professional if you begin experiencing delusions as these can be the symptom of an underlying condition that will require treatment. Most disorders that involve delusions aren’t curable, but they are treatable. In fact, some people are able to live healthy, productive lives with few symptoms.

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