Types of Delusions

Delusions are a false belief about something that is not true or not real. However, people with delusions believe they are true even when presented with evidence to the contrary. Delusions are often a sign of an underlying mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dementia, or delusional disorder.

Delusions can also be a sign of brain injury, intoxication, or a side effect of another illness. Delusions can be categorized by type, or by underlying themes.

This article discusses different types of delusions, as well as common themes of delusions.

Delusion vs Self-Deception

Having a delusion is different than having self-deception—incorrect feelings, ideas, or situations that a person might believe due to a personal bias. Delusions interfere with a person's day-to-day function.

A young woman having a therapeutic session with a psychologist

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Types of Delusions

Delusions can be based on events that could actually happen in real life, or they might be considered "bizarre"—the belief is not grounded in reality.

Types of delusions include persecutory, erotomanic, grandiose, jealous, somatic, and mixed/unspecific.

What About Hallucinations?

Hallucinations often occur with delusions. These can be visual (seeing things that aren't there) or auditory (hearing voices).

Persecutory Delusions

Persecutory delusions are the most common type of delusion.This type causes a person to believe that someone or something is "out to get them." This can include another person, a machine, or an entire institution or organization.

Persecutory delusions are considered to be an extreme form of paranoia. Other symptoms that often occur with persecutory delusions include:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Negative thoughts about oneself

Erotomanic Delusions

Erotomanic delusions cause a person to believe (falsely) that another person—or many people—are in love with them. The person who is the target of erotomanic delusions is usually of "higher status" than the person with the delusions, and the targets are often celebrities.

People with erotomanic delusions often believe that their "crush" is sending secret messages to them. These delusions can lead to stalking behaviors, which can be "in person" or virtually—such as through social media.

Grandiose Delusions

People who have grandiose delusions believe that they are superior to other people. These beliefs can give a person a sense of belonging and self-worth.

Grandiose delusions are common—affecting about two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder and half of people with schizophrenia.

Examples of grandiose delusions include:

  • Having special powers
  • Being famous
  • Being very wealthy
  • Thinking you are "God" or have spiritual powers
  • Believing you can cure cancer

Grandiose delusions can lead to risky or dangerous behaviors.

Jealous Delusions

Jealous delusions cause a person to believe that their partner is unfaithful and constantly look for evidence that their belief is true. This is different from the typical jealousy that many people experience.

Jealous delusions often cause extreme behaviors, such as searching bedding, underwear, and even their partner's body for evidence of infidelity. People with these delusions also frequently misinterpret their partner's behavior.

Somatic Delusions

Somatic delusions are focused on the physical body. A person with somatic delusions falsely believes that something is wrong with their body.

These delusions can be about illnesses or conditions that occur in real life, such as having cancer or being pregnant, or bizarre—things like bones twisting around each other, missing internal organs, or veins running in the wrong direction.

People with somatic delusions often undergo many different types of medical testing but still believe there is something wrong with them despite normal test results.

Mixed or Unspecified Delusions

A person can also have delusions that are categorized as "mixed" or "unspecified."

Mixed delusions means that the person has multiple types of delusions, but none are more common than another. Unspecified delusions don't clearly fit into a specific category.

Themes

Delusions can also be categorized based on their underlying theme, including:

  • Persecution: This theme represents the most common delusion. People with these delusions believe other people are out to harm them.
  • Infidelity: This theme causes a person to believe that their partner is being unfaithful, even if the evidence shows they are not. Extreme jealousy often occurs with infidelity delusions.
  • Love: This theme is centered around the incorrect belief that someone is in love with the person who is having the delusions. Oftentimes, the person having the delusions has not even met the individual whom they believe is in love with them. Love delusions frequently include celebrities.
  • Religion: Delusions centered around religion can cause a person to believe they have god-like powers, or that they are God themselves. People with this type of delusion also often report that God speaks to them directly and dictates their behaviors.
  • Grandiose: Delusions with this theme cause people to believe they have superpowers, or that they are a celebrity or more "important" than other people.
  • Guilt/unworthiness: This theme causes a person to think that they are "evil" or that they have ruined their family. They often believe that they have committed an "unpardonable" sin and deserve to be punished forever. Delusions centered around guilt/unworthiness are often accompanied by low self-esteem, depression, and sometimes suicide.
  • Negation/nihilistic: This theme is centered on the belief that something or someone no longer exists. A person with these delusions might believe they are actually dead, or that part of their body is missing. They could also believe that the world has ceased to exist. Negation/nihilistic delusions often occur with depression.

Summary

A delusion is a fixed, false belief in something that is not real or does not exist, and is held despite evidence to the contrary. Delusions are common with mental health diagnoses, but can also occur with medical conditions such as brain injury. Types of delusions include persecutory, erotomanic, grandiose, jealous, somatic, mixed, and unspecified.

Delusions often revolve around a specific theme, such as love, guilt, religion, or infidelity.

A Word From Verywell

The first step in treating delusions is identifying the underlying cause. If you suspect that someone you care about is having delusions, talk to a healthcare provider. Delusions that are part of a mental health condition are often treated with psychotherapy and medications.

If you are living with a person who has delusions, consider seeing a mental health professional for support and tips for coping with delusions when they occur.

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