What Are Persecutory Delusions? Learn Their Signs, Causes, Treatment & More
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“He’s looking here…He’s definitely plotting something against me. He’s going to harm me. He’s here to sabotage me and my work. Oh, what am I going to do?”
Thoughts like this run inside a person’s mind when they are struggling with persecutory delusions. Delusions of persecution are when a person believes that others are going to harm them, despite there being no evidence of such.
This kind of paranoia and delusion causes a person to experience severe psychological distress and makes it harder for them to function in their daily lives.
While all of us may experience some false assumptions about being in danger, people with persecutory delusions struggle a lot and this takes a toll on their overall wellness. Let’s take a look at what are persecutory delusions, their types, signs, causes, treatment, and more.
What Are Persecutory Delusions?
When an individual struggles with persecutory delusions, they might believe that another person or a group of people (such as government officials, etc) want to harm them. In such cases of severe paranoia, these individuals might even believe such assumptions, despite there being no proof of such activity.
Persecutory delusions are a type of delusion disorder and paranoia. Feelings of persecution can often co-occur with psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Examples of delusions can be:
“My coworkers are sabotaging my work and trying to get me fired.”
“My neighbors are trying to take over my house.”
“My government is spying on me and wants to hurt me.”
“Others are putting negative thoughts in my mind.”
Signs & Symptoms To Keep In Mind
Ordinarily, the symptoms of persecutory delusions include an individual believing that others are “out to get them”. This false belief is usually based on irrational thinking.
Symptoms of persecutory delusions can include:
- Fear of normal situations
- Feeling threatened without a basis
- Frequently reaching out to authorities
- Severe psychological distress
- Excessive worry
- Constantly seeking reassurance and safety
If an individual’s delusions are disputed or ignored, it can make them feel frustrated, angry, and even more suspicious of the others around them.
Causes & Other Factors
Many factors can cause psychosis to develop, including childhood trauma, genetics, as well as environmental factors. Let’s take a look at some of the common causes of persecutory delusions.
1. Chemical imbalance: Any chemical or hormonal imbalance in the brain can contribute to persecutory delusions or persecutory hallucinations.
2. Genetics: Delusions of persecutions are more likely to occur in people who have a parent or a close family member struggling with the same.
3. Social factors: Contributors such as movies, books, etc can also cause an increase in paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations.
Other factors can include:
1. Schizophrenia: If someone is struggling with schizophrenia, they are more likely to struggle with persecutory delusions along with symptoms such as disorganized thinking, lack of emotions, etc.
2. Bipolar disorder: In bipolar disorder, especially during a manic episode, a person may experience persecutory delusions along with impulsive decisions, irritability, and racing thoughts.
3. Schizoaffective disorder: This disorder is a combination of schizophrenia and mood disorder. Schizoaffective disorder can also cause delusions including persecutory delusions, hallucinations, unusual behavior, etc.
4. Psychotic depression: Delusions of persecutions can also co-occur with depression with psychosis. In this disorder, symptoms of depression accompany symptoms of psychosis, including delusions and hallucinations.
5. Delusional disorder: If a person is struggling with delusional disorder, they are more likely to experience persecutory delusions along with low mood and hallucinations.
6. Post-traumatic stress disorder: If a person has been through a trauma, they can also experience persecutory delusions. They might also experience flashbacks, hallucinations, nightmares, and general distrust of others.
To diagnose persecutory delusions, a professional might ask for a:
- Physical health test
- Screening for alcohol use or drug use
- Imaging tests (MRIs or CT Scans)
- Psychiatric evaluation (done under the supervision of a mental health professional only)
Persecutory Delusions Treatment
Treatments for persecutory delusions may vary depending on the cause and seriousness of the delusions. Mostly, for persecutory delusions, psychiatric treatment is recommended.
Treatment options may include:
An approach such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been studied and proven to be an effective treatment for delusions. Therapists can help individuals overcome worry and rumination, which can help overcome persecutory delusions. CBT can also help reduce other symptoms of paranoia.
Depending on the severity, a psychiatrist may prescribe antipsychotics, antidepressants, or mood stabilizers to help control persecutory delusions.
Because people with persecutory delusions have trouble trusting others, in some cases, hospitalization is the best course to help one overcome their disorder.
How To Help Someone With Persecutory Delusions?
If your loved one is struggling with persecutory delusions, you can help them. Please remember that living with someone struggling with persecutory delusions can be challenging as they often struggle with trusting others.
Here’s what you can do to help someone with persecutory delusions:
1. Listen To Them:
While it may be difficult to listen to their false assumptions and beliefs, keep in mind that listening to them can make them feel understood and heard, which can help you gain their trust and get them the help they need.
2. Avoid Disputing Their Delusions:
When you dispute the delusions, it can make them believe in their delusions. Avoid ignoring their delusions. But at the same time, don’t try to agree with them either. Be calm and help them see the reality.
3. Redirect Their Belief:
Instead of going along with their beliefs, try and redirect their delusions. Help them calmly change their perspective.
4. Be Empathetic:
It’s important to be supportive, calm, patient, and empathetic when dealing with someone with persecutory delusions. You need to be non-judgemental and kind when dealing with their delusions.
5. Seek Support:
Helping someone with persecutory delusions isn’t easy and can take a toll on your mental health. Don’t forget to seek support for yourself when in need. You can even benefit from family therapy.
Living and loving someone with persecutory delusions can be mentally challenging and overwhelming but with the right help and support, you can find ways to help your loved one cope with persecutory delusions.
If you’d like help connecting with an online psychiatrist, you can reach out to therapy platforms such as Talkspace. Talkspace offers psychological as well as psychiatric help to people struggling with psychotic disorders.
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