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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings



In 2009, when beginning graduate studies for counseling, I learned of the differentiation between the colloquial use of the word “delusion,” the dictionary meaning, and that pertaining to clinical terminology. In common parlance, a “delusion” relates to a false belief.


In relation to an actual defining standard, “delusion” concerns a false belief or judgment about external reality, held despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, occurring especially in mental conditions. The more robust clinical explanation of “delusion” is as follows:


A delusion is a belief that is clearly false and that indicates an abnormality in the affected person’s content of thought. The false belief is not accounted for by the person’s cultural or religious background or his or her level of intelligence. The key feature of a delusion is the degree to which the person is convinced that the belief is true. A person with a delusion will hold firmly to the belief regardless of evidence to the contrary. Delusions can be difficult to distinguish from overvalued ideas, which are unreasonable ideas that a person holds, but the affected person has at least some level of doubt as to its truthfulness. A person with a delusion is absolutely convinced that the delusion is real.


Each of these definitions supports the colloquial usage of the word. Importantly, the clinical distinction relates to a strongly held false belief to which a person clings irrespective of evidence to the contrary, as unwavering conviction to the belief is present.


This is different from a fortified belief about which a person may be skeptical, or willing to be convinced otherwise, though maintains the rigid assumption nonetheless. In my professional practice, I encounter the clinical concept of delusions as well as common irrational beliefs.


It may be useful to think of this matter in the following way. Suppose person X firmly believes that the Earth will spontaneously explode tomorrow. Nothing anyone suggests to the contrary will sway this individual. In this case, person X’s belief constitutes a delusion.


Now, consider person Y who is convinced that the 2020 presidential election was rigged—not necessarily stolen or completely fraudulent, though questionable upon it’s perceived merits of having been the “most secure in American history.” Person Y may be convinced otherwise if shown convincing evidence to the contrary.


The difference between persons X and Y is that the latter uses an overvalued idea while the former maintains a delusion. At this point, I suspect the reader is wondering, “So what’s an irrational belief then?”


In simplest terms, irrational beliefs are personal convictions which aren’t grounded in reality. From a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) perspective, I offer that these sorts of beliefs do not comport with logic or reason. Allow me to clarify the matter.


Consider the following syllogism that is logically sound, because its conclusion follows from sound major and minor premises:


Major premise: All humans will eventually die.


Minor premise: You are a human.


Conclusion: Therefore, you will eventually die.


This form of logical deductive reasoning represents an accurate description about death. It is therefore considered reasonable (sensible) to conclude that all humans will die. Concerning irrational beliefs, a person may mistakenly conclude that unsound logic is accurate.


As an example, consider the following hypothetical syllogism:


Major premise: If presidential elections are rigged, all such elections are defunct.


Minor premise: The Gazette claims that “supporters of both Biden and Trump have rigged the upcoming calendar of primaries and caucuses to benefit their candidacies.”


Conclusion: Consequently, all such elections are defunct.


This is an unreasonable conclusion, because it presumes that rigging will inevitably occur and the results of presidential elections are therefore considered to be invalid—without examination of any further evidence to the contrary. As such, this is an irrational belief.


The main takeaway for the current post is that not all irrational beliefs are delusional, though virtually all delusional beliefs are irrational. When learning about delusions through graduate studies, there were differing perspectives about how to respond to people’s delusions.


Some people advocated playing along with a person’s delusions. Per one source, “If your friend or family member is constantly talking about delusions, it’s best to ‘roll with it’ until you can figure out what will help.”


Such advice to non-clinical personnel is likely issued due to the notion that a person is unlikely to veer from deluded thinking even if you offer convincing evidence refuting the belief. Sometimes, because of consequences stemming from unproductive beliefs, the person may even respond in an unpleasantly emotional or behavioral manner.


A separate source adds, “Typically, the more one tries to talk a delusional person out of his or her delusions, the more he or she will cling to them.” This doesn’t apply only to friends, family members, and other loved ones, because I’ve experienced this in my clinical practice, as well.


For instance, I recall a number of clients seeking treatment during the so-called “summer of love” 2020. At the time, it was fashionable to advocate that one race’s lives mattered while valid claims of other racial identities warranting similar importance were mercilessly ridiculed.


There was apparently nothing I could do to persuade some individuals that the fundamental premises upon which their logic was predicated suffered unreasonable flaws. For instance, and intentionally de-identifying phraseology associated with a particular sociopolitical movement, consider the following syllogism:


Major premise: X racial lives matter!


Minor premise: John Doe is a member of Y race.


Conclusion: Therefore, John Doe’s life doesn’t matter.


The ginned up rhetoric offered to counter my dispute to this irrational claim generally resulted in the response, “Saying [X racial] lives matter’ doesn’t mean that [Y race] lives don’t matter. No one is saying [Y race] lives don’t matter. ‘[X racial] lives matter’ only means that [X racial] lives matter!”


While common advice from some sources relates to not challenging delusions, REBT actively disputes irrational beliefs. This is what I do for a living.


In 2020, circular reasoning, denial of inferred meaning, deflection from rational criticism, and emotionally-fueled emboldening of the unsophisticated mantra created a situation by which some individuals were simply unwilling to change their minds. As such, they disturbed themselves quite a bit with delusional beliefs.


Keep in mind what one source states about this matter, “The difference between a delusion and a false or mistaken belief is that people continue to believe in a delusion no matter how much clear evidence contradicts it.” By now, I suspect the reader is wondering, “How is activism form 2020 currently relevant?”


In the United States, we’re approach a presidential election year. With each of these modern four-year periods, “[X racial] lives matter” rears its delusional head and wreaks havoc on the nation.


However, this year the reader doesn’t have to get caught up in the madness of crowds, emotion of the moment, or delusion of irrational rhetoric. Instead, you can use logic and reason to assess evidence to the contrary of your beliefs so that you can lead a more meaningful and productive life.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW





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