Elizabeth Wagele

The Career Within You

What Can We Learn from Delusions?

And what might your Enneagram delusion be?

Posted Nov 18, 2014

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman from The Career Within You

In The Sunday NY Times of 8-28-14, Gary Greenberg writes about “Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness” by the Gold brothers, Joel (who was once chief attending psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital) and Ian (associate professor of philosophy and psychology at McGill University). They are studying why mentally ill have the delusions they do and what the content can tell us.

The Golds contend the psychiatric profession overdoes neuroscience and our culture overdoes networking. Instead of thinking we’re Napoleon when we go mad, we now think the whole world is watching us. Is this a wish or a reflection of what is? After all, we live in a society that has us all under surveillance.

The Golds say when therapists don’t pay attention to the content of delusions, mentally ill people feel even more misunderstood. Greenberg writes, “The Golds argue that suspicion of others is a primitive, lower-brain capability that would run unchecked without the modulating effects of the higher brain’s rationality. This, they say, is exactly what has occurred in people with the Truman Show delusion. Their ability to ‘navigate the threats of social living’ — what they call the Suspicion System — is unmoored from reason, and thus allowed to run amok.”

According to your Enneagram type, what character would you be likely to embody if you were delusional?

1 Fred Astaire for his perfectionism and grace?

2 Mother Teresa for her good deeds?

3 Tom Cruise for his abilities and image?

4 Beethoven for his unique genius in creating beauty?

Beethoven admired

5 Einstein for knowing so much?

6 Sid Caesar for his comic brilliance?

7 Peter Pan for his lightness?

8 President Lyndon Johnson for his ability to wield power?

9 Perry Como for his laid back style?

Enneagram figure

The Enneagram figure

Greenberg writes, “The Golds set the stage for considering what biological psychiatry has elided in its rush to reduce mental illness to brain dysfunction: the environment as a causal factor in mental breakdown. They note that the psychiatric disorders in which delusions play a role are more common in cities than in rural areas, which indicates that the more relationships one has to negotiate, the more likely the navigational apparatus is to break down. And, they point out, Internet-enabled cameras and cell phones, not to mention National Security Agency snooping, have turned the entire world into a single, if virtual, city and ‘a bizarre delusion about being watched into a sober worry.’

“People with the Truman Show delusion are those who, for whatever reason, are uniquely sensitive to the resulting loss of privacy. They are, in other words, the canaries in the data mines of the surveillance society.”

Privacy, according to Greenberg, “imposes certain burdens, like loneliness and isolation.” His article concludes: “What the Golds fail to explore is the wish for universal recognition, for celebrity, embedded in the Truman Show delusion. It’s a delusion well deserved by an age that seems slowly and inexorably to be turning solitude into a pathology.”

Read reviews of The Enneagram for Teens. Buy in paper or tablet form.