CHOICES: #2 - Unconditional Acceptance by Others

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    The symptoms of my schizophrenia came on hard and fast. Within two days I was almost completely dysfunctional. Five days after my symptoms first appeared, I met with Dr. Levy, my psychiatrist, for the first time. At this point, I was consumed with thought insertions, auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and presented many, if not most, of the other classical features of schizophrenia. Delusions of grandeur developed in due course. Yet I was convinced that I wasn't ill but under assault by Satan with my immortal soul and the continuing existence of the universe at stake.


    As I pointed out in my last Blog (CHOICES: #1 -Acceptance - Getting to the Point of Departure): "For the moment at least, Dr. Levy had accepted me and my claims at face value. He was not trying to tell me he knew more about what was happening to me than I did. He was not trying to convince me that I was ill. He was not pressing demands upon me. He was not suggesting that I had brought this upon myself. He was not judging me."

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    Why, then, was Dr. Levy's Unconditional Acceptance of me in our first meeting so important to my long term recovery? And why did this acceptance induce me to work with a psychiatrist whose involvement I had been certain would be a distraction at best, perhaps even a destructive influence? After all, in my mind, I didn't need medical treatment but spiritual rescue.


    Dr. Levy's response when I asked point blank if he thought I was mentally ill was like magic: "You've told me that you're not ill and that's good enough for now."


    Dr. Levy treated me with the respect that in my family and church was reserved for adults only. He seemed willing to "suspend disbelief" long enough for me to make my case, to reserve judgment at least until I had presented my perceptions of what was happening to me. No one else had done this.


    Because of Dr. Levy's unconditional acceptance of me, I trusted him from the outset. This was absolutely critical because it induced me to take the medications he proposed. With one disastrous exception, I have remained compliant for over fifty years, i.e. I have taken my medications each and every day as prescribed.


    Dr. Levy seemed eager to know what I was thinking and this, along with his unconditional acceptance {suspension of disbelief), made it possible for me to talk about it. And when I did, he did not argue over the merits of my ideas, but simply discussed these with me, much as if we were each seeking truth.


    Dr. Levy didn't automatically assume I was irrational because my perceptions were different. He seemed to understand that my difficulty with this world was not that I was irrational, but that I was starting from a different place with different beliefs. In my case these beliefs revolved around religion, but these were not beliefs that my family and church would approve. My beliefs were logical extensions of what I had been taught all my life. I held these with the conviction of religious fervor. When my family and church challenged my beliefs, I retreated into my inner mind, to the one place in the world where I was fully protected. I listened to no one. I shut out everyone.


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    Everyone that was, but Dr. Levy. Although he never endorsed my belief system, he never challenged it either.


    There is a lesson in all the above for the family and friends of someone whose has schizophrenia, especially if their loved one is in the early stages of his or her illness.


    Regardless of how bizarre, or even offensive, your consumer's belief system seems to be, do not challenge it. Nor should you endorse your loved one's aberrant beliefs. Don't misunderstand me. It can be very difficult for family and friends to do this, especially with consumers who are long standing friends, or children or young adults with whom you have labored long and hard to instill certain values. But in my experience it is essential that you not press your beliefs upon them.


    The best course of action for family and friends is to seek professional help and the sooner the better. If you directly challenge the belief system of your consumer and set out your own beliefs as the only "correct beliefs," it will most likely result in alienation. You'll probably find that your loved one is passionately committed to his or her beliefs, and will throw up a wall to exclude you. Worst of all, you may severely damage or destroy any future opportunity you might have had to influence their thinking. This is precisely what happened with my larger family.


    My unique belief system made perfect sense to me, but to no one around me. Nonetheless these were my beliefs. The attempts of others to change my beliefs so that these were in conformance with their own were viewed by me as assaults. (I will be discussing the importance of Belief Systems in my next blog.)


    Think for a moment. What would your reaction be if your family members persistently tried to discredit your most precious religious or philosophical beliefs? What would you do?


    Fortunately I had Dr. Levy. His unconditional acceptance gave me the assurance and courage that I needed to carry on.


    * * *


    Make a brief comment. Give us your reaction, good or bad. Enter your own SharePost. If you desire, tell us how you got started toward the departure point in your journey of recovery. These can all be of any length, short, long, whatever, and you can do this anonymously if this makes you more comfortable. But whatever you do, join in our dialogue. We need your insight, your point of view. Remember, you too can speak with experiential authority.


    Please remember, this writing is an anecdotal account of my own experience, nothing more and nothing less. If your situation is different, it may very well call for others measures. This is why, if you find yourself in this position, you should seek out professional assistance.



Published On: September 30, 2007