CHOICES: #3 - Belief Systems

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    It can't be denied that in the throes of our illness, when we're actively psychotic, we often exhibit strange behaviors and say things that don't make sense to others. But in my experience, no matter how bizarre our actions or comments become, this is most often NOT a function of irrational thinking. It's a product of rational thinking applied to unusual or even bizarre beliefs, i.e., these odd behaviors and the things we say are more a function of a confused or corrupted Belief System than a product of irrational thinking.


    I was actively psychotic for ten years beginning at age thirteen. During this period, I thought Satan and three of his demons were attacking me in an all out effort to drag me kicking and screaming directly into hell. (I'd been taught all my life that Satan was constantly after us all, so for me this wasn't much of a stretch.) Most of my odd behaviors and comments during this period were a part of my effort to ward off my attackers. These weren't obsessive compulsive behaviors, but rather operant behaviors. They were conscious, deliberate behaviors intended to accomplish very specific objectives.

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    I believed God had given me a special mission that would save the universe from destruction by Satan, as well as some very special powers to be used in fighting off Satan and his cohorts, such as the ability to control time. But, if I stepped on a crack these powers would drain away and I would find myself at Satan's mercy. So I avoided cracks like the plague. I also believed that when I stepped on a crack, I could stop the draining away of my special powers by tapping my toes behind me. Symmetry was important, so for every tap of my right toes I had to tap my left toes as well.


    As luck would have it, when I started high school, I found that the building had hard wood floors. There were cracks everywhere. So when I went from one classroom to another, I would tip toe down the hallways trying to avoid stepping on the cracks between the slats of wood. But I frequently failed, so I also was frantically tapping first my right toes and then my left toes behind me.


    As you can imagine, I attracted a lot of attention from the other students. They loved to bump into me, or push me from behind, to break my stride. When this happened, I would end up stepping on a lot of cracks and become desperate, my actions frantic. It wasn't unusual for me to get my feet tangled up and fall. Eventually the principal gave me a pass so I could move from class to class in the empty hallways before or after the other students were seated in the classroom.


    If you read the above account carefully, you will find that given my beliefs, my actions made a lot of sense, i.e., these were all quite rational. Every one of my actions was targeted to accomplish something very specific. (An important part of my belief system was the conviction that my various operant behaviors would protect me from Satan and his three demons.) These were intended to save the universe from destruction by Satan, not to mention my immortal soul.


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    The above account is true and like real life it is rather complicated, so when I tell this story and people look at me with wonderment and ask "What?" I give a simpler example. I ask them -


    "If you truly believed, and I mean you were really convinced, that the CIA was out to kill you, wouldn't you look between the window blinds before you left the house? And wouldn't you frequently check the rearview mirror in your car?"


    Most people reply, "Yeah, well sure, if I really believed the CIA was out to kill me."


    "It's the same thing," I reply.


    Again there's a lesson here for family and friends. When your consumer is caught up in executing a series of operant behaviors (like me tip toeing down the hallway or tapping my toes behind me), they may appear to be off in Never, Never land, but more likely they are very busy taking care of essential business. Interrupting them when they are desperate to complete their work can be destructive.


    If you do interrupt them, it only serves to convince them that you don't understand. They'll find your behavior rude at best and make it less likely that they'll look to you for guidance with their immediate problem and even more unlikely to ask you for your ideas on other issues. Interrupting them will not improve your dialogue with them, and if you interrupt them often, you find yourself alienated.


    In my next blog, we will look a little deeper into the question of how to determine what is, and what is not, Rational Behavior, as well as the critically important relationship between belief systems, rational behavior and functionality.


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    Make a brief comment. Give us your reaction, good or bad. Enter your own SharePost. If you desire, tell us about some of the odd beliefs you've held when your illness was active. 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. Your situation may very well call for others measures. This is why, if you find yourself in an active phase of your schizophrenia, you must seek out professional assistance.


Published On: October 07, 2007