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Q. Is She Delusional?

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. My Aunt is 60, grew up extremely sheltered, no close friends other than family. Never a boyfriend. Very dominant parents. History of panic attacks in social situations including chest pains and tics (spasms in her face) She was prescribed meds in her early 50’s but chose instead to withdraw from any situations which made her uncomfortable, as that is what she had always done. She worked as a typist until the stress became too much. She has not worked for over 15 years. She continued living with my grandmother, basically as an adult child until my grandmother became ill 5 years ago. Then my aunt stepped up to become caretaker of my grandmother. My Grandmother passed 1 1/2 years ago. (she had only one sib. my dad who passed 1 year ago, the only other living relatives are me and my brother who do not live close by, her father passed 20 years ago.) Stressful though these times would have been for anyone they obviously have been more so for my aunt.

Recently she approached me and said she had something to tell me. Something wonderful has happened to me. Don’t be scared, she said. 4 years ago while watching a singer on tv she felt struck in the chest as if by a thunder bolt. She first felt thrown back and then began to feel as if she was being lifted up by the chest as if by (her words) a meat hook. (I did question her at that point and do not believe that it was a heart attack) She then felt drawn into her bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed where light began coming down from the ceiling. The light was so bright she could barely see but she was not scared. She said it was then that she knew it was god and he was telling her that she was destined to be with this singer. She feels she is meant to meet him, be with him and marry him. She said this light continued to be there for two weeks, only in that one spot in the bedroom. She could not see it unless she sat on that one spot on the bed. This person is 30 years younger than her. When I asked her about this she said “love knows no age, who am I to question god’s will?” Now her house is filled with post-it’s saying Aunt x and Uncle x. I will marry x and so forth. Recently she got her hair done and purchased new shoes which I thought was wonderful considering that she never usually spends much money on herself. But then my brother mentioned that when he visited he found a list of “things to do before I meet x.” On the list was get my hair done and buy new shoes.

We had actually planned to take her to see this person perform. Now I am thinking this might not be such a great idea. I’m not sure what the combination of the crowd and the actuality of seeing this person might do to her. I am afraid that if she goes it will just be confirming the delusion for her. She has written to this person once that I know of. Since she received no reply she wants to either write again or “get to him” (her words) where he is performing to talk to him because she feels he has a right to know what’s going on. She is sure he will feel the chemistry between them because when it’s right, it’s right. I fear that if I don’t take her she will attempt to go on her own, as he is only going to be there for another month or so. If that happens I can’t even imagine what could go wrong. Actually I could, anything from her collapsing in public all alone, to trying to get to him and getting arrested.

I may be wrong, but I’m working off the assumption that this type of delusion is erotomania and that she needs serious professional help. My questions are these: How do I get her into treatment when she will very obviously not admit that there is a problem? Do I try to confront her with the idea that what happened to her was not real? What should my reaction be when she talks about this person?

I am trying to be supportive of what she is telling me but I feel like a liar. It can’t be helping her in the long run to just humor her. Would taking her to see this person help her realize that she is just “one in the crowd” or make the situation worse? Anything you could tell me would be helpful.

You are correct she does need professional help. Your aunt is clearly delusional. It seems that she strongly believes in her delusions and has acted in accordance with the message she thinks she received from god. I also believe as you correctly mentioned, she may qualify as an erotomanic.

In addition, her story is not uncommon among stalkers. Stalkers often believe that they are destined to be with “X” and claim to receive messages from god telling them so. If god wanted them to be together, why hasn’t he sent a message to the singer? Why hasn’t he used his infinite powers to unite these two people? Why hasn’t he compelled this singer to get into his tour bus and drive it to your aunt’s home?

I can’t tell you if god has put on a light show in your aunt’s room or not but I can tell you that it is immensely unlikely that he has done so. It is much more likely that your aunt has imagined this; in fact this type of delusion is extremely common in stalkers. If she is going to the concert with you or without you, it would be better if you were there with her so that you could mediate her actions at the concert. I would allow a mental health professional to determine her mental state. Please let me know what develops with your aunt. I would try and get her help as soon as is humanly possible.

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