When in the throes of what is commonly termed a “psychotic break,” people often become focused on good and evil causing interpersonal friction. Whether you are a parent, therapist, spouse, or a friend or colleague this can translate in you being viewed as evil. Perhaps, this projection is not a comfortable feeling for a supporter to sit with.
Often, providers and family members are systematically trained not to go down the rabbit hole with the subject. Often the rationale for this is that we do not reinforce the delusions. Many people think this is a sign of good boundaries. But I am writing today to primarily wonder if this strategy is little more than a just a systematic fear reaction. Those who go down the rabbit hole may get pinpointed as being the root of all evil! Perhaps it is reactive fear of this that prevent us from learning about what our loved one is experiencing.
Case in point, I regularly go down the rabbit hole with people at the inner-city clinic where I work. When I do so, I share my own history of being diagnosed with a schizophrenia disorder. I also share associated stories. I often find myself the subject of being assessed for evil. Sometimes it can be hard to get out without becoming a villain. Occasionally I get a person who concludes that I am the head of their persecution system.
Remembering that there are Good Reasons I May Get Called the Cap Villain:
There are many reasons I might be singled out as a Cap Villain. Sometimes, I come from a different race and class background than many of the people I work with. One could rightly argue that my approach to establishing rapport is different and that makes me suspect. Also, it is arguable that it is my karma that causes me to get placed in such a villainous position. I once thought my father was the cap villain and now it is my turn.
When I become the cap villain, I know I need to work, but believe that I am in a particularly good position to do a lot of good. I personally feel I am lucky am I to be given the chance to do this valuable work?
Perhaps there are reasons for my good fortune. I have advantages that people who haven’t experienced what it is like to be in a break don’t. Maybe that’s why I am so eager to break the mold and jump down the rabbit hole. Of course, there could be other reasons to fear the rabbit hole, but still I wonder if sometimes it might be fear of the conclusion that you are pure evil that keeps people from learning about their loved one’s experiences?
As a survivor, I have advantages. I know some of the language of “psychosis” and am able to occasionally anticipate from where a person is coming. Perhaps it is because many conscientious family members can do similar things that some people in crisis come to believe their loved ones are evil. Maybe it seems like if you go down the rabbit hole you are only going to get false accusations and hatred. That’s why I am here to embolden you.
How I Respond as A Clinician:
When I sense it is going down, I tell myself that this may mean I am one of the safer people the person has experienced who can communicate with them in their language. I tell myself that a high percentage of providers and family members avoid going down the rabbit hole because they fear or distain being viewed as evil. I remind myself that the unfortunate result is that the persons experiences are presumed to bear no semblance of meaning. We all have good and evil in us, why fear if someone has insight into our evil side?
Still it is hard to do. Sure no one wants someone in a profound state of knowing to hold them in contempt over things they cannot control. It’s uncomfortable, I get it. I have had victims of sexual abuse see visions of me having sex and get mad at me in front of a group of people. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed or defensive. It can feel like I am personally threatened by such an accusation.
But maybe that person is viewing that for a real reason that we can’t understand easily. And if they don’t have a space to work these things out, they will have to live under their explanation for why it happened in silence without support.
The tendency to get defensive and take it personally may be particularly painful for loved ones who revere the person and fear they have done a bad parenting job. But if you can remember to try to feel good about it, perhaps it becomes an opportunity.
As a survivor who sometimes knows how my patients feel, I am constantly trying to absolve myself from having done things that hurt the person, like making a living off their poverty. I remind myself that it is possible that a lot of good can be achieved if I hang in there. I think if I don’t, I become just a cog in the mental health wheel and it becomes less likely the person will benefit.
Things I Look to Accomplish:
I look to the survivor to test me to see if they are accurate. If I see them testing me, I do my best to pass the tests. I pass test by being good, healthy and supportive to them. I will do so repeatedly until I get it right if I need to.
When I am open and curious, I can pass the trust tests they may put upon me. I hope that by proving to the person that I am not defensive and that I want to learn about the evil within me so that I might change it I think that when I do that the survivor will be challenged to realize that the whole world is not against them.
In contrast, if I am defensive and reality test and am righteous about my world entitlements to not be abused in such a way, I believe I am likely to reinforce the vileness of my position as the cap villain. I believe this does make the situation worse and might cause a lasting rift in the relationship.
When someone holds on to their views of you over time and you are not able to wiggle out in such a gentle manner, it is important to remember that you don’t know what they are experiencing. It is a good idea to inquire and respect that what they are experiencing is real and valid for some reason.
Remember that those experiences may rear up from real hardships that the person is going through. Consider what else might be going on to cause a spike in your level of evilness. Perhaps the participant is being neglected over the holidays, or there is neglect in the board and care home, or there is a grief anniversary of a deceased love one. Perhaps, then, instead of being defensive, I can try to be compassionate about the source of the disturbance. I try to share this compassion non-verbally first and foremost and then verbally if it is working.
Reflections on What I Went Through that Support This Process
I remember that in my crisis my father was the head of the mafia that was tormenting me. It is true I accused him of things for which he was not responsible. It was also true that he had done things to me when I was younger that I was ailing from; and yet he was the safest person in my world both as a child and within the dimension of reality I was enduring.
See, in the dimension of reality that I was living in, people were really corrupt, dangerous and guilty. I do still believe there were people like that for real. In my mind at the time they became my father’s minions. Blaming or holding them accountable for the hell I was enduring simply was not an option. If I did confront them, in reality they may have seriously harmed me. And ultimately in my journey I needed to forgive them and be friends with them again. I often observed consequences for blaming things on my Dad. Sometimes they came directly from him.
I feel bad for taking things out on my father, but I also faced a lot of real threat and abuse and I needed to express it to someone. Maybe I pinned everything on him because I thought unconsciously that I might best be able to work it out with him.
I try to remember how I was truly appalled when my father would get defensive and yell at me. They were real low points and I will forever remember how hideous I felt. Feeling alone, pissed, and righteous only made me shut him out longer.
Working Things Out with My Father:
I still feel that my father did have real power and responsibility for me and when I had a break. He did somethings that were right. He flew all the way out to Montana to see me. But when that did little to impress me, he didn’t believe a word I said. I told him things that I knew for a fact were true and they didn’t matter. This strengthened my conviction that he was a mob boss. When he thus sided with the establishment, it gave me gumption for staying away and avoid him longer.
My father did call out a missing-persons report on me and then did not want me to leave the horrific institutional living in which I was confined. He suggested that the same thing would happen to me again if I was set free. That was power he had, and using it the way he did was not helpful.
I ended up homeless and destitute and indentured to low wage work for a year. In the process he did step in and support me again. The time we spent together really did matter! The real connection we have did function as a reality check to me. Somehow, we both had to change and we were able to do so.
Eventually, over time we were able to get it right. But if my father hadn’t persisted to support me in my efforts, I might not have changed my mind about what was going on with me. And from my vantage point it was often I who took the lead to change my negativity toward him. This helped us work together again. I also might not have been willing to take medication which helped me with the process of changing my mind.
Understanding Why Your Loved Ones View of Good and Evil Has Amplified:
As I mentioned initially, already the issue of good and evil is amplified naturally by special message experiences which some find to be spiritual, and others find to be responses to trauma. I believe unpacking those stories and getting people to teach you what they have learned about good and evil is important.
Consider that in modern civilization, many with special messages spiritual connection have their experiences defined in mental hospitals as illness. The result can become a profound mistrust of power and a struggle against the power structure that wants to institutionalize them. Suddenly the world becomes full of evil people. People in institutions may seem to nullify all gifts and abilities. When there is a sense of interconnection, and loved ones have initiated institutional care, evil is more likely to be projected onto the loved ones.
Let’s not forget that the institutional system may be traumatic and violent at times, thus, amplifying an amplified process. In many locales, public institutions seem to purposely show people in crisis the door to institutional living as if to say: this is what will happen to you if you don’t shape up.
It can be argued that institutions are set up this way because they aim at curbing behavior. Of course, how the person takes the “treatment” is different for each of us. Additionally, different staff people use punitive, irrational interventions in unique manners some for the better and some for the worse.
Don’t Take it Personal, Explore and Work it Out!
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what your loved one may be thinking of you and whether they have ways they are correct and ways they aren’t. In this blog I have tried to speak for myself and how I navigate these dilemmas as a patient and a therapist.
When I was in crisis, I was told by my therapist to avoid the issue of good and evil so I wouldn’t be crazy! It was true, I didn’t think she was a very good person to me when I was vulnerable. I listened to her and honored her keeping my true feelings buried. It did lead to recovery.
But I don’t deal with that therapist anymore! To her credit, she did encourage me to write. Perhaps she would change her mind if she knew how I had to write about her to recover from the treatment. Ultimately in my world, I escaped the control of my cap villain and went on with my life.
But moving forward I encourage loved ones and therapists who want to be supportive instead of a thorn, to explore what they’ve done with an open mind and learn about whether it was good or evil. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is only good and evil. We all have the capacity to do both. If you do a good job you will get the truth. If you do a poor one you will get fake answers.
Keep exploring even if all answers are fake. That can be part of the work that may not happen if you don’t persist over time.