THE BROKEN WHEEL
(The Threat of Delusional Thinking)
By Reydon Stanford
Delusion: "A false belief that is based upon perception rather than truth."
On April 16, 2007, 23 year
old Seung-Hui Cho, a young man of South Korean decent, took two handguns and killed 32 people and injured many more before
placing one of the guns to his head and ending his own life. What became known worldwide as the "Virginia Tech
Massacre," was now something for families to grieve, law enforcement and other leaders to review and mental health
professionals to try and understand.
But what is being done today to prevent such events from happening all over
again? Gun laws, more security, new policies? I firmly believe that these answers are like chopping the top off
of a weed, in that they do not get to the root of the problem. The root of the problem is delusional thinking and therefore,
it is my opinion that unless we educate society to listen for, look for and provide help to people who are severely delusional,
events like The Virginia Tech Massacre will happen again.
How could a young man such as Cho, a fairly intelligent student at university, commit such acts of violence and do so without
any apparent personal link to his victims? The cold, calculated attacks sent shock waves of fear throughout the world, leaving
civilized societies wondering how something like this could happen. One thing is for sure; these events were being visualized,
perpetrated and carried out in Cho's mind, long before he loaded the weapons and walked off to do cold-blooded murder.
what was going on within the mind of Seung-Hui Cho that caused him to perpetrate such a violent act upon people he didn't
even know? It is a question that has most likely baffled everyone affected by his actions on that chilly day in
April of '07. Since he also died on that day in April of '07 it is impossible to ask him, but much of what he wrote
and said before that day gives us strong clues as to his delusional thinking. One thing is for sure about
the human being; where there is continued delusional thinking, it is almost always followed by delusional-inspired actions.
According to the panel appointed to study this case, many people knew of and were concerned about Cho's behavior for many
years, but still he slipped through the cracks. He had a long history with mental illness, but the knowledge of that
fact was kept quite because of privacy laws, laws that may have even facilitated his final acts.
Although the blame for
the massacre must rest solely upon the actions of Seung-Hui Cho for what happened on that day in April ‘07, I think
it's wise to examine the story more closely and see how his delusional thinking led to delusional actions. Only when
we understand this principle can we hope to help others who might be suffering likewise and might be a danger to themselves
My own opinion
about human behavior is that it is a function of three inter-connected events; Thinking, Emotions and Actions.
When a person's thinking becomes delusional, their emotions begin to empower those thoughts, which will almost always result
in like-minded actions. Remember, delusional thinking is a "belief based upon perception, rather than truth."
Whatever a delusional person believes is true, it is completely true to them, regardless of whether or not it is founded
in actual reality.
give you an example of delusional thinking and how it can adversely affect the emotions and empower our actions.
say that Sally Smith has just found out that her two best friends were invited to a party at the house of a new girl named
Carol. At first, Sally is upset by the fact that she has been left out by Carol. As time moves forward, Sally's
mind begins to expand its theories. "Why did she leave me out and invite my two best friends?" her
mind might ask. "I think she is trying to steal my two best friends...she is purposely trying to replace me
with herself!" As these thoughts are playing out in Sally's mind, her emotions are getting stronger and stronger
and feeling more and more unpleasant. Emotions such as: anger, jealousy and fear begin to increase, making Betty very
uncomfortable. The next time she bumps into Carol, her actions will reveal her thinking as she explodes with an angry
outburst. Secondly, when she is alone with her two best friends, she says horrible things about Carol, because she
has truly convinced herself that Carol is evil and that she (Betty) is trying to protect her friends. Now, what if Sally's
instincts were right? Was Carol trying to steal her two best friends? What if I told you that Sally was not invited
to the party simply because she had not yet met Carol? In reality, Carol simply did not know Sally, and therefore didn't
invite her to the party. In this case, the entire problem was in Sally's disillusioned mind.
As it relates
to Seung-Hui Cho, we find out that he felt very awkward in society and suffered from a major social anxiety disorder called
"Selective Mutism." This mental disorder made communicating with people very awkward for him, so that in most
cases he didn't communicate at all. To others, this behavior would have appeared to come across as egotistical, mean
or even rude. This odd behavior was thus met with suspicion from his peers who mostly chose to simply ignore him or
stay away from him because of the awkwardness. The alienation likely felt by Cho was followed by serious loneliness
and possibly led him to bouts of severe depression and worsened his social disorder. By looking and listening to his
own words, (found mostly after the murders), we see that Cho began to feel like he was a victim of society and that society
was out to get him for his own imperfections. To be ignored by society, by women and by his peers was more than he could
bear any longer and it was not his fault, (in his mind), it was now the fault of "spoiled rich kids," who
were to blame for all of his problems, (even though the students of VT were mostly middle-class income youth who got in based
upon performance, not money). Because of his years of suffering, (in his delusional thinking, his suffering was the
result of mean-spirited people); he was building up to an emotional explosion that would result in an explosion of anger.
It is said that Cho had even become sympathetic to the two killers involved in the Columbine High School shootings.
They had felt like social outcasts and now he did. They had acted violently against their supposed oppressors and now
he would as well. The horrific results are now etched in our minds forever.
What this teaches us is that delusional
thinking, when left unchecked can have tragic results. The old saying: "I'm driving myself crazy,"
would fit this profile perfectly, because it is unchecked thinking that leads to unchecked emotions and finally, unchecked
actions. It reminds us that not everything we think is real.
So how do you help someone who has delusional thinking?
In all honesty, this is a tough proposition because delusional thinking is based upon their beliefs. Beliefs are hard
to change unless you develop a deep trust with the person and then prove to them that their thinking is inaccurate.
It's not enough to just tell someone that their thinking is wrong. You truly have to show them why it is wrong in a
loving and compassionate way. The more they trust you, the more likely it is that you can persuade them to change their
Also, we all have delusional thinking from time to time. An example of my own experience with delusional
thinking can be related in the following story. One time I became very distraught over a friendship that I thought I
had ruined. I had developed a belief that this friend of mine was angry with me because I had been sick and couldn't
fulfill some things I had promised. My mind really ran away with me and I became frightened to encounter this person.
I would not answer phone calls nor answer the doorbell. Finally, when I did encounter the person, I blurted out: "Are
you mad at me, since I couldn't do the things I promised?" My friend looked at me with true compassion and said,
"Why Reydon, I'm not mad at you at all! You're my friend and I care about you because of who you are...not because
of promises." It was then I realized that all my delusional thinking was just that...delusional. I was completely
wrong, but I had allowed my mind to take me into total deception and my emotions and actions followed.
My reason for
writing this article is two-fold. First to help any reader who might find themselves in delusional thinking and want
to feel better through truth. Secondly, it is to encourage all of us to become aware of those around us who might be
struggling with delusional thinking that is causing them great pain. Maybe, just maybe...we will be able to prevent
disaster in someone who has lost control of their own senses and is walking down a road to self-destruction, or the destruction
Copyright by Reydon Stanford 2010
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