Observation-Communication Delusion

...One group of the mentally ill suffers from observation-delusions... What if this kind of observing and punishing entity were present in all of us? If it had just separated itself sharply from the ego and had been mistakenly displaced into external reality in the case of the insane?...

Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis

I am not sure that 'insane' is the right description for me, but leaving that aside, Freud said that an observation-delusion represents a kind of persecution to the individual:

...it presupposes that someone mistrusts them, that someone expects to catch them doing something forbidden and for which they should be punished...

Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis

When young, I had superstitious childish fears about dead people, or ghosts, watching me, but it might have mainly been related to religious ideas I had grown up with, about a God (or even a Santa Claus) who could see my every action.

Part of the observation-delusion phenomenon might go back to the issue of love rewards and punishments. In my life, I have not managed to 'earn' love. Consciously, my perception is that I am not really wanted in the world, that my qualities are not valued.

...It was not a surprise, because it was a materialization of a feeling she had known for many years: that of an Eye watching and following her throughout her life...

Anaïs Nin, A Spy in the House of Love

I have spoken in the past about my Imaginary Friend/Enemy, and I realize that it might not be all that clear to people reading what all that is about.

My assessment is that it is a kind of combined observation-delusion and communication-delusion. It is a non-bizarre delusion, because it is based upon the perception of occurrences which might not be impossible in modern society, or when it comes to my own personal situation and contacts. See also: atypical depression with psychotic features, guilt, and hacker.

For several years, I had the impression that I was being stalked. At a certain point I began to have the impression that a two-way communication was occurring between me and my stalker, a private communication that took place when I used my computer, often through mp3 conversations. Specifically, while on random play, through Winamp my 'stalker' would somehow be able to choose a song as a message for me, and then I would override the random play to make my response to that message, and the conversation would sometimes continue for many hours back and forth. I sometimes thought that emails I received were too strange not to be a coded message, also from this 'stalker'.)

The non-bizarre aspects of this are that hacking and cyberstalking are actual activities that take place in today's increasingly internet-centred lifestyle. People who are drawn to these activities may lack 'normal' social skills, or have psychological needs not easily met in the non-cyber world. I have a public website, express controversial subject matter, appear troubled and may be someone that another troubled person might be drawn to.

Also, since most of my fixations or obsessions in the last 14 years have involved highly intelligent persons, many with advanced computer skills and knowledge, it seemed at least possible that one of them could theoretically figure out how to stalk me. Also, GK has told me that he thinks Winamp itself is hackable.

The facts are that I have received some unusual emails and snailmail packages over the years. While some of these were legitimate emails (which I responded erratically to), and others may have represented harmless fun for someone, they may have triggered a paranoid response in me, exaggerating my tendency to link information in new ways in order to try to see new patterns. In addition, one person I had exchanged email with in the past admitted to trying to communicate with me by repeatedly viewing particular pages on my website - in order to avoid these messages, I made the decision to stop looking at my site statistics altogether. (I stopped in 2005, and still do not look at site statistics or logs. The drawback is that I do not know what anyone views when they visit my site.)

I felt that I was constantly being watched every time I went on the computer - what this means is that my 'stalker' would have had to have been constantly ready at a moment's notice to observe and communicate with me, which in itself seems highly improbable. It's important to note that I did not ever have the impression that this stalker was communicating with me when I was not on the computer - except when it came to a few unusual snailmail packages. When I gave up the computer for close to a year, the delusion did not transfer to other areas of my life.

Throughout my life I have experienced a kind of low-level paranoia which I could hide from others, and which did not appear to affect my outward life. For example, I have often thought that cameras were hidden in places where I lived, even before the modern system of security camera filming in public became ubiquitous. I did not draw attention to this idea. I suspect that this idea originates with a basic mistrust of those with authority or power. People renting out buildings or flats might get their kicks out of filming not just me, but all of their residents in the hopes of seeing something unexpected. They may have a voyeuristic need to view titillating material, or material what might be embarrassing or very private for those viewed. I would perhaps at times deal with it (mild paranoia) by behaving in more reserved ways in the places that I feared were monitored, but at times I made an effort to face the fear and allow myself to act as naturally as possible.

A related paranoia, one that developed from the time I was very young may also have been the major contributing factor to me throwing away all writing and creations. I didn't want to leave the evidence of how untalented I was lying around.

I think it is worth it to try to understand where this paranoia might have come from, or how it might have developed.

In writing/creating and destroying throughout my history, I may have been trying to control parts of my personality I felt guilt about for various reasons. When I wrote as a child, I was always under the impression that what I wrote was not very good. This may have been influenced by the reading I myself had done - I could recognize that my writing did not compare well with the books I had read.

But it could also have been influenced by my mother wanting to know what my thoughts were regarding the divorce, her, and other related issues, and I may have picked up that she would have felt betrayed by some of my thoughts. I think it's likely that while I was at school, she frequently went through my things and my siblings' things looking for information like this. This is an example of poor communication in the family, which is one of the major themes of my life. I have tried over the years to push for more direct and more elaborate communication in all my relationships.

Throughout my life, I have also struggled to bring what I say into line with what I think and feel. When younger, I had a tendency to exaggerate, stretch the truth, and ultimately felt a lot of guilt about it. I may actually have picked up this behaviour from my parents, and maybe even the guilt about it. I keep trying for greater accuracy, perhaps as a result. But while I think I am open to being questioned so that I can give a more accurate picture of the whole, it seems like people are reluctant to question me directly. At times it may be that I think I deserve sarcastic communication because I haven't tried harder to be accurate.

Did I create an imaginary friend/enemy who would judge my every move on the computer? Since I was very young, I have been self-conscious about leaving anything private in writing. Was I originally judged by someone other than myself? Superego, conscience determined by parents? But I even had trouble doing schoolwork at school while others watched.

From the start, I had been nervous about people knowing what I was doing on the computer (1996). When I first posted to a suicide discussion group (1998), I thought that I was finally admitting to myself that I would never be a writer, I would never have a job, and I would never again be able to fit into normal society even by pretending. I was self-conscious about everything I typed.

It took enormous courage to write publicly back then, but now I take it for granted. I desensitized myself. What happened was that I found out that there were no consequences. Whatever mistakes I made, whomever I had been unwittingly unfair to - I either addressed those things through conversation with others, or I was never called on those things at all.

Maybe it was only a matter of time before I would need to punish myself for allowing myself to air my laundry publicly. The best way to do that? To have my intelligence and perception questioned, to have me dismissed as someone who was out of touch with reality, such that I have no support, no sympathy, and that there is nothing anyone can say because they do not identify with me, but are afraid to judge me openly, ostensibly for liability issues (she may kill herself.)

I have now exposed my thoughts publicly for over a decade, first on a newsgroup, and then through my own website. It is difficult to delete anything permanently from the web, but aside from that, at a certain point I made a choice to stop deleting, and in a sense to stop hiding. I would face the consequences because it didn't really matter now: I was not a 'success' in life and was not going to become one. I wanted to find people who could relate to my actual existence, not an overly positive or misleading deflection.

It could be that having a public website eventually caught up with me: the reasons that made me destroy things in the past (that they weren't good, that I didn't know how to edit or was too overwhelmed to try, that I was unfair to people, that it felt chaotic and I needed to escape from it, there was anxiety about keeping it in existence) were still relevant to what I had put online. I had so far faced no consequences, but had to be punished for sharing my ugly thoughts. I had to be punished for putting unfinished, unresearched, messy and repetitive thoughts out there, as well as shoddy attempts at creative self-expression.

Also, it could be that unconsciously I felt that I had betrayed my family by speaking out. I was an ugly person.

At the same time, I longed for a friend who would understand what I had been trying to say, in spite of my inability to express things better.

I ended up creating a friend/enemy that would satisfy both components, the need for punishment, and the need for encouraging feedback, and constructive criticism. They were so intertwined that eventually neither message could be believed - except that the negative seemed more likely. The criticism that was unconstructive seemed like the overall point.

My own need to project things in a more personal way, to see in the communication a sexual and romantic component, added extra complication. I often thought it seemed like my 'stalker' was playing along with this fantasy, only to later mock me regarding it. I tried to figure out what I had done to deserve this, but it wasn't actually difficult to imagine reasons - it was difficult to know for sure where the focus should be.

My understanding of erotomania is that the person suffering from it believes that a person of higher standing is in love with her/him, and that the perceived communication between them is about this love. My impression was never simple or sure, and I also doubted that I was even communicating with 'someone'. I doubted that it was possible. It seemed to me that the most likely explanation was that I had had a need to create an imaginary relationship that was complicated, because even in imagination I felt I did not deserve a non-ambivalent love. However, even though it seemed likely to me that I had created this relationship in my head, it did seem very real to me, and I connected it with an actual person I had had a friendship with in the past. What this told me was that I may have something to resolve with this person. It may have been solved very quickly, but as I had no way of contacting him, it dragged on for years, and perhaps became more psychotic.

When it comes to erotomania, the 'instinct' of the sufferer is in a way correct: if the erotomaniac had a real relationship with a person of higher standing, in a genetic sense they would have improved their own situation. It probably depends on a lot of other factors as to what extent a person is likely to actually believe they are in erotic communication with a person who is either not aware of their existence, or who does not see them as a potential partner.

In my own personal situation, the difference was that I saw 'messages' as pointers to my next path in life. I was aware that I was more tuned in to 'coincidences' than the average person, and I chose to see it as a way to be tapped in to what still remains mysterious in life.

The 'messages' I spoke of in my early 20s actually did lead me to a relationship - one that lasted 7 years, and when this relationship was securely formed, I stopped being as tuned in to coincidences. My explanation goes something like this: In my early 20s, after not leaving the house much in several years, not attending school or having a job, I was in serious trouble. I read all the books that were available to me in the house, including dictionaries, which led me to link words and ideas in new ways, and to perceive more 'coincidences' in communication - for example in books and music/lyrics. What I did with this information was to apply it to stored unconscious information.

When I left home and lived on my own for 6 months at age 21, it was a major effort for me. I had no support and no friends to turn to, I had only a vague idea that I needed to get out into the world to try to find people more like me. While living on my own, I developed a crush on the person I later lived with for 7 years, but at age 21, I didn't think he was interested in me, although he did not himself have a girlfriend in the time I knew him.

I moved away from Northern Ontario, and it was 4 years later before the 'coincidences' resulted in a 'eureka' moment: I had desperately wanted to change my look, and from the moment I dyed my hair black I could not stop thinking of this person again. In less than half a year, we were a couple.

Years later, it was a 'coincidence' in one of GK's posts that led me to finally post, not lurk on ash, when I had consciously decided that there was no sense in ever posting - that it was better to concentrate all my energy on killing myself.

Basically, what can sound psychotic to doctors was really a somewhat helpful adaptation based on my own unique ways of processing information. I was not actually out of touch with reality - I was open to helpful hints from my subconscious.

As for the most recent observation-communication delusion, I guess that one crossed the line into losing touch with reality. It makes sense that over time it would be difficult for me to continue to face my life and ongoing severe depression. In 2008, I recognized that a knee injury had likely developed through years of overuse. Similarly, continued isolation and depression took their toll on my psychological state.

Still, there was something to learn from my particular delusion, related to realities of life and aging. Also, that the more you outwardly question any part of the status quo, the more pressure you will have to face. In an individual sense, I learned how difficult it is to get people to really listen to what I say, and that not only psychiatrists and psychologists fear liability issues - if you are perceived as unstable and out of touch with reality, if you are not respected, others will think it's in your best interest not to give you the information you say you want. You have to learn to deal with this, accept that it is part of life, and try again to find others who are willing to take risks in their communication with you.

Interestingly, although I did not have an email address or any way of getting in touch with him, and hadn't spoken to him ('for real') for 6 years, the person I imagined was 'stalking' me actually emailed me out of the blue while I was travelling around the world (and was not far from where he lived.) This coincidental occurrence unfortunately fueled the fixation.

The personality I had perceived in my delusional state was the personality of the actual person involved. My unconscious had remembered better than my conscious. While in this case the coincidences did not lead to a new relationship, they may have pointed out something I needed to resolve in order to move forward. I was lucky enough that the person in question was willing to offer enough information/feedback that this was possible.

A common theme in my life is that I have the impression that people withhold important, and sometimes essential, information from me. In the case of my observation-communication delusion, I think it's possible that 'kind lies' told to me in the past, possibly to 'protect' me from a harsh reality, actually fueled or at least contributed to the delusion. There was a discrepancy between my perception and what I had been told - either something was incorrect, or some information had been left out - and this itself might have resulted in my need to clear up illusions through creating a scenario in which there was a driving need to have enough contact, such that it was possible to clear up the illusions.

Practical Steps

I took a lot of steps to cure myself of my delusion. Some were very practical: I asked a few people who were knowledgeable about computers as to what was actually possible regarding cyberstalking and hacking. My computer was thoroughly checked over, and major virus protection installed, including a hardware firewall.

The practical steps did not produce a cure, and I realized that I might have to take symbolic action, so I took an axe to my computer. It sounds psychotic, but it was in a way fun. My computer caught fire and there was an explosion. I was breaking up with a boyfriend who would not get the message! I was making a clear statement of intent. The delusional relationship had served a purpose, but I now wanted to move forward.

After that, I structured my life less around the computer. It was necessary to me to try to see life differently. I had been using the computer or leaning on it in such a way that it might have had some bearing on why I developed delusions.

It was at around this time, when I was learning to become more independent, that I was lucky enough to have contact with the actual person who I had associated with the stalking.

Not long after I began to resolve it with him, I heard from members of my family, originally out of legal obligation, but eventually it became more of a catching up.

The timing was very interesting. It helped me to tie together the past and the present.

I could not maintain either the family contact or the renewed correspondence with an old friend.

I realized that I could not see life or relationships as they did (although my family's attitudes are considerably different to those of my former correspondent). I had to take a personal stand. Instead of seeing myself as someone who might be seen as negative or dysfunctional according to their values, I saw myself as someone who had a right to her own perceptions and ideas, as well as standards. That is not to say that I don't see the ways in which I don't live up to society's standards, or even to the standards of those somewhat outside the boundaries, and it's not to say that I don't experience a feeling of dissatisfaction with my life, but that I question the whole system, and can't judge myself in the ways that others would.

I respect the individuality of these others, but also have to respect my own, and try to find circumstances in which my point of view is relevant.

After coming to these conclusions, I was ready to take an extended leave from the computer. No longer having one of my own, it was less comfortable anyway to be on one for long. I managed to spend a year only going on once or twice per month briefly, to do only what I was required to do with regards to bills and maintenance.

During that year I did a lot of reading, and wrote in notepads. I found I didn't really need the computer. If I had to go without it, I could. The delusions did not transfer to anything outside of the computer. Once I stopped going on the computer, the delusions stopped.

Did I completely cure myself of my delusion? Unfortunately, no. When I go on a computer, I still can't shake the idea that I am being watched. However, I am not tempted to try to communicate with the 'watcher'. I also don't want to be inhibited from engaging in activities I want to engage in on the computer on account of an imaginary threatening presence. I realize that I have to make a conscious decision to believe that what I thought had been happening hadn't actually happened, that it just wasn't technologically possible, not to mention that there is no one I know who could have a motivation to do it if it were possible.

I still have some things to express that are pushing at me, and that need to communicate seems to trump the discomfort of using a computer for now. I am not sure I will ever be able to completely get rid of the delusion that I am being observed. Anyway, I can't see myself destroying another laptop - it doesn't make sense to me. What I have to do is continue to make a conscious choice. I realize that the feelings of judgment I perceive originate within myself. I have to decide that I don't agree with the internal judgments, and that I must continue to challenge them.

On the one hand, I am somewhat impressed by my imagination or creativity in coming up with such a detailed and persistent delusion. I seem less boring. On the other hand, I feel a kind of hatred toward this part of myself that has been so influenced by ideas I find simplistic or don't accept, and which adopts a style of communication that seems more interested in my destruction than in constructive criticism, and gets to remain more or less anonymous.

I don't think I like or respect some of my ancestors who contributed to the formation of my superego. However, if I can't completely get rid of the idea that I am being constantly monitored and judged, what I have to do is consciously assert my own identity, my own values and my own ideas in all situations when I perceive an overly harsh and punitive presence. It's good to question myself and just how my own values or ideas were formed. It doesn't help to whine that it's unfair that I am constantly monitored with no chance for privacy. I can accept that it's unpleasant, and that it is probably necessary to continually fight that unpleasantness in the struggle to do and express what it is important for me to do and express.















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